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Coming to terms with an absence of elders | Rick Belden.

|I’ve been thinking recently about the deficiency of appropriate, effective male
mentoring in my life and how it’s affected me. I’m 52 and it’s still affecting me, just as
it’s affected me at every stage of my life. There’s a huge hole in my life where my father
should have been (and still should be), but as big as that hole is, it’s merely the center of
a much larger hole, the product of a male culture that is woefully inadequate to meet
the true needs of men and boys.

I’ve managed, during the course of my life, to get some of the mentoring I needed from
older males in bits and pieces, here and there. I had two or three good male teachers in
grade school and high school. There were uncles who helped me out at a few very
critical points during my childhood and teen years. My father and his father taught me
about building and fixing things and going to work every day. That was better than
nothing. But there’s a lot more to being a man than that.

The majority of the mentoring I’ve received in my life came from an older male therapist
I saw for several years who helped me learn to work with my dreams. I suppose I could
say that I’ve also received some virtual mentoring from older males, mostly authors and
musicians, whose work I’ve followed, appreciated, and admired without ever meeting
them in person, and whose examples have inspired, taught, or initiated me in some
fashion. Robert Bly spoke about this sort of mentoring
in absentia (in his case it was
Yeats) in the
Gathering of Men program with Bill Moyers twenty years ago.

Of course, mentoring for hire and virtual mentoring are not the same, not by a long
shot, as what I needed and ideally would have received from a community of elder men
who knew me, cared about me, encouraged my development, and spent time with me
in person on a regular basis.

I don’t know how that experience can be replaced or recovered once those men are
gone, if they were ever there. I think several generations of men are trying to figure that
out right now. I also think that a recognition of what
we needed and didn’t get, and a
coming to terms with the powerful feelings of anger, grief, loneliness, disorientation,
and disappointment that may accompany that awareness, is a good place to start.

I’ve come to feel that part of that process of healing and restoration, at least for me, has
to do with finding ways to give younger males whatever mentoring, encouragement,
and assistance I can. I’ve recently begun to realize that, in spite of the fact that I still feel
incomplete, confused, and inadequate at age 52, I actually have something of value to
offer younger men, and furthermore, that they
see me as having something of value to
offer them.

This came as a bit of a shock to me at first, but as I’ve begun to realize the truth of it and
operate more out of that place, I’ve also begun to see that offering younger men what I
did not receive myself, as contradictory as it may sound, is another way for me to
address that hole in myself that I referenced above.

The generation of men that preceded mine failed me and the men of my generation in
many ways, as they themselves were failed by the generation that preceded them, and
so on back through the decades. Maybe those of us who have felt those failures so
acutely, and suffered for them as a result, can find some ways to bridge the gap
between the men who preceded us and those who follow, and thereby receive some
portion of what we were not given by giving it to others.

October 5, 2016

12 responses on "Coming to terms with an absence of elders | Rick Belden."

  1. Thanks for this! I firmly believe that the way to overcome a lack of elder mentorship in one’s own life (as I believe I suffered as well) is to PAY IT FORWARD! We’ll find succor and fulfillment in providing what we did not get. Instead of looking back in lament for what we didn’t get, look forward to giving it to others who need it. Break that cycle of neglect!

  2. It seems I am approaching my fortieth birthday and I can see the time
    when I will go over and becoming an elder myself. We need so much
    understanding, connection, and love between different generations of
    men. I long to step more fully into my role as a mentor and coach for
    younger men. For men, this was an inspirational text on male mentoring.

    • Thanks, David. Having observed both the progress of your work and your commitment to it over the past couple of years, I have every confidence that you will continue to move into the role you described with ever increasing effectiveness as your experience and wisdom grow.

      • Thank you, Rick, for these kind words. There is a strong calling to devote my time to men and the way we are together. In a couple of weeks I am going to a Men’s weekend in Copenhagen. I really look forward to more time in a circle of men. Yes, I feel there is so much work to be done so we might as well get started building new communities all over the world for men to openly share and to gather strength.

        • I think this is a good time for it. As polarized as much of the conversation is around men, I also see an openness to discussion and exploration that wasn’t apparent to me five or more years ago. I hope you and others in this work can keep the momentum going. We need a variety of approaches so that all men have options that suit them.

  3. This is something I have encountered heavily where I live, mentors are few and far between. It can make things quite difficult, especially on the road of self improvement; however not having that can also make the goal of becoming a coach or mentor that much clearer.

    • It seems I am approaching my fortieth birthday and I can see the time when I will go over and becoming an elder myself. We need so much understanding, connection, and love between different generations of men. I long to step more fully into my role as a mentor and coach for younger men. For men, this was an inspirational text on male mentoring.

    • Thanks for your comment, Art. The learning curve, I think, is certainly steeper, longer, and full of more loops and switchbacks without the mentoring. On the other hand, moving through all of those experiences can also inform and enrich who you are as a person and what you have to offer others in some very unique and valuable ways.

  4. I couldn’t agree more – the sins of the fathers on to the children, even to the third and fourth generations. Good for you, stepping up to fill that void!

    • Thanks, Chris. You make a great point about the extent of the generational effects. I think this goes directly to some of the suffering and confusion so many men are feeling: They are so distant generationally from what they need, but didn’t get, that they can’t even articulate what it is.

      • Our societies used to have established systems of mentorship and male bonding, so when those were dismantled, I think you are exactly correct, men didn’t know what they were missing. I’m hoping we are starting to see some awakening in that regard, but our society has so idolized the “Lone Ranger” mentality that far too many men feel like it is “manly” to even say they have needs, much less the needs of a male mentor.

        • Well said, Chris. You might be interested in my follow-up piece “Why aren’t more older men showing up for younger men?” which can be found at On the subject of needs, you might enjoy my post “A question for men: What do you need right now?” which is available via

          I hope you’ll keep reading, exploring, and asking questions. As you said, much has been lost and we see the consequences all around us, but it is well within our reach, and we owe to ourselves and everyone around us, to do better.

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