I am standing in cold knee-deep water. While I am easily able to maintain my balance, the flow of the river is ever pressing to topple me over and sweep me down stream. My fly rod is positioned securely under my right armpit. I am holding the tippet of the 9 foot tapered leader in my mouth, while I tie on a new fly using both my hands.
Just as I finish tightening the knot to the eye of the fly, I chance to glance across the stream. For a moment I stand there with a smile on my face. Some 50 feet away is our grandson Eli executing a perfect double-haul cast. He marks his target and stealthfully delivers his size 14 Pale Morning Dun to the intended target. At that instant, I not only notice the smile on my face, but I can feel my entire body smiling. At that instant, I know the student has surpassed the teacher.
I suppose the initiation of this moment actually began 21 years ago, when Elijah Michael Berry was born. I was privileged to be at his birth. Just as the birth of our three daughters, years before, changed my life…I somehow knew this would be another game-changer. He was somehow destined to become my little fishing buddy.
I hope old age will never erase the memories of Eli and I traveling topless in my red Miata for about an hour to Smith’s Trout Farm. It was there where Eli first felt the “tug” (of a fish) that would change both of our lives. Since those trips to Smith’s there have been many others to various lakes and streams throughout the years. In his early-teens we took a 22-mile hike up the Elwha River in Washington for a week of fly-fishing. A couple of years after that, along with a group of guys, we spent five days floating and fishing the famed Smith River in Montana. These bonding experiences have proven vital to both of us.
Throughout this time, Eli’s skills of casting, reading the water, and catching and releasing fish have all improved. But until our current trip, we had not fished together for at least five years. This trip was our gift to Eli in celebration of his 21st birthday. His grandmother and I flew him up from Yucca Valley to spend a week fly-fishing in Montana…before he begins his chef training at the Culinary Institute of America in the Napa Valley.
This trip represents a fusion of Generativity. The famed developmental psychologist Erick Erickson spoke widely of the stages of human development. Generativity is the late adult stage in which mentoring and passing on wisdom to the younger generation becomes an important aspect of healthy adult development. While this process of mentoring is important to the younger generation, it is vital to the aging adult. Being a positive mentor provides a bank of meaning in ones life.
Our current trip to the West Fork of the Bitterroot River in Montana has become a confluence of mentoring from Eli’s grandmother and grandfather. Jane, who was once teaching gourmet cooking at the local college, began teaching Eli how to cook at just about the same time I began taking him to Smith’s Trout farm for fishing. And so here we are…the two rivers come together. Eli is heading off to culinary school to become a better cook than his grandmother. Today he proved to me the he has already graduated to a level of fly-fishing that surpasses that of his grandfather.
For me personally, I feel validated and fulfilled. I have at least partially completed my task as an elder. Of course it is not yet over, there are others in which Jane and I have the privilege to share with, the few things we know.
For today, however, our two older rivers have converged into a perfect confluence. Coincidentally, today as I write these words, it is our 47th anniversary. The rivers are indeed getting older.
In what ways has mentoring affected your life?