Not so long ago, my grown up son told his grandmother that she was his role model. At one time or another Mark had given one family member or another that look of admiration that spoke volumes about things said or done that had amazed him. It was gran’s turn to bask in the glow of his love. She was chuffed, but all she did in her understated way was to give him her gentle smile and say, ‘that’s nice, darling.’

Both she and my dad, who is no longer with us, lent Mark an independent ear when he felt the need for one; gave him sanctuary when he was running away from his troubles and told Mark that they had faith in his abilities. While his grandparents gave him uncritical love and unquestioning support, they hadn’t actually known they were being role models. It would have made them nervous if they had realised such a huge responsibility had been placed on their shoulders. Mark’s grandparents saw themselves as family centred people who did what came naturally. That meant offering their services where it was needed, willingly, quietly and without the razzamatazz expected of role models these days.  They would have left that issue to be fought over by footballers, singers and film stars.

A friend I was speaking to about it would have agreed with that assessment. She believes that family members can’t attain hero status in their own lifetime. We need to admire the prowess of today’s sports people, (or is it sports people who have the need for us to admire them?), and we need to take on the rose coloured patina that covers the legendary folk of the past. The stories of these larger than life people, she said, symbolised such attributes as courage, individuality and selflessness, qualities that we would wish our children to aspire to. If history debunks these people’s stories that’s still all right with my friend. They will be adults by the time they find their idols have feet of clay. She dismisses the thought of sports heroes disgracing themselves. It’s only a few that spoil it all for everybody. The important thing is children need heroes now and family members just can’t compete.

I thought that she missed the point.  Mark’s parents had been his first port of call. They were his first teachers, disciplinarians and friends. If he was going to learn about selflessness and courage it would be from his parents and the aunties, uncles and the grandparents who expanded his little world. His family are a constant in his life. At any given time of day or night, Mark knows he can count on his them to be there for him. There will not be any radical changes in their behaviour, nor will they disgrace themselves and let him down. Rather, Mark’s family provide him with enduring lessons about life, love and family. Lessons he has taken with him into adulthood.

Mark is free to admire people for their skills while not confusing them with the personal attributes, ambitions or flaws of strangers. He is a stronger adult for it, sure of himself and his place in the world and he and understands that neither footballers nor film stars know or care anything about him, and, despite constant media scrutiny into their personal lives, he does not know or need to know about them.

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