In the 1990's I worked with teenagers alongside an ex-sailor, in his late 70's. His ability to shock and please the teens was phenomenal, he could generate respect and awe through his cheeky manner in a way we younger teachers couldn't. There was often a magnetic attraction between him and these younger people which always impressed me.
I recently facilitated a conference on masculinity, 'Real Men - stepping up', in which women and men discussed how we can help the coming generations. As part of this process I invited some teenagers to discuss their experiences of an initiation process with older men. Their response was very enthusiastic and positive, they had found it to be of great value.
One of the most important experiences for the teens was to really be listened to by men. This came as a distinct contrast to their relationship with their mothers and fathers, and some of their teachers.
Remarkably, the teens revealed they had altered their interactions with women since being part of the men's group. They'd learnt to respect difference, they became better listeners, and they also noted they were now more attractive to women because of this maturity. Just by being involved with older men the teens had changed their attitude and view on life, and this surely is an indicator of the way forward if we want to help the next generations.
Many men remark how much better at being a grandfather their fathers are. Jack the sailor was a great example of how simple and effective grandfathers can be as teachers for their grandchildren's generation. I am seeking to create such opportunities and experiences for older men to be role models and help to nurture others. We have so many men who could be really good listeners to teenagers.
In contrast our present lack of good positive male role models, the increasing number of absent fathers, the fear of paedophiles, and the lack of mature guidance and mentoring makes the transition to manhood fraught with difficulties. As a culture we expect our boys to become men without assistance, whereas we could all do with help, guidance and support. These qualities are best imparted by someone who has 'been there and done it', and such mentors can help fathers as well as teens.
The workshops I run promote the concepts of listening and praise, mutual support and encouragement, and I want this to be a three generational experience, from grandfathers to children and back again. With each generation supporting and learning from the other two, not dominating or preaching. This work allows boys and men to express themselves authentically within the boundaries of the group and with appropriate safeguards.
Being with older men can often be a validation of our masculinity, it gives us hope for the future on a personal and societal level. Being with younger men can re-connect us to joy, risk taking, and having fun. By having cross-generational experiences we can challenge the blame culture we presently inhabit, and stop thinking of the other generations as alien beings. So many of us are afraid of teenagers, don't understand them, and at the same time blame our elders for being grumpy, miserable and harsh.
Take the time to listen to either of them properly, and you'll find they are just like you and me.