The Mountain

“I will continue to make that mistake.”

Only a fool would make such a statement! Right? Honestly, I am wondering if I should leave that first sentence as is or if I should massage it just a bit. You see Frank Stepnowski is a large man who could crush me like a grapefruit if he wanted. Lucky for me Frank is also a kind and forgiving man with a great sense of humor

This was apparent when Frank and I recorded an episode for My Bad. For reasons beyond our control, the interview had to be pushed back about an hour. Since I hadn’t connected with Frank before, I decided to call him at our original time in an attempt to build some repertoire. We ended up talking for almost an hour, as if we were old friends catching up on lost time.

We connected on many topics, but we kept coming back to our mutual love of the HBO series, Game of Thrones. Frank believes that the book series on which it is based, Song of Fire and Ice, is better than The Lord of the Rings. Who was I to argue? I have not read either and Frank was quite convincing. While Frank is way too nice a person to be compared with any of the characters on Game of Thrones, we did discuss how he does slightly resemble, in stature, a character referred to as “The Mountain”.

At first I thought that size was the only characteristic that Frank shared with The Mountain. And that is probably true. But, upon further reflection and a little bit of geological research, I came to find that Frank has much in common with a mountain. At first this connection may seem contrived, and I agree, at first I thought it was a bit of a stretch. And yet it works.

One thing we all know is that mountains don’t form overnight. They take years, centuries, to grow. While doing a little research on mountains I also learned that:

“Mountains are large enough that they push the crust of the Earth into the Earth’s mantle forming ‘roots’. As the mountain erodes from above, it also rises from below.”[1]

This was it! The connection I was looking for. Yes, Step is a big guy and I’m sure the comparison to the character in Game of Thrones is flattering but it is superficial at best. But the two sentences above that deal with the shape changes of mountains get at the essence of the man known as Step.

Step has been teaching (this verb does not accurately describe all that Step does on a daily basis) for over twenty years and like mountains he is in a constant state of flux. The job has taken a toll on him physically and emotionally. I know this from having spoken with the man as well as owning one of his books. Am I implying that Step is not as effective as he once was? Not a chance! I am simply saying that he must work harder to be the kick-ass teacher that he is.

Wait, I am not done making my connection. That last bit about how “as the mountain erodes from above, it also rises from below.” That is Step! Someone who constantly works to lift up his students and his offspring (his term) regardless of the physical and emotional toll it takes on him. Furthermore, like the mountains found in The Lord of the Rings, Frank has many stories to tell. Read any one of his 3 books and you will quickly find yourself engaged, entertained and emotionally touched. All within the same chapter.

The mistake that Step shared dealt with him feeling as if he always must be the person to provide the structure, the discipline and the “tough love” to his students. While preparing high school students for the real world does require him to, quite often, assume this role, reflection has led him to realize that he doesn’t always need to be that guy. In his words, “I don’t need to be the guy all the time to pile on what they already bring to school.”

We discussed how difficult this can be as an educator and as a parent. Knowing when to push and knowing when to back off. It was apparent that this mistake was one that bothered him very much. The fact that Step was willing to speak so openly and honestly with me about it was something that I didn’t take for granted.

Towards the end of the interview I asked Step if reflecting upon his mistakes had ever brought him to tears. Without hesitation, he was able to share the most recent time that this had occurred. For such a large man with such a huge presence, Step often appears to be someone who does not allow his ego to overshadow his mission. And that is to prepare young men and women for the real world.

Before Frank and I finished our interview, I asked him if he would have any interest in connecting in the future. I was happy when he responded, “absolutely”.  I can’t imagine if we were to ever appear side by side how different we would appear. I’m sure he towers over me by a head and outweighs me by about a hundred pounds. Not to mention that Step has muscles and I, let’s just say I’m working on it.

I look forward to the day that Step and I get to meet in person. That will be something. And despite the image above, we won’t be side by side. I am certain we will embrace as good friends do. My only concern is that he doesn’t crush the life out of me. But I am quite certain that the man who trusted me enough to share his story will take good care of me. I’d like to close this piece with a few lyrics from Dan Fogelberg’s hit song from the 80’s titled “The Leader of the Band.” I believe they capture the essence of the man they call Step.

He earned his love through discipline, a thundering velvet hand. His gentle means of sculpting souls took me years to understand.

Dan Folgerberg

* This is the 8th in a series of 10 pieces I’ll be publishing weekly in which I highlight a past My Bad guest(s). I hope you enjoy them. And if you do, please pass them on.

Here is the link to the Step’s episode:

I Gave My Students Too Much “Tough” Love, Not Enough..

[1] https://www.soest.hawaii.edu/GG/ASK/mountains.html

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