When I was in junior high school, I had a classmate named Andy Sosnowski. He was a “long hair” who listened to Metallica and wore mostly black. But he also played sports (I think his game was softball), so he crossed cliques. Because he was smart, teachers liked him too. In fact, I can’t think of anyone – jocks, nerds, outcasts, the “it” crowd – who didn’t like him. Andy was a “good guy.” He was funny but never in a mean way. He had a twinkle in his eye, an easy warmth and was kind to everyone. In his presence, vulnerable kids felt safer. Andy wouldn’t put up with bullying and the kids with a mean streak were naturally neutered in his presence.
In 10th grade, our class moved on to high school. Some of us – like me – went to Stevenson High School in Sterling Heights, and others – like Andy – went to Utica High School. I remember thinking that I was sorry that Andy and I weren’t going to the same high school.
A few months into 10th grade, I was sitting in class when an announcement came over the loudspeaker. With somber voice, our principal said he regretted to inform us that Andy Sosnowski, a Utica High School student that some of us knew from middle school, had died. He was hit by a car and killed. He was 15.
I still remember that day almost 30 years ago and the wash of emotions I felt in that surreal moment of hearing of Andy’s death. It was the first time someone I knew that was my own age died, and I felt my mortality probably for the first time. But one of the things I remember thinking over the days of processing his passing was “He would have been such a good man.” I felt that loss acutely. Because in high school – and even in adulthood – the true good guys are rare.
In this issue of Metro Parent, we take a look at what parents can do to raise a “good guy” – the kind of son who stands up for those who are picked on, who thinks of others, who keeps his word, who doesn’t trifle with a love interest’s feelings. We all know that there are occasions when really great people raise some really jerky kids. And, conversely, there are some pretty flawed parents who raise some amazing individuals. Good parenting, while so important, isn’t the only factor in the person a child becomes. But it’s a start – a big one.
I don’t know anything about Andy’s parents. I don’t know if his father was a “good guy” himself who modeled the way. I don’t know if his mother, grandparents or an older sibling were huge factors in him becoming an exceptional young man. But I am sure that somewhere along the way, someone helped shape him to be so kind that 30 years after his death he is still remembered fondly. And while we want our sons to have much longer lives than Andy Sosnowski did, we couldn’t ask for a better legacy.