Be the Role Model You Wanted As A Kid
Updated: Jan 5, 2021
Guest Post by Gabriel LaBossiere
EDITOR'S NOTE: In early 2002, I was newly single after a canceled engagement, had just quit a soul-crushing PR agency job to become an independent consultant, and was looking for a way to add more meaning to my life. As a former substitute teacher and Little League coach, to me, that meant working with kids in some way. A search for volunteer opportunities led me to New Hope Housing, a Northern Virginia-based, homeless and transitional housing nonprofit. I applied with the intention of being a youth mentor, but their immediate need was for tutors to help adult residents with various life skills. Basically, it would be my foot in the door.
After a few months, one of the coordinators said she had a "big brother" request from a shy, 7-year-old boy named Gabriel. The three of us met, and Gabe interviewed me for the job – over ice cream, I think. Thus began my first comprehensive experience with daddying. At first, I felt like I was there to help fill his time and maybe offer him some fun, creative opportunities he might not otherwise have gotten. The more I got to know him and his living situation, I understood he and his family needed more than I could probably ever give. But just being there for him (and, eventually, his brother) listening to what he had on his mind, and giving him an outlet for his pent-up energy and feelings seemed to be enough. At least, I hoped it was.
Gabe and I haven't seen each other since his high school graduation in 2013, but we've kept in touch. So, when Allan and I launched the Daddying blog and sought to include a diversity of voices, I knew I'd eventually ask Gabe to contribute his family's story. Now, two decades after we met, I'm humbled to read what my former mentee has written below and to see the strong, caring, brilliant young men Gabe and his brother have become.
– Scott Beller, Daddying Editor
I believe we can all learn something from every single person we meet. And if we happen to interact with those people regularly, thereafter, there’s no choice but for the connection to exert a profound and lasting influence in guiding us along our life’s path.
I am fortunate to have met many such guides during my formative years. Those people, I since realized, all seemed to have a few characteristics in common that I cherished then and even more now that I’m older: understanding, patience, compassion, perceptiveness, and reliability. To me, these intangibles were and are as essential as food, clothing, shelter, and security, and are traits I think every kid values in the adults surrounding them.
Now that I’m in my 20s, these are the ideal personal attributes – virtues – for which I strive daily. And as I do, I recall a saying I’ve heard repeatedly as an adult: “Be the role model you would have wanted growing up.”
My older brother, EJ, sister, Bianca, and I grew up in transitional housing with our dad, who raised us as a single parent. He worked all the time just to provide us the basic necessities for survival. My family struggled in the grip of poverty for most of my childhood. While my father worked, my mother couldn’t. Her battle with mental illness prevented her from doing so and from being a stable, supportive presence in our home. Because of this, my siblings and I spent a lot of time at home by ourselves.
When my father was there, he was understandably tired. More often than not, he didn’t have the energy or spirit to be engaged with us on any level beyond being our sole provider. We were, however, exposed to his inner and outer turmoil, without filtration and exacerbated by his utter exhaustion. Added to that, our mother’s mental illness took as much a toll on us as it did on her. We were unprotected against the pain our parents felt and the misguided ways in which they responded to it.
Research has shown that parents’ struggles can have a significant impact on their children’s emotional and physical health, and I believe it because I lived it. But I also believe that children have a magnificent way of putting a positive spin on their hardships that should be acknowledged and validated. I lived that too.
As kids, I think we all possess an instinctive tendency towards expressing honest truths that create shared peace and resolution. Kids want to help parents when problems arise. When a child is subjected to highly stressful, traumatic experiences, their gift of optimism can transform the situation and lead the way in restoring hope to themselves, their families, and even communities.
When I was a kid, family conflict weighed on my heart and mind, and I continually sought solutions for those conflicted. To this day, my response to discord is no different. Whether it was my siblings or parents arguing, as soon as a quarrel arose, I was on the scene working to settle the dispute, usually with jokes or other silliness. I knew too well the penalty for unchecked escalation of tense moments, and I strived to diffuse the situation quickly. I was rarely successful.
I often witnessed moods fume, clash, ignite into abuse, and then engulf me as I tried in vain to escape. It felt like I could never fully relieve the pressures that led to the violent explosions, hurt, and division in my home. These were conditions I accepted as normal. Instability was my reality, with no lasting sense of security or ease. I couldn’t seek out my parents for comfort. I felt like they had none to give.
Even as a child’s restorative energy is ample, it is not infinite. Just like adults, kids wear down and feel discouraged, defeated, and helpless under prolonged suffering.
Although my usual household role was that of a mediator, over time, my distress temporarily stripped me of my will to console or help alleviate my family’s struggles. I remember many bouts of hopelessness. Feeling the force of regular, long-term family stress while lacking the maturity to verbalize or properly address it, I internalized it. That fear, hurt, shame, and confusion followed me into early adulthood, and some of the negative coping mechanisms I witnessed in my parents became my own.
What I wanted back then – what I needed – was access to an adult with whom I could take refuge and could trust to let me vent if not forget my troubles. Luckily, my dad recognized this too.
