Posts Tagged ‘loving and caring’

A conversation with the elders – (Where are the Elders in Iron John)

Mar 10 2014

For me and many other men the story of Iron John has become that rarest of things a myth and more than that it is an allegory that I use to stir myself when things aren’t going well and I need inspiring.

At times it can also be a metaphor for my life. Never more so than now, when I’m dealing with what eldership is and what it means to me. As part of this journey I found myself listening to a version of the Iron John story that was presented at the Minnesota Men’s conference in 2013. It was a wonderful way of getting to know the story again. However as I listened to the first two parts I realised that there was something missing.

At first I couldn’t ‘put my finger on it’. However after some reflection I realised that what was missing for me was an elder presence, or at least what I imagined an elder presence to be. The more I thought about it the more I wondered how different the story of Iron John would be with the elders there; Would a wise elder have told the king not to send someone to look for Iron John but the prince, if they had caught him would that same elder have told the king and the hunters not to put Iron John under lock and key but to respect him for the power and wisdom that he had and finally would the wise elder have recognised the prince in disguise  telling the King and the Princess who he was.

It boiled down to one question what deeds and words am I looking for from the elders in this eternal tale.

In hindsight if the elders had done any of the above things it would have been a very different tale, possibly a shorter one.

However I’ve begun to realise that like life elders for whatever reasons don’t do things the way I expect or want them to and perhaps part of that is the realisation that sometimes an elder has to let things take their path because they don’t know how they will end or elders let things happen because they don’t trust their own wisdom and experience or maybe it’s because sometimes that’s how the story is supposed to end.

It was only listening to the whole piece that I got my answer as to where the elders were and what they were doing and it all made sense. Martin Shaw and Daniel Deardorff tell of a ‘Baronial King’ appearing at the young man’s wedding to the princess. He tells those gathered that he is Iron John and how many years ago a spell had been put on him.

Of course it all made sense, the story of Iron John like any other myth is not only the story of a boy becoming a young man and that young man recognising his own value and becoming a lover and a king. It is also the story of how we have been distancing ourselves from our elders and our past.

It’s a story of how those elders trying to find a form that is acceptable call to us from the primordial forest longing for a connection that the present (in the form of the first king, the boy’s father) tries to block with hunters and dogs.

It is also a story of how once the connection has been made between the elders and the youth (the boy setting Iron John free and fleeing with him into the forest) can the boy begin to learn who he is free from the demands of the king and the expectations of the queen.

The moments where; first the boy’s finger, then a hair and finally all the hair on his head turn to gold are for me moments when being in the primordial forest I/he/we become connected to another time.

Surrounded by the ancestors and their blessings we are shown the beauty of who we are and what we can be; not a lawyer, an accountant or a manager but a king of our domain. With that knowledge we know that we must return to honour, encourage and bless those who will follow us as we have been by those who came before us. The elders in the form of Iron John recognise that one part of our growth is complete and we must continue our journey in this world.

The remainder of the story, poignant as it is I won’t discuss further. However I will say that by me the elders are missed. Away from the requirements and wishes of our parents a hug or pat on the head from a kind grandfather or the encouragement and blessing from a wise uncle would have spurred many a young man into action.

Perhaps that is the one of the lessons for these times. If the elders don’t bless or inspire the young men then they’ll have to trust a lot more to things ‘turning all right in the end’.  Perhaps this is letting go but it feels more like never having taken hold in the first place.

When I first read it Iron John was about a boy’s journey into manhood and claiming his place. I’ve now seen another thread in the story which is about the need for the generations to connect and support each other as I believe that independence is not the end of the journey but a stop along the way to interdependence.

By Shaky Shergill

A conversation with the elders – (What I want) – Part 2

Feb 10 2014

Feeling a lack of male elder energy in my life I’ve started this series of articles to start a conversation with the elders. In the hope that they are as ready to share as I am to listen and bless as I am ready to honour.

Firstly who are my elders? I believe that any man who is older than me and would father or grandfather me; teaching, sharing, blessing and honouring me is in my eyes an elder. However unlike my predecessors from that village in Punjab (North West India) where all the men would have been born in the same land, spoke the same mother tongue where I was born I want to acknowledge the rainbow of men; from different lands, who will have different birth languages, wearing different clothes, loving in diverse ways but still sons of the same mother.

