Just being there is a start!
It’s now well documented that older men are a high risk group for loneliness, depression and related issues: this is especially ironic since there are so many ways that older men can help those around them, and it’s also well documented that helping others is one of the best ways to help yourself too.
One role where older men are uniquely needed is in mentoring for younger men. Crime, drugs and education are among many areas where young men have worse problems than young women: for example, 80% of kids excluded from schools are boys. Two thirds of all male criminal offenders are under 30. It’s clear that the lack of fathering and older male role models has been a major factor in these problems, and mentoring for young men can help. Put simply, it involves an ongoing supportive relationship with an older man who has suitable skills and experience. It’s not therapy, and it’s not really a fathering role. In traditional tribal societies, initiation and guidance of young men didn’t come from their fathers, but from the elders of the tribe.
A Band of Brothers and Journeyman UK are two organisations whose programmes mentoring young men are well-designed and maintained. Many mentoring programmes are for young men in trouble, but there’s also a need to help young men who are a bit lost and unsupported. The Prince’s Trust and Community Service Volunteers offer ways to help in this area. If you’re in a local men’s group, you might explore what you could do together.
One reason why older men are reluctant to get involved in mentoring or other community work is that they don’t believe they have the right skills. This reflects the typical male conditioning that if we see a problem, we have to know how to fix it. It’s very clear when you talk to those running mentoring programmes that the last thing these young men need is someone to fix them. As an older man, what you really need to do is be there for them, hear them, witness their journey, and share some of your own vulnerability. Involvement in this kind of work can be a great way to learn that being there is enough.
There was a touching piece in the Guardian in January 2013 about a frail 87 year old woman wanting to contribute to her local community, and a range of great ideas on how she could do so. Even if you don’t feel you have many skills or much energy to contribute, if you’re willing to take a step and look around, you will certainly find opportunities. Local charities, conservation projects, food banks, would be a few of the places to start the exploration .