When I was about to enter the second grade, he introduced me to Scott Beller, who was volunteering with New Hope Housing, an organization that helped my dad secure the apartment in which our family lived.
I remember when my father told EJ and me we were getting a “big brother.” We had no idea the enormous benefits that this person would bring, including lasting companionship, generosity, and guidance.
From the time we met (I was 7, EJ was 9) until high school, Scott committed himself to maintaining a regular, near-weekly presence in my family's lives, enriching us all in the process. He dedicated himself to providing much-needed support and encouragement to not only me and EJ, but also my sister, father, and mother.
Scott noticed our need, perceived our worth, and committed himself to providing us care and direction. He embodied selfless service, and what I learned from him as our mentor greatly influenced my approach to the youth I serve in my current job in the educational field.
I always looked forward to our outings with Scott. We took trips to parks, went to the movies and arcades, played sports, went out to eat, celebrated birthdays and holidays, and were able to escape the often harsh reality of home. Any interest EJ and I exhibited, Scott was quick to perceive and encourage. I showed an early appreciation for reading, and Scott often gifted me with just the right books, including The Great Brain series, which I truly loved.
Hanging out with Scott offered me and EJ opportunities to breathe beyond the confines of our oppressive home life. They also gave my father much-needed time for introspection and solitude. Without any real support or emotional consolation of his own, my father also internalized his pain. His caustic methods of coping included either violent rage or closing himself off from his kids. Just being around him was often intolerable.
I can imagine how my father must have felt seeing us have so much fun with Scott, which was in stark contrast to our demeanor while at home with him. Nonetheless, I remember Scott making every effort to engage with my father and offer him fellowship, as well. He attempted friendship with my father at a time when we thought it was impossible. He also tried his best to help me and EJ understand why my father sometimes reacted the ways he did. He never justified it, he only sought to help us see things from a different perspective.
To say Scott had a positive effect on my family would be an understatement. I deeply appreciated the time we spent together. He is one example of the many adults who have done me a great service by being present, physically, mentally, and spiritually, when my parents were unable. I now understand that parents can be so burdened by laboring for the immediate needs of their families that they often don’t have anything more to give. By filling this gap, other supportive adults can play important “daddying” roles to lighten parents’ child-rearing load.
Today, I work with students who have had difficulties assimilating into the stream of public education. On our campus, among our many rehabilitative efforts, we work with clients who exhibit a variety of behavioral maladaptations. It’s vital that staff members are able to connect with students in order to understand their troubles and triggers, guide them to healthier behavioral patterns, and help them establish the ability to heal past or present pains.
It’s essential in my line of work to maintain a caring, receptive presence for the sake of the overall well-being of our student clients. We scarcely know what they’re dealing with on a day-to-day basis, so we must remain accessible to meet their needs at all times, i.e., whenever they’re comfortable opening up and allowing us to do so. Going beyond educational instruction and assistance, we also work with parents/guardians to provide holistic service to the students in our care.
Growing up, I was hurt many times by my parents’ unavailability. Fortunately, I now understand the reasons why and have the ability to forgive. Indeed, with time and reflection comes wisdom and reconciliation. My parents also have done their parts in helping me and my siblings heal by acknowledging our hurt, working to better themselves, and learning from their troubled past.
As a child living in an overwhelmingly toxic household, I didn’t have the understanding of or capability to ease my growing resentment and salve my emotional wounds at the time. Having the freedom to confide in other empathetic adults, like Scott, was a saving grace, and I’m forever grateful and blessed for their presence. They provided us with the daily “food” of compassion, affirmation, and support that kept me and my family moving forward and gave us hope for better days ahead.
The love and understanding Scott demonstrated to me and my family is what I strive to embody not only in my work but also, as a musician, in the music I create. While writing this article, I also wrote a song. Like with all my music, I want everyone who listens to Sing Your Song to know they are valued, acknowledged, appreciated, and loved.
I'd also like to reiterate that you don't have to be a father to be a dad. Other family members, older siblings, guardians, teachers, mentors, coaches, counselors, and even other kids/friends have the ability to enrich the lives of youth in their communities. Parents or not, I firmly believe that when we take time to engage, listen, uplift, and educate kids in the ways of a virtuous, considerate co-existence, we lay the foundation for the reciprocal benefit, communal healing, and the future health of humanity.
Gabriel Labossiere is a son to Evans and Karan, brother to Bianca and EJ, and Counselor to many at St. Joseph’s Villa Dooley School, an alternative K-12 school in Richmond, VA, that includes a school for Autism, Day Support and Day Treatment for children with exceptional needs, and a Crisis Stabilization Unit in which he's recently begun work. Previously, Gabriel worked for two years as an instructional assistant with Glen Allen High School's Exceptional Ed department and with Hermitage High School's Tech Center supporting a student with exceptional needs. Prior to that, he worked as a co-operative teacher of the Formative Years preschool in Philadelphia, PA. As a student at South County High School in Lorton, VA, two years of Teacher Cadet training prepared him with a solid foundation in child development curriculum and classroom teaching.