Mentoring Boys – Where Have All The Men Gone?

helping-mentorMentoring boys and young men into effective members of society able to make a deep contribution has always been a key task of every generation. But what happens when the men go missing and boys don’t receive the guidance, love, nurture and support they need?
In this week’s podcast I am spending some time reflecting on a powerful quote I read recently and what it offers us in terms of reaching and mentoring boys. It is also worth listening to in terms of how disempowered many men and fathers are. So many men don’t realise that their failures and pain have as much to teach boys as their triumphs and successes.


Well hi there – Jonathan Doyle with you at Choicez Media and The Men We Need.  If you’re listening to this it’s either that you already are using The Men We Need resource in your school, or you may be on our list for people that have an interest in Boy’s Education.  So however you’ve come to this quick podcast – or you might be reading the transcript – welcome aboard, it’s exciting that you’ve made this decision, just to listen or to read because you obviously care about boy’s education.

So I want to share a really simple message today wherever you’re listening to this, you could be driving, or sitting at your desk or reading this transcript somewhere.  It’s a simple message but a really powerful one.  And I guess it starts like this: have you ever, you know, had somebody catch you out as a hypocrite, you know, somebody…you’ve always espoused something or said something and then you do the opposite, and then someone close to you points out the fact?  And we’ve all done it; we’ve all done it at different levels, some of us traumatically and you know, really our whole life blows up, and often we just get caught out in little things.

And I actually got caught out just the other day.  And it was really simple.  So here am I as somebody who has travelled the world, worked with hundreds of thousands of educators, young people on boy’s education, manhood, masculinity and one of the quotes that I always share when I’m doing parent’s seminars, is a great quote from the American Franciscan priest Richard Rohr and his quote was talking about this…the lack of older men in the lives of younger men.  And he simply said you know, ‘My sense…’ these are his words, he goes: ‘My sense is that the older generation haven’t become elders, they’ve just become elderly’.  That’s really profound and whether you’re reading or listening I want you to go through that again.  You know, this current generation hasn’t become elders, they’ve just become elderly.

So what Rohr’s getting at here is that all throughout history – and he writes a lot about this, and I speak about this in seminars all the time – you know men as they aged realised their crucial, pivotal role in mentoring and guiding young men.  They knew that…you know, sort of anthropologically, in the village situation – and remember we’ve only really been living in these advanced sort of organised cities really for the last sort of, you know, several hundred years, but we’ve only really been living in very civilized communities for a few thousand years.  You know, villagers and tribes always knew that young men possessed this huge energy and young men were incredibly needed; they were needed you know to protect the village, they were needed to work, they were needed to you know, become fathers.  So there was a great cultural investment in the role and the importance of young men.  So the older men knew that they had to play a role in channeling that.  Why?  Because all that energy that…that testosterone-based energy in young men, if it wasn’t channeled and directed became highly problematic.  You know, young men left to themselves would become violent, they would become…you know they wouldn’t commit to the ideals of the tribe or the village.  So I guess what I’m getting here is there was a cultural interest, there was a great cultural imperative that our boys became fine men.  Now I think you’ll probably agree that we’re sort of trapped here at the moment and that’s not happening in our culture.

A Boy and His FatherSo, there’s the question – you know where are the elders at the moment?  So back to where I got caught out.  I’d always been sharing that idea in seminars and Karen, my wife, was talking to me and she mentioned to me that a friend of hers wanted to know…if I would mentor their son – if I’d sort of spend some time with him and you know, he’s at a pretty transitional point of life, and would I kind of step in, and help him and give him some guidance, and just hang out with him you know?  Just get to know him and be a resource for him, you know as…kind of like an elder.  And I just sort of mentioned sort of how busy I was and you know that…I said to her ‘You know, I’m not particularly gifted at that’.  And she stopped and she said, ‘Ah, that’s just like Richard Rohr saying that, you know the elders[h] have just become elderly’.  Now I’m not elderly yet but I’m like…I was really challenged and I went yeah, if I’m gonna talk about this then maybe I actually need to deliver.  So the good news is I turned around and said yes – and I’ll keep you posted on how that develops – but all of this is about where are the men in the lives of our boys.

Now there’ll be a lot of good men listening to this and if you’re one of the people listening to it and you’re a man, well then you’re probably already doing this at some level – as a teacher or as a father – but it’s not happening enough culturally.  And I wanted to share with you a really cool quote that I heard this morning listening to a American writer, who’s now dead, called Thomas Merton.  He was actually a monk, a Catholic Trappist monk and a great spiritual writer and I was, you know sitting somewhere today and I was reading his book and it just really impacted on me, and I want to share these words with you.   And you know, get them on the transcript, make sure you keep these somewhere.  But he says, ‘No-one will entrust himself to the guidance of men who have never had to suffer anything and have never really faced the problems of life in all their bitter seriousness’.  So let me share that again ‘, ‘No-one will entrust himself to the guidance of men who have never had to suffer anything and have never really faced the problems of life in all their bitter seriousness’.

So I thought about this idea of elders and you know, mentoring.  And really, you know that’s what’s happening – there’s an entrusting here, young men entrusting their journey, entrusting their uncertainty, entrusting their future and their development to wiser older men.  But so much of the time, you know,…we’re surrounded by man-boys –  I mean, what we need now is men, who, you know have so much to offer because of how hard life has been.  I mean I turned 40 recently and I’ve got a long way to go, but I started to realise that I’ve been through quite a lot in life and you know, this line from Merton where he says you know, ‘Life in all its bitter seriousness’.  You know sadly my kids have been ill at different times – sometimes quite seriously – and recently we were back in hospital.  And the feeling you go through being in an ambulance again and your kids being really sick, and you start to realise that life can be really tough and it can be really hard, and there’s some real difficulties.  And then over time as you come through these, you know as you pray your way through them and as you develop spiritually and emotionally and you get more life experience, you know you’ve got something to give.  So what we’re looking for now, if you’re listening to this, you know you’ve probably been through a lot of stuff and what I’m saying to you is don’t waste it; don’t waste what you’ve been through, don’t waste the pain and the disappointments and the hardships as well as all the great experiences, because at this moment our boys really need men to step into that space and share that.  There’s a great podcast here, on the website, which I’ll link to and it’s from Craig McLain and you know I did an interview with Craig who does this great programme of boy’s mentoring and he talks beautifully about what he calls community and truth.  What I love about Craig’s programme is it’s so simple, he just gets some good men together, they sit in a circle with high school boys and they do ‘Community’ which means they just learn to be together, and just hang out together and they do ‘Truth’ where it’s the men just tell the truth, they talk about what it’s like to be a man; you know relationships, finance, work, career, prison system – whatever – Community and Truth.  But all of the dark things that these men have been through become useful.

And I guess there’s a deep, spiritual message there – that all our pain, all our difficulties, all our suffering – you know if we allow it to be used for others – you know, gets sort of lifted up, it’s like a resurrection thing; it gets lifted up and made something quite beautiful and quite powerful.  So I guess my message this week is: be an elder.  You know?  Or if you’re a woman listening to this look at where the men are and go and encourage them and say hey, you’ve got so much to teach.  And men aren’t used to being affirmed like that.  They think nobody wants to hear from them.  So take that message to men and if you’re a father or a male listening to this then think about where you can mentor, think about where your pain could be useful to other men.  So I hope that’s been useful.  If you’d like me to come and speak, I’m happy to do that.  I work with educators and parent’s, leaders, government on boy’s education and some of these key issues, so get in touch with me through the website.

But that’s the message for the week.  Take that stuff of life, make it useful.

I’m Jonathan Doyle, speak with you again very soon…