Jones champions male elders
February 11, 2002
For close to a half a century, Terry Jones M.Ed. ’76 strove for and achieved success as a family man, psychotherapist, author, and businessman. He founded EASE, Employee Assistance Services Enterprises, and built it into a highly successful mental health consulting firm with services that have become standard employee benefits for 200,000 families throughout the nation and in Europe.
“But as I entered my 50s, I discovered that work was no longer nourishing my soul,” he says. “I was less interested in power, competition, being in charge, and running the company. I became quieter and less aggressive.”
He began to question his image and value, buying into the American perception of older people as powerless.
“While men in the 1900s died in their 50s, today’s baby boomers can expect to live to 100,” he says. “What will we do with the 40 or 50 years after retirement? We have no models to help us through this next period of life.”
His search for a new paradigm for the second half of his life evolved into his third book, The Elder Within: The Source of Mature Masculinity (BookPartners, 2001).
The book explores the concept of the revered elder throughout history, describes model elders, discusses the process of expressing elder-like behavior, and documents the need for elders in American society today.
Until the industrial age, the second half of life was a time not to retire but to serve as a resource to the community, according to Jones, who describes the elder as conservationist, celebrant, wisdom-keeper, and mentor.
“Older people have a passion for the beauty of the earth and a role to play as stewards of the planet,” he comments. As celebrants, elders are a source of blessing. As wisdom-keepers, they tell the family story. As mentors, they advise and celebrate learning.
Being an elder requires understanding mortality and the spiritual journey, showing concern for the quality of life on this planet and committing to cultivating the next generation—from the heart, Jones states in his book.
“In a society where father-hunger is of epidemic proportions and where retirement is commonly viewed as self-indulgent withdrawal, Terry Jones’ vision of eldership is enormously important,” writes reviewer James B. Nelson, professor emeritus of christian ethics, United Theological Seminary of Twin Cities.
“You don’t need to be a Ghandi to act as an elder within your own family or in your own cul-de-sac,” Jones emphasizes. “Many children grow up fatherless and can be nourished by generative older men in the community who are interested in their success. What would happen if, instead of jumping into the RV and driving out of town, the elder stayed in town and focused on mentoring young people?” he asks.
Take care of yourself so that you model the fourfold balance of physical, mental, intellectual, and spiritual well-being, Jones advises. Supervise the collection of family historical artifacts.
“What matters is that you look increasingly for ways to affirm life. It is this hunger that brings out the wisdom-keeper in a man.”
The Elder Within is available at Looking Glass Book Store in Portland and at Amazon.com.
—by Jean Kempe-Ware