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Heros, Idols, Mentors & Role Models ~ A Letter of Apprecriation for My Father

June 16, 2013

Recall those small essays you had to write in elementary school? The one with the title or theme, “My Hero is _____ and This is Why …”? Do you remember who it was? Certainly some of mine are not known by today’s generation or in many cases, even my own generation. Ernest Thompson Seton, one of the first true conservationist who said you can hunt and love nature at the same time. Doc Savage and his crew, always braving the situation with a unique blend of brawn and brain. The Charlie Daniels Band for their energy and creativity. And of course many others.

And then there are my idols, those people I almost worship for what they have done in fields I understand. Ed Whitlock, that marathoner 35 years my elder who seems to finish just in front of me at each race is a great example.

And my mentors, those I feel I have learned much from while sitting at their feet or whom I feel have taken me under their wing. My friend Brenda Patterson in Scouting, Greg Meredith at Guelph Lake and my pathology professor Ted Warren. These people have shown me the difference between “teaching” and the concept of “coaching” or “mentoring’ that is not just passing skills along but building commitment by passing on passion as well. 

All of these people have a special place in my life and have help to define who I am today. I am thankful for all of them and many others who have walked my life’s trails with me even for short jaunts before heading off on their own tributarial paths.

As a biologist and a admirer of change and development I often say to my staff, friends and others that, “Life may grow in a stagnant pond but it is much more diverse in moving waters.”  Occassionally I feel stagnant and I need to remind myself of all that I have seen in my four plus decades. Some things that I’ve done are amazing to others such as SCUBA diving, running 38 marathons, countless interior canoe trips in Algonquin and Killarney, paddling a Polynesian war canoe with Scouts from Virginia in the Florida Keys, my Medal of Merit from Scouts Canada, the Ernest Thompson Seton Institute, coordinating four nature centres in one of the largest growing school boards in the country. 

And then some things, often the most important things, are important only to me and one or two others. The birth of my children, the numerous overnights along the Rankin River, my one and only trip to the Ribbon Creek cabin and Mt. Bogart, my Marketing Diploma with straight “A’s” in every course I took over three years in evenings while working full time. My first duck. Rowing as a team of eight with an Olympic rower back only two days from Athens. My best score ever of 17/25 in trap shooting while Beth Gufford watched from the sidelines.

My life has not been boring and thanks to my heros, my idols, and my mentors it continues to be exciting and fullfilling. 

But there is one person above all these others that helps to shape who I am. When you take the effort of a hero, the need for approval from an idol and the encouraging attitude and wisdom of a mentor and combine them you end up with a role model.

I have only one role model. My father. I know many “Juniors” out there who hate having the same name as their father but I know of no greater honour. Even as a youngster I tried to throw off my nickname “Bobby” to be a second “Rob”. I am who I am because of my Dad more than anyone else. 

I learned my morals from him. I learned my patience from him. I learned my interests from him. I was even introduced to many of my heros by him. Is that different than many other kids? Probably not. Many of us mould our lives by what we see as we grow. Our personality is developed by all around us but it is what we see at home that really makes us who we are.

Some might say I came from a broken home. I do not consider myself having come from a dysfunctional family though. My father was always there and usually treated me more as a friend, a compatriot rather than a son. Many mornings as a child we went out in the boat onto Cook’s Bay, fishing and discussing big issues. Going back even earlier I remember as a pre-schooler deciding I did not want to go to day care one day and throwing a tantrum at a Tim Horton’s. My father took the day off to spend it with me. It is one of my earliest memories – my father deciding that spending time with me was more important than a day’s work. Even as a young adult, our runs around the looped trail in Cochrane were special times when we could discuss things. He is still there for me, even though he is usually two time zones away, with a short, but oh so important canoe trip down the Rankin River when he does come to visit.

I learned from him the importance of listening, of “sensible sympathy” and the vital concept that there are at least two sides to every coin. I understand the concept that I should know what I am saying before saying it and that everyone has something to give – most of all myself – thanks to my father.

From him I have taken the understanding that it is not the world that will let me down but myself. He never let “them” take him down.  Even before I was born, while in his youth he had a leg brace and thoughts that he would never walk properly did not depress him. He proudly wore his high school gymnastics jacket into his old doctors office one day. He never lets himself down. 

I try not to let myself down. To find the positive in everything that happens to me. What doesn’t kill me only makes me stronger as the cliche states. Yes, I have been hit in the gut so many times that my abs must be like steel – but complaining will not help the situation. I roll up my sleeves and tackle the problem. I have decided to try to stick with the basics. The walk through the forest, the peacefulness of the outdoors usually calms me more than anything else. I have renewed my fishing licence after about 6 years of not having one and plan on taking time this summer to sit under the shade of a tree trying to catch a bass. I am getting back into birdwatching after many years. And I am focussing on my long distance running more, telling people I cannot go to a meeting or attend a conference because I have to run.

My kids are old enough now that I can introduce them to many of the things I learned from my father. I must make the most of this time for I want my children to be like I was, enjoying time spent with my father, even when I reached my teen years. I want to introduce them to my loves and I want to be introduced to theirs as they develop.  Last summer I brought my older two girls into Algonquin for their first interior trip. That time in the canoe was likely the highlight of the summer for the three of us. 

I am not afraid of change but embrace it. Spencer Johnson’s concept of “moving with my cheese” is almost a mantra for me. Again, my father is a role model in this regard. To take a family of seven children and while still supporting them, go back to school full time when in your mid thirties to do what you always wanted to do … and then to successfully change careers from a typewriter technician to a Park Ranger swinging from helicopters on a rope and spending ten days at a time on horseback in the mountains has proven to me that the only “ruts” I wish to see are the ones I leave behind me as I accelerate towards my future.

Yes, my father is my role model. I am my own person. I am a man who is proud of what I have accomplished and what I still plan to accomplish. I have a plan for my life, perhaps not specific, but I know what I hope to achieve on this trail of my life. I may have the occasional exposed root I trip upon but I will not allow excuses to pause my progress. 

One of the most important things I learned from my father is to constantly say, “I’m proud of you” to your children. I am always telling my kids how proud I am of them. I am offering a pat on the back to my staff and my friends and now I am telling my hero, my idol, my mentor, my role model …. my father.

I’m proud of you Dad. 

Rob Jr.


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One Comment
  1. You do leave me at a loss for words Rob Ridley Jr. Anything I say will be a re-gift of something I learned from someone else. Not sure I’ve ever had an original thought. I suspect everything that can be thought has already been expressed by someone else, and the best I can do is to re-purpose it and pass it along….

    Kipling – IF


    John Wayne

    “Tomorrow is the most important thing in life. Comes into us at midnight very clean. It’s perfect when it arrives and it puts itself in our hands. It hopes we’ve learned something from yesterday.”


    Thomas Hargreaves Ridley (Your Grandfather)

    “Someday son, you’ll know how much it means to me when you come to me, and we walk together toward something that needs our attention.”


    I love you son. Happy Father’s Day to you too. Pass it on.

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