July 10, 2012

A Call to My Elders—WTF?

photo by Ed Fell

Dear elders,

WTF, where are you?

Why are we not in dialogue more and how come I get the feeling that you’re sitting on your ass somewhere not caring about my generation? What is my part in our disconnection?

When I make it about me, I wonder what I’ve done to offend you. Did I piss you off? Have I been too arrogant to listen to you? Are you only willing to show up if I pay you?

When I make it about you, I judge you are the arrogant one. I have noticed that you show up only when:

A.) I treat you with blind respect.

B.) I don’t confront you on anything, and

C.) I keep myself in the role of student and you in the role of wise, expert.

When I drop my stories and projections, I am simply hurt. At the end of the day, I am hurt by your absence and I long for your presence in my life.

In my judgment, you keep perpetuating the “old guard” mentality. The old guard  means that our relationship only works when you are the “sage on the stage” and I remain the student.

Here’s how I’m impacted when you perpetuate the old guard approach:

  • >>I lose respect for you.
  • >>I lost trust in you.
  • >>I feel talked down to.
  • >>I feel ignored, abandoned, rejected and unseen.
  • >>I lose interest in connecting with you and your generation.
  • >>My stories about your “old guard way” get affirmed.

“Elders and mentors have an irreplaceable function in the life of any community. Without them, the young are lost—their overflowing energies are wasted in useless pursuits. In the absence of elders, the impetuosity of youth becomes the slow death of the community.”

~ Maladoma Some

In my own life, time and time again, I have felt abandoned by you. When I tried to confront you, I felt shamed and blown off. When I called you out, I was made wrong. Whenever I wanted an equal relationship with you, I felt rejected, abandoned and ignored. Eventually because I wasn’t willing to participate in this painful dynamic, I bailed on our connection.

During this process I was very hurt by your actions. However, looking back I now see that your behavior was very helpful to me. I needed to keep feeling dissed by you so I could get stronger in myself. I needed you to avoid your own shadow, so that I could embrace mine. I also needed to work through my “father wound” thus becoming a solid parent to myself. In the biggest sense, your absence was a real gift to me.

Then, when I became a parent, you were nowhere to be found.

Fortunately for me, in my pain and confusion, I hired one of you (David Cates) to help me through this massive transition.

photo by Joshua Levin

David helped me relax more and get stronger in myself to meet the relentless challenge of parenting two kids while maintaining a vibrant marriage—a huge task for any new parent.

David eventually became a spiritual mentor to me, which was critical as I entered a long, wobbly spiritual crisis (massive appreciation brother!).

So, yes! I finally had an elder show up for me during a very challenging time, but partly because I was ready and I asked. Perhaps this is how it works? I have no idea.

And today, I am learning from another elder Tom Daly as he, ironically, wonders how to be an elder. It’s so inspiring to see an elder not know. Wow. His humility has been a huge teaching to me as we co-facilitate the Boulder Men’s Experience.

And yes, I have high standards. I only want help from conscious, powerful, incredibly mindful, self-aware, spiritually wise elders who surround themselves with folks willing to call them on their bullshit. I want my elders to be human beings, not superhuman or perfect God-like gurus.

Believe me, I’m cool with being a student, even though my ego can get inflated. But I have found that I really, really dig being a student to other teachers and elders willing to be transparent and own their shadows.

It’s a new time and there’s a new way emerging here.

For example, a senior teacher recently came to teach a group in our community and she got schooled. She got schooled because she was bringing her old guard way to a new, young, alive group of people who wanted to drink in the now/new. They didn’t want a lecture from above. They wanted to be met, in the moment with truth about what was going on right now between us

My request?

Meet us right here, right now first; then you can lead me.

Meet me in this very moment with your humanity; then you can teach me. Yes, there is still a place for your amazing teachings and wonderful offerings. Just don’t assume I want your tips and tricks. I might not care about that, but then again, I might. Wait and see with me. Elders like Tom Daly, Ed Fell and David Cates consistently model this type of eldership for me and I want more of you to take notes from them.

Talk about your struggles and challenges please.

Talk about death, old age, sex, fucking, babies, drugs, war and intimacy. Make it personal. Talk openly about whatever keeps you up at night. Show us how to be human in the second-half of life because my culture’s way is a fear-based train wreck. I want real human beings with real issues to lead me and learn from me.

And, even though I’m asking you to engage here, I will no longer expect you to engage. In other words, I want you to show up and, I don’t need you to. Rather than wishing upon a star for what likely won’t happen, I am instead asking myself what kind of elder I want to be. How will I show up differently? I’m watching David, Ed and Tom very closely these days and so appreciating their humility in finding their way as elders.

I want to humbly remind you that contrary to previous generations you’ll need to earn my respect, it’s not given.

Your lack of eldering has perhaps been the most valuable lesson of all—that I don’t need elders in order to live my life.  But man, I sure want you here though, because I imagine my life and my community would be even richer, more expansive, and fuller with your presence. My longing says that I’d feel a lot more held and a whole lot less alone if you were with me on this ride.

photo by Joshua Levin


Finally elders, give me some feedback. What am I doing, and what is my generation doing to contribute to the rift between us? Help me understand. I’m listening.


Jayson Gaddis


Editor: Brianna Bemel


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