Secondly, what do I want from these elders; whose paths will cross mine in this reality, online or by reference?–

Honoured elders, fathers and grandfathers,

I want you to share your stories and hear mine.

I want to hear about your successes and I want to learn from your failures.

I want to be proud of your humility and humbled by your dignity.

I want to learn of your youth and teach from my life.

I want to see you strong in adversity and tender in love.

I want to be sanctified by your tears and healed by your laughter.

I want to see my children open their arms at the sight of you and you to gather them in yours.

I want to see my love shine in your eyes and yours reflected in mine.

I want to know that you’ll give me space to grow and hold me if I wither.

I want to see you value your brothers and teach me to honour my adversaries

I want to know that you acknowledge regrets and show me how to admit shame.

I want to see you respect life and teach me to accept death.

And if all else fails

I want to know that you’ll hold me and listen to me. 

The above is a list of wants which although I’ve penned I’m hoping aren’t specific to me and maybe one day I’ll be in a position where I can respond to them from an elder perspective.

 Courtesy of Shaky Shergill 

(click here for part one of his series)



A conversation with the elders – (A personal one) Part 3

Feb 03 2014

There is a part of me that has felt that my experience of manhood has been lacking without having a significant elder presence in my life. My father is present and our relationship is growing, but there are times I feel that something is missing. Something that ties me to more closely to humanity, those who have gone before me and the earth than a link that is based on my spending habits or other demographics a grandfather presence.

If I close my eyes I can almost see what I want/ need…

On a clear evening there is a roaring fire which separates my paternal grandfather (I called him Baba) and me. He smiles to show that he has been waiting for me and to welcome me.  There is a companionable silence before we begin. “So how are you?” he asks. That question throws me, there’s so much to tell and even more to ask. However I don’t know how to begin or where to begin. In that magical place I know that he knows all that I know and also that he will wait for me to broach a topic.

So, where do I begin, at the most obvious place, I suppose “I miss you baba”, it’s only recently, perhaps as I approach the elder stage in my life that I realise how true this is. I miss the fact that I’ll never hear you tell stories of your life. What worked, what didn’t and what you would have done differently.

I miss that we’ll never be able to have a relationship that isn’t built on your anger and I judge the sadness that was associated with that anger. I miss and am sad that we’ll never be able to heal each other with our sharing.

I miss your smile and laughter and that we’ll never be able to laugh and share as men, maybe even as equals.

At times it feels like we are similar and not just physically, I miss that you’ll never be able to share your experiences which would help me to see mine in a new light and learn from you.

I miss that you’ll never see your first great grandson and laugh at his anecdotes and japes.

I miss that you’ll never be able to tell me how proud you are of me and seeing the light in your eyes as you do.

I miss that I’ll never be able to share with you how some of the things you did made me feel so loved and accepted and to be able to thank you for them.

I realise that as I’ve been talking, I’ve been looking more at the fire than I have at him but as I look up I see him smiling and know that it’s OK, he’s heard what I needed and wanted to say and perhaps in that magical place we will be able to meet and share again. As I open my eyes I’m aware that the smile that I’d seen on his face is echoed on mine.

Courtesy of Shaky Shergill 

(click here to find earlier parts of this mini series)

Learning to love – by Walter Michka

Aug 12 2013

There wasn’t a lot of what I’d call love in my household growing up. My parents were cold, unemotional, verbally and physically abusive to me, and each other, at times. I can’t remember my father ever saying he loved me or giving me a hug. My mother told me once when I was a teenager: “I love you,” she said, followed by “but I don’t like you.” The years of psychological therapy after my quadruple bypass helped me reprocess my parents’ behavior and put it in perspective. It didn’t excuse how they acted and it didn’t erase the mark it left on me but I more or less understand the kind of people they were.

All four of my grandparents were immigrants from Belarus; they were icy and stoic. The two on my mother’s side lost their first three children in the 1918 flu pandemic. The two on my father’s side suffered through a loveless, arranged marriage. Their lives were a struggle.

I learned love by my parents’ example. I had a steady girlfriend in high school and quite a few more in college— dates, hook-ups, I even lived with a few women. I never had strong feelings for any of them, really, not feelings of love. I didn’t know what love should feel like. I certainly never experienced the kind of love toward them you see in movies, the deep, yearning, stare-into-each-other’s-eyes gushing kind of love.

