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For more than 20 years I’ve played characters able to solve problems through physical strength, crushing and swinging right through to that Hollywood happy ending. And as a rule, all that plays out much better on screen.
Back in the day, in the ‘70s when I was growing up, national problems tended to stay in national headlines. The violence on TV mostly stayed on TV, and I hate how that’s changed. Now no kid can avoid the effects of gangs, gun violence, drugs, pornography, bullying...And that’s the short list—give me five minutes to fill a page.
But I have something to say about a solution.
Recently, I played a role fairly unusual for me. No love interest, no superpower...in fact, in "Abel’s Field," my character is flawed and sobered. In the movie, I’m Abel, a man whose past decisions and costly actions have left him sadder and wiser. Through a cinematic twist of fate, Abel is in Texas working with Seth, a young man facing troubles of his own and leaning toward answers Abel knows won’t work.
Slowly a bond forges, and laying a football field sprinkler system, Abel begins to mentor Seth. Even in his brokenness, maybe because of it, an older man helps a young man facing a tough decision.
My question is: Where are the Abels? In grade school our kids have cell phones, laptops, electronic games, name-brand clothes...And in high school most of them still have no sense of what matters. Or the basics of good judgment—which so many of us adults learned through bad judgment, which means it came with a price.
Boys Clubs and Big Brothers and Big Sisters do it “formally.” Where are the informal guides? The sideline mentors?
Be one. The boy with the tongue ring? Speak with him.
Kids too distracted by home problems to handle homework? Sit down and show some patience.
Kids at loose ends for hours after school? See them for what they need. Help structure those hours to begin to repair their worlds and add to your own.
Last July, the New York Times reported on a study of income and happiness. Researchers said that at a certain point, happiness comes not from more income but from sharing. Giving. Helping. Reaching. Lifting.
My character, Abel, never signed up to help a lost kid. He had his own problems. But here’s the secret. (You sitting down?) In life, in what may appear as sacrifice—in sharing yourself—you are enriched. That’s no cliche.
Formal research from Dr. Jean Rhodes shows that mentors enjoy a better self-image, improved sense of well being, more insight into their own youth experience and spiritual fulfillment. For starters.
I was “Abel” before Abel’s Field cast me, and I’m proud of both roles.
Big Brothers and Big Sisters will tell you that nine of 10 young people matched with a mentor will hold their ground in school performance, avoid risky behavior and gain social competence.
We humans are made for each other, not to exploit strength but to pass it on. Since 1997, I’ve been a spokesperson for A World Fit For Kids, a nonprofit that offers after-school programs—such as mentoring and sports and games—to keep children from gangs, drugs and dropping out. My parents were teachers, and I’m a parent. For me the need rings out.
On TV I played on my strength. Off the screen, I’ve learned to lift entire communities, lives and destinies, by being entirely human.
Be an Abel.