Some readers have asked me, “Who is this mysterious Arno fellow?” I replied that I thought I’d explained sufficiently in an early entry, but evidently not. Just like anything else in life, if I’m too close to it, I take it for granted. Since I consider Arno my prime, non-family mentor the story is just part of who I am, what I do and how I do it.
Soon, I’ll link a longer article about the relationship Arno and I had for 15 years from excerpts I’ve written about it in articles over the years. In the meantime, perhaps a timeline of significant events will help clarify things and expand understanding so the whole purpose of my writing here makes more sense. After all, it’s called MentorBoom for a reason!
1938–Martha and Arno Herz (changed to Hart in this country) crossed into Switzerland to escape the pending Holocaust in their native Germany. They carry with them, like tourists, all they can safely carry and make it out of Europe and come to NYC. Arno begins work in the U.S. with the American division of the German company he worked for there. Ultimately they moved to Charlotte where he continued to work until his retirement at age 84. He worked for the company for 68 years total.
1951–Arno converted to Christianity at Myers Park Baptist Church with Dr. George Heaton. I always remember Dr. Heaton’s name because he was so influential in Arno’s life. Arno went on to be a Deacon in the church and to teach class regularly in the adult Sunday classes. Perhaps the essence of what Arno found so compelling about Dr. Heaton can be found in his statement that “. . .a free pulpit is a great bulwark against tyranny.” Perhaps Arno had seen too many sit silently by while a great evil was rising around them.
1973–I begin working with my father in Gastonia, having moved our family back from Greensboro. It was tense and testy being with Dad so much. I spent more time with him my first week back than I had in my entire life up to that point, again, for a reason! I was the long haired musician and he shaved his head to look like Yul Brenner. In April of that year Dad and I attended a trade association meeting in Charlotte. Arno saw me, took me aside and uttered those prophetic words, “Robert, I’ve known you all your life and your father longer than you’ve been alive. You’re going to have trouble working with him. If I can be of help, let me know.”
1988–From May, 1973 until Dad died in January, Arno and I had met for lunch about once a week. The conversations we had in noisy restaurants and walking his neighborhood streets, were about what I call “social philosophy.” As implied by the wide range of disciplines encompassed in this term, we covered lots of topics. Among them: religion and spirituality, human behavior, social interactions, and above all, relationship.
Arno and I had our ups and downs in the relationship, just like anyone else does. A mentor/mentee relationship has all the ails to which other ones are prone. There were times of great connection of thought and word. I’m certain that I would never have honed the skills I use in my work without the whetstone of our relationship to sharpen them. There were also times when I was disillusioned with him, as I’m sure he was with me. He often said, “We use each other.” That sounded pretty mercenary, but when thought of in a larger context, it began to make sense. It was certainly true in our case. I’ll write more about that in an upcoming entry.
Let me end by giving my gratitude and appreciation to Arno and to my father. While the three of us rarely interacted after my first year back with Dad, we created a unique crucible for burning off the dross and getting down to the core of relationship. A month before he died I said goodnight to my father and said, “Dad, you’re a wonderful man.” He looked up at me and said, with the strongest voice I’d heard in weeks, “Son, you’re a better man than I.” What more could a son receive from his father? This would never have occurred without the curious relationship we three had.