The Second Parent
By Marc Matthie

Think about it. Students will oftentimes spend more meaningful time with their coaches or club sponsors than any other adult in their adolescent life. As I contemplate this reality, I’m reminded of a story my father once told me.

After two years of living on his own, Rob, a young adult, had a conversation with his dad. They reminisced about their relationship when Rob was in high school and college. Rob joked about how ridiculous and unhelpful his dad’s advice was during that phase of life. Rob’s dad laughed along with his son realizing there was about to be a change in his tone. Rob went on to say, “Dad, you know what’s funny? It is unbelievable how much smarter you’ve become in the last two years.”

There is something about our transition from childhood to adolescence that changes our parents from “heroes” to “villains.” Not smart villains, but insanely annoying villains who don’t know what they’re talking about. At times, adolescents wonder how these “villains” ever even got into power! According to psychologist Erik Erickson, this is a normal phase of human development called the “Identity vs. Confusion” stage.

As former adolescents ourselves, most of us can identify with Erikson’s description of this time-period in our lives. It’s a season filled with confusion about life as we search for our own identity. While this stage is a natural part of life, it doesn’t mean adolescents have any less of a need for guidance…it’s just they just don’t want to hear it from their parents!

Adolescents don’t simply lose their ability to focus and pay attention during this stage. Rather, they place their attention and focus in areas they value. Ideally, the leaders in charge of those things that they value will step up and serve as a “second parent.” They become MENTORS. History provides us with clues on how we can use mentors as a “second parent” to help young people successfully transition from adolescence to adulthood.

The concept of mentoring originated with the character of Mentor in Homer’s Odyssey. Odysseus entrusts his young son Telemachus to the care of his trusted companion Mentor as he goes off to fight in the Trojan War. Mentor’s main role was to nurture and support Telemachus until the return of Odysseus. Did you catch that? Mentor nurtures and supports an adolescent boy at precisely the same time that his parent’s influence isn’t as impactful.

In 1699 François Fénelon paid homage to Homer’s classic when he made the concept of mentorship popular in his book “Les Aventures de Telemaque.” Fénelon was the tutor to the grandson of King Louis XIV and he educated his pupil to become a peaceful and wise monarch. Love, guidance, and leadership through the “Identity vs Confusion” stage seems to be the role of a mentor – the “second parent.”

”One coach will impact more people in a year than an average person does in a lifetime.”Billy Graham

In the book “Come to Win,” Venus Williams interviewed 50 business leaders, politicians, doctors and artists. All of them credited many of their career successes to their participation in competitive sports and the coaches who guided them. Their coaches’ mentorship made a lasting impact. Because of the value they had placed on sport, the words of the adult in that environment became valuable.

I’m the son of two immigrant parents who came to America from a middle-class lifestyle in Jamaica. They wanted better opportunities for my brother and I. As my primary mentors, my parents are the number one reason why I’m successful today. However, during my adolescent years those heroes became idiot villains in my eyes. During those years, my football coach Dan Meier stepped up and played instrumental role in my life. Coach Meier’s guidance helped me find my confidence, identity, strengths and purpose in life. He helped lead me though the confusion of adolescence and into my own identity of adulthood. My parents, Barry and Dorothy Matthie, are my first and most important parents. Dan Meier was my “second parent” who helped me navigate adolescence when my parents suddenly lost their capacity to parent well at the beginning of my teenage years.

This works perfectly. When coaches and parents work together to validate the inherent worth/value of young people while helping them to reach their full potential as thriving young adults – TRANSFORMATION HAPPENS.

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2 thoughts on “The Second Parent”

  1. Love this article! Great advice and guidance – especially for those of us who have suddenly become the idiot villain in a beloved child’s life. Thank you for these words of wisdom. I am a big fan of Erik Erikson and his developmental model; this was a nice reminder about the “normalcy” of identity development.


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