When I think of my version of a role model, it’s not about being the perfect Samaritan; it’s just being out there and being honest and happily imperfect.
—Zoe Kravitz, American actress
It is said there are five people in everyone’s life who have the greatest impact on them—both positive and negative. And there is usually one person in particular who stands out as the bedrock; the person who truly shapes your life. For me, that person was Katherine Rohrich, my mother—a first-generation American with strong German Russian roots and values.
She always said that you never meet someone by accident—there is always a reason—and that person would be either a life blessing or a life lesson. My mother was full of such great wisdom and I, of course, took her sage understanding of life for granted in my youth, but as I grew up and became a parent myself, I understood how truly wise she was. And I know it was no accident that my Mom and I were put together on this earth—she is my lifetime role model.
A life role model is someone who will help shape, mold, and transform you when you don’t realize it’s even happening into who and what you are. My mother was the quiet rock of our family who was unwavering in the good and not-so-good times in her life as a mother, wife, and grandmother. She was always there for me, my brothers, and my father—no matter what happened in our lives—offering true, unmitigated love and support. We all need that at times, and the times I needed it most, I would turn to her. She was always there to listen and provide guidance. I don’t think she knew until the end that she was my life mentor; she knew I loved her, and she knew how important she was to our family. But the best mentors affect your life not because they are labeled a mentor; they inherently influence your life simply because of who they are.
So, who was my mom? She was gentle and kind, yet she quietly commanded deference and respect. When you least expected it, she could quickly become the authoritarian—usually when she came to the defense of one of her boys. She never wavered in her commitment to her family and beliefs.
The greatest thing about true life mentors is that they are consistently trustworthy. I always knew my mother’s response to anything was her truth; she was always grounded by what she believed were the two cornerstones of human life: her family and her faith in God. Giving back and helping others was always front and center, and putting her family first was just always the right thing to do. No matter how far apart we were geographically as I moved farther and farther away from our home in North Dakota, my mother was always there for me at the right time and would inevitably provide the proper counseling, comfort, and consolation when needed. That was my mother.
My mom died on March 1, 2018. She was 90 years old, and still one of the strongest and most steadfast people I’ve ever met. Her passing has caused me to reflect on how important parents are in our lives. She was loving, but she was firm and always truthful. That combination meant that, growing up, she was not always the first person with whom I wanted to share bad news. But whether I told her or not, she always knew when we spoke whether I was holding something back. When she would eventually pry the news from me, she never wavered. Whether it was a bad day in high school, a bad week in college, or a bump in my career path, she always supported me. She was always there. She always knew when to talk, when to listen, and when to initiate. She never forgot to tell me she loved me, no matter what I did—even when I drove the family car into a lake after the senior prom; my mother was there for me. She wasn’t pleased with me, of course, but she was calm and truthful (which, of course, stung). And she told me that she loved me.
Often, she would say to me in German “Sie werden das eines Tages verstehen” (“You will understand this someday”). She was right. She was right about the people I met: who was good and not-so-good. She was right about my career: what choices were best and what pathways I shouldn’t take. Of course, I would rarely tell her that she was right, but I knew she was. Now I find myself saying, “You will understand this someday” to my own son and daughter, secretly hoping that I have half the fortitude, wisdom, and foresight of my mother.
I remember calling my mom when Diane and I had our first child, Taylor. I said, “Mom, now I know what you went through, especially putting up with me.” Moms have special gifts: they know when to nurture you and, when you deserve it, when to admonish you. Unfortunately for many of us, we realize our mothers’ special gifts too late in life and never have enough time to fully repay them.
I urge anyone reading this who is blessed to still have a mom (or a dad) in your life to spend more time with them, respect them, love them for who and what they are. That bond is irreplaceable and that time is of immeasurable importance. I am thankful for every moment I got to spend with my mother as an adult; from our first, to our last.
She had not been doing well. One day, we were speaking on the phone. She told me, “I am ready to go to heaven to be received by God.” As I wiped my tears from my eyes, we continued to speak on the phone, but I somehow agreed with her. She knew it was her time to go, as people often do. For the first time, it truly hit me that she was dying. After that phone call, I said to myself, “I need to go see my Mother one last time.” I flew to North Dakota. I surprised my parents while they were having dinner. I was so relieved to see my Mom’s face and her smile, and to see my dear father, who was feeding her dinner. She had not eaten for 7 days before this moment, so I knew the end was near—but at that moment, she seemed content and happy.
I spent the next 2 days with her and we spoke a lot about life—the past and the future. I held her in my arms and told her how much I loved her and how much she meant to me all my life. And I told her that she was my mentor, my model, my guiding light.
Many times, we regret not saying that we love someone until it is too late. I regret not doing that enough, but I am so thankful that I got to share those words from my heart with my mom on that cold February night. It made her passing a week later much easier for me to withstand. When I got the call from my oldest brother, I knew she was in a better place, and I knew that all was right between us.
Her life goes on, as she lives in each of the people she touched. She lives on in my brothers and their children; she lives on in my children and me. She was my spark and motivator to always be the best I could be, no matter what I did in life. Her lessons serve as my guiding principles: work hard, be good to others, be fair and honest with yourself and others, and always give back. Above all, she taught me to remain grounded in putting my family and God first in my life. I have learned all of this and more from this quietly strong, gently tough, loving, beautiful lady I called my mother—my life mentor.
My only hope is that we can all have such great and lifelong role models and mentors—they come to us in different ways, shapes, and persons. Your life mentors may not be your parents, but when you experience it, you will know. It will have a lasting imprint on you and your entire life. The challenge is to pay this blessing forward and become a life mentor to someone else, whether it is our children, a fellow colleague, or a friend. Life role models are rare indeed; catch one if you can, and aim to be one for others every day.
You are in charge of your feelings, beliefs, and actions. And you teach others how to behave toward you. While you cannot change other people, you can influence them through your own behaviors and actions. By being a living role model of what you want to receive from others, you create more of what you want in your life.
—Eric Allenbaugh, American author and speaker