Becoming a dependent or taking one is a big decision and not one that should be entered into lightly.
That being said let’s get this disclaimer out of the way now. This is another one of those “Aethelflied is a poor example of being smart, do this better than she did.” I lucked out with my Laurel. I picked him because I was new, I knew I wanted to be a bard, and he was the first bardic laurel I met. First laurel I met actually I think. I just kind of turned up and started poking him about being his apprentice before I really knew what that meant. Luckily it turned out to be a good fit. My Bossman is my Bossman and I wouldn’t trade him for the world. But this could have gone very, very, differently.
So, what do I mean by being a dependent? I view being a dependent as having a mentor, whether that mentor is a peer or not doesn’t really matter for the purposes of this post. There are four official classes of dependents – apprentice, protege, squire, and provost. Those are for when your mentor is already a peer (apprentice/laurel, protege/pelican, squire/knight, provost/master of defense). If your mentor isn’t already a peer what you call yourself is kind of decided on by mutual agreement (student, yoeman, man at arms, caddy, minion, ect) but for the rest of this post? You’re a student.
There are several questions we’re going to address, namely: What are the pros and cons of becoming a dependent? Why is this a big decision? Do I have to? What should I look for in a mentor? Should I take a dependent? What am I getting into here?
What are the pros and cons of becoming a dependent?
Lets start with the pros since I’m a good news first kinda girl. Having a mentor gives you someone invested in your progress, someone who will help you achieve your goals in the SCA to the best of their ability, it gives you name recognition, it gives you a cheerleader, a personal teacher, and someone to advocate for you. Having a mentor also gives you a brake peddle and reality checker. Yes this is a pro, trust me.
Cons: you are tied to this person. Pick a mentor that’s a bad fit and life goes downhill quick. You have name recognition, which means if anyone has a problem with your mentor (for whatever reason) that is likely to rub off on you. Some people may also find working primarily with one person limiting, particularly if that person is not as active as they used to be.
Why is this a big decision?
You will be working closely with your mentor for (in all likelihood) several years. Yes this is our hobby, but this is the person who is going to see you at your worst and your best. They get your rough drafts, first attempts at whatever craft, get to explain the mechanics of why that shot you’re trying to throw isn’t working, ect. My laurel is blessed for his patience. I don’t think he’s ever actually seen me cry over a piece, but he has been subjected to some pretty awful poetry. I’ve heard picking a mentor likened to getting married or becoming a foster child. There will be fights, disagreements, ect. Make sure you approach someone you can handle getting criticism from, since it’s their job to give it to you.
Do I have to?
NO! If you’re on a peerage track you may hear things like “If you want to become x you really need a peer”. But no, you don’t need to enter this kind of relationship if you don’t want to or don’t feel comfortable. Don’t let anyone make you feel like you need to be in a peer/dependent mentor/student relationship or else you’re not doing this right. There is no right. This is a hobby with made up titles.
What should I look for in a mentor?
First and foremost: look for someone you respect. Both for their work and skill, and that you respect as a person. Otherwise you won’t be able to trust that they A. know what they’re talking about when they give you feedback or B. want to take their advice.
Find someone you’re comfortable working with. You’re going to be working closely with them. Make sure you want to work with Them not just their name.
Find someone who is comfortable helping and teaching you. There are some awesome people out there, who know what they’re talking about, are lovely people, but aren’t comfortable teaching. Don’t ask them to step into a role that they’re uncomfortable in.
Now the other side of the coin:
Should I take a dependent?
Firstly examine your reasons for wanting to. Do you think you can help someone excel in their chosen craft? Or do you want a dependent because that’s what people who reach your level do? Remember this person will be working closely with you for some years. If you aren’t positive you’re ready to be responsible for someone like that, I’d politely decline. You don’t have to have dependents to be a “real” whomever.
Secondly is this person a good fit for you and yours? Your dependent will more than likely become a member of your SCA household, they will become SCA family. Is this someone you want to welcome into your household and family?
Thirdly, are you willing and able to advocate for this person? Part of being a mentor means (to me) pushing your dependent’s work into places where it will be seen and recognized. It also means both advocating for you dependents on polling lists, AND advocating against them if they aren’t ready.
Fourthly, how active are you? If you’re not as active as you used to be you may want to reconsider. Make sure you have the time to devote to this.
What am I getting into?
You’re getting into a mutual partnership. Which, like any other partnership, has give and take. You’re pushing and being pushed, guiding and being guided. You’re getting to watch and help someone else discover things that make them light up. You’re getting someone else whose achievements you get to be proud of. You’re getting a privilege and a responsibility.
Also, if you’re like my Bossman, a lot of bad poetry and polite ways to say “maybe you should look at editing this”.