When I met my wife it was far from love at first sight. You know those stories they tell on talkshows where the guy says: “the moment I saw her I told myself that was the woman I’m going to marry?” That wasn’t us. She liked me, flirted with me, hung out with my friends and me. But I barely knew she was there. Months later, I bumped into her again and I asked her out. We dated and moved in together. It took years before I asked her to marry me and only after she pretty much threatened to break up.

I didn’t think much of marriage. There weren’t a lot of great role models to encourage me that it was something I wanted to try. My parents’ shouting and fighting, the cold, distant marriages of other relatives… I wasn’t in any rush.

My children showed me what love is.

When our first child was born, I was smitten. I finally felt that deep, yearning, stare-into-each-other’s-eyes gushing kind of love you see in movies…  Sharing that love with one, then two, then three more kids didn’t diminish that feeling one bit. In fact, it was more like love to the fourth power. It was a sinking ache in my chest that could make me well up with tears just seeing them play with Legos. Sometimes I’d be watching a video with Jack, let’s say, Thomas the Tank Engine for the 20th time, and he’d catch me looking at him instead of the TV.

“I’m watching The Jack Show,” I’d tell him. “This is my favorite episode where Jack watches a movie with his dad.”

My wife worked nights and weekends as a stage actress when our children were little, so that was my time to step in as Mr. Mom. That really helped me get closer to my children, helped me become the kind of father I never had growing up.

With time and the help of my psychologist, I’ve come to realize what love is— to me. My wife and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary this past April (although we’ve been together 29 as she’s quick to add). My love for my wife has grown over the years, matured, or maybe I’m just in better touch with it. And while it still might not be the yearning, gushing kind of love of a romantic drama, it’s become the loudness and laughter and warm hugs of a Neil Simon play.


Walter Michka is a guest writer for MB50 and currently writes for the Chicago Post, along with other publications. We recently posted his insights to life following his major heart surgery.


How to be a Health Advocate

Nov 28 2012

When you or someone you care for is seriously ill , there are many down to earth ways which can make all the difference in creating the essential mix of hope and healing. For the patient/health advocate team on the journey of a major sickness together, always think of it in terms of the “we” relationship, including engaging others to help.



  • Offer to be a conduit of information, and be the clinic companion.
  • Offer to check online health information to make sure it is ‘gold standard’.
  • Become an information gatherer, or find out who to contact for a ‘second opinion’ if that is what is wanted.
  • Find out if there are additional nursing, caring services, or group support in the local  area.
  • Build up hope. Avoid the statistics of the negative and provide opportunities for encouragement at all times.
  • Always support a decision once it has been made.



  • Be a good listener. We do not have to talk  about the problem or be giving advice all the time.
  • Maximise the laughs. Laughter is the best  medicine.
  • Be relentlessly encouraging among friends and family, and cultivate the friends with the most positivity.
  • Be ready for those thoughtless remarks that can sometimes drop into conversations, and if necessary be prepared to challenge them.
  • Be open to talking about spiritual questions, but don’t feel that there have to be answers or that we have to provide them. Share what wisdom we have, and be equally confident and supportive  in the silences.
  • Be honest. Avoid giving false reassurance or only dwelling on heroic tales of recovery.
  • Help the people visiting to be as normal as  possible. It does not need to be all serious.
  • Help people to understand that we are  different as a result of the illness.
  • If your patient friend doesn’t want to talk about ‘it’, that is OK.



  • Flowers and plants at home. Yes, men like flowers too.
  • Borrow a footbath from a local pedicurist for a home treat.
  • Give cashmere bed socks.
  • Give a loose-fitting pair of cotton trousers.
  • Help with the cooking.
  • Offer to find somebody who can provide a home massage.
  • Suggest a talking book if your patient friend is too tired to keep their eyes open.



  • Plan treats ahead so there is always  something to look forward to.
  • Check out whether other members of the family are coping.
  • Offer to set up a supper rota.
  • Offer to set up a group email.
  • Offer to find out about grants and financial  entitlements.
  • If your patient friend is keen on alternative medicine, find out what is available locally. If they are paying for it, check that they are not being exploited. Also check out what is available on the NHS locally.