What does this sentence – He was equal parts friends, mentor and confidant – mean? What is "equal parts"?
The sentence means that he was a friend of yours. He was also a mentor from whom you get advice and guidance. At the same time, he was a confidant, someone you trust and confide in (tell him things you don't tell others).
"Equal parts" points to the fact that he was those things at once.
You can better understand "equal parts" this way. Say, you want to divide a piece of cake into three parts for three children. To avoid squabbles over who gets a bigger (or smaller) slice of the cake (I'm more like talking about my generation than the current lot, but then again we didn't have anything but pancakes to fight for during my childhood in the 1970s. In the 70s, brothers - and sisters, too - often fought for food. Seldom do you see siblings fight for food nowadays. One, there aren't any siblings to begin with as families often have only one child to feed and fend for. Two, there's usually more than enough food to go around anyway. A toddler today is more likely to fight a parents-led obesity war, as a matter of fact), you divide the cake into three equal parts. That is to say you (are skilled enough to) cut it into three pieces which are the same in bigness.
Metaphorically speaking, if you are equal parts happy and sad, you have what is called a mixed feeling. If you, say, see your child off for college, you're very happy (and equal parts relieved I'm sure) that the child is grown up and going away (at last). But at the same time you are very sad at the parting, because you're worried whether the child would be able to fend for himself/herself alone, whether he's able to maintain personal hygiene all the time or something like that – as a parent, you'll always find something, mostly trivial and uninspiring to the child, to worry about.
Equal parts, in short, means equally this, that and the other, at the same time and with no particular emphasis on each part.
Now, let's see "equal parts" in action via media examples.
1. A headline:
Seattle Tattoo Expo is equal parts pain, beauty.
- topix.com, August 10, 2008.
2. Two years ago this week, a neighbor stopped me on our block and pulled out a piece of paper, on which was printed a quotation:
"It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone."
The quotation came from Bart Giamatti, the only person to serve both as commissioner of Major League Baseball and as president of Yale University. Giamatti, a scholar of Renaissance literature, was equal parts Yale man and baseball fan. He received his undergraduate and graduate degrees at Yale, taught at Yale for nearly 15 years, served as the Master of Ezra Stiles and became the youngest president in University history in 1978, at age 40. In 1986 he left Yale to pursue his other passion, becoming president of the National League. Three years later, he was appointed commissioner of baseball. But he served only 154 days as commissioner — a heart attack killed him in the summer of 1989, at age 51.
- You may not feel it right now, but spring is in the air, Yale Daily News, February 21, 2008.
3. Rannva Kunoy's paintings, here showing in a UK gallery for the first time, are equal parts presence and absence, half abstraction half suggested figuration, but even what seems concrete in them is as ungraspable as a vanishing deja-vu ('if there are ghosts in these paintings - of a face, of a sun, of some trembling cosmic placenta - they belong not to the past, but to a future that will never quite arrive', Morton writes).
- 'Handsome Young Doctor' at Cubitt, London, July 17, 2007, saatchi-gallery.co.uk.