Dr. Val FarmerDr.Val
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Giving Back The Gift Of Love

January 6, 2003

Do you remember those individuals in your life who inspired you, helped the most, and took a special interest in your life? What did they do? What made them so extraordinarily influential? Now take out a pad of paper and jot down their qualities.

Patrick Carnes, a psychologist and author from Minnesota tells of a professor he had while he was a graduate student. Once when Carnes told his professor he needed to leave school for a semester to regroup his finances, the professor took out his checkbook and wrote him a check to cover tuition.

Carnes was told, "Repay me when you have it." This same professor asked for everything Carnes had written during the past five years - letters, papers, research projects, etc. Everything. That was a lot because Carnes had previously taught history at the university level.

Six months later the professor returned the materials along with a 20 page synopsis describing his student's thinking style. That story takes my breath away. What an incredible act of unselfish devotion!

My story. I have a story too - one about my older brother Scott. My father was an alcoholic and gone from the home frequently during my teen-age years. Scott was six years older than I. I say "was" because he died in an airplane crash at age 27.

He went to college and was a starting fullback at Brigham Young University - a fraternity member, campus hero, and quite a character. Everyone loved him. He had an engaging personality and a sense of humor. He was a good student and a devoted friend. He had a zest for life that was rare and contagious.

He played the greatest prank in the history of the university. To the coeds, he was a "Greek god." Everyone knew who Scott Farmer was.

Time for family. It is easy to understand how someone like that might be caught up in his own life and not have time for his family. Not Scott. He was concerned about his family back home. In the parlance of addiction and family life, some might call him a "family hero" and "co-dependent."

Can you imagine how someone 19 might befriend and nurture two younger brothers, ages 12 and 13, and shepherd them through their adolescence? He would write countless letters, send money, give encouragement and take an interest in our activities and accomplishments.

Scott planned and paid for a family trip to the Rose Bowl and parade. He arranged for us to visit him at his summer job at Kennecott Copper Company in Utah. When my brother Larry and I were 17 and 18 years old respectively, Scott paid our way to Hawaii to spend the summer with him.

Imagine that - a 25-year-old bachelor wanting two snot-nosed little brothers to cramp his style. Evidently his lifestyle wasn't as important as giving an experience of a lifetime to his brothers. I joined him again the following spring for another six months.

He didn't just give me a vision of what I could be like. He took me aside and gave me heart-to-heart talks about what he noticed in my life and how I could improve. In fact, my last conversation with him before I left Hawaii was about things I needed to do to improve in my relationships with others. Five months later he lost his life.

What I learned. What did I learn from Scott? His example molded my personality. He taught me to take risks, to think big, to be socially engaging and thoughtful. He shared his wisdom and experiences. He had a spiritual core.

Because he believed in me I came to believe in myself. He opened the doors of opportunity. He gave genuine help. He went out of his way and sacrificed himself when he didn't have to. He had boundless energy. He released energy in me. He believed in family and family ties. He gave me vision. He cared when he didn't have to.

It wasn't just the two of us. It was my mother, my sisters, my youngest brother, and his friends. Countless people were touched by his generosity and friendship. How he found time for all of this and still had time to live his own life packed with accomplishments is beyond me.

It wasn't perfect, though. A girlfriend of his, in her frustration, described why Scott was an elusive matrimonial prospect. "It's his family." He couldn't let go enough to make his own commitments.

Despite coming from a poor family, my brother Larry and I both obtained doctorates in clinical psychology. We are both indebted to an older brother who embraced and nurtured us. We know how influential he was.

Let’s appreciate those special teachers, youth leaders, clergy, mentors, coaches, music and drama instructors, siblings, aunts and uncles, and grandparents, who go the second, third and fourth mile in young people's lives. I had that. Patrick Carnes had that. Our lives will never be the same.

We, who have been privileged to receive such unselfish gifts of love, can pass them on to others.