I’m thinking a lot today about the most important mentor I’ve had for my art and teaching careers. That mentor was my Dad, Ralph Gomas. Today he would have been 78 years old, so of course I’m thinking of him even more than usual on his birthday.
Without his example — his and my mom’s actually, because she’s very creative in her own right — I don’t think I would have been interested in pursuing art as a career. In fact art and design were such an integral part of my life growing up, I didn’t really even consider them career options at first… they were so foundational. Because of this strong artistic foundation, becoming a graphic designer was a natural fit for me and I loved it. I was already working in the industry when we began to move away from using darkrooms, typesetters, and waxers, to working completely on the computer. It was liberating and frustrating all at once. (I still miss wielding an x-acto knife from time to time.)
Then life changed and I went back to school to earn my teaching credential. It took me by surprise how much I loved being in the classroom. It really is a performance of sorts, and I’d always loved doing that, so I shouldn’t have been shocked. My Dad’s help as I took the helm of a first grade classroom, and then years later, a continuation high school art room, was invaluable. (I literally don’t think I could have survived the start of that high school teaching assignment without his constant help and advice!) Next, I earned my Master’s Degree which enabled me to begin working side-by-side with my Dad teaching the Professional Development art courses he’d written for Fresno Pacific University’s Center for Professional Development. We spent hours together with him talking me through his thought process while reviewing the work of countless students from all over the country, and the world. This was mentoring at it’s best. Then we worked together in the same room but on separate computers reviewing student work. It was reassuring to know I could ask his opinion any time I needed to if I had a question about something a student had submitted.
Though he’s been gone for a little more than eight years now, his skilled mentoring still guides me to this day. He’s not sitting at the computer next to me, but I feel he’s always close in my heart when I really need him.
Have you had a special mentor while following your career path? Do they know how much they’ve helped and influenced you? Perhaps you yourself have had the privilege of being a mentor to someone. It can be an awesome responsibility as well as a terrific way to “pay it forward”.