11/22/2011 08:15 am ET | Updated Jan 22, 2012

Men, Mentoring, and Macho Mythology

If there are any men in America capable of ending the macho-man myth, they're Boomers. We've been around long enough to learn that the men with authentic power aren't the tough guys who project ego and bravado, but rather those who exhibit emotional consciousness and control.

All men experience emotions, but few are in touch with their feelings, let alone have worked on processing them. Men often stuff their feelings deep down into a special place that serves as their reservoir of unacknowledged pain. Invariably, those ignored feelings boil over and explode to the surface, causing pain and suffering for everyone in the man's life.

My own manhood was so mired in unconscious behavior that I inflicted pain on everyone around me well into my forties. My flimsy excuse was that that's how men behave. My father--my first male role model--was a violent man and frequently raged out of control. While I eventually rejected him and his example, the notion that unrestrained expression of anger was somehow acceptable had been etched into my psyche.

Raging, angry men alienate people and, consequently, never get their needs met. At the other end of the emotional spectrum are the macho-suck-it-up types who assume that silence indicates emotional strength. That's nonsense, though, because men who internalize their feelings don't get their needs met, either. Emotional balance lies somewhere between these extremes. But how can men find it?

Before the Industrial Revolution, boys learned how appropriate male behavior by spending their days working beside their fathers in the fields or apprenticing in their fathers' trades. Since then, though, fathers haven't been around to mentor their sons, and most young men no longer get that critical rite of passage.

Even if fathers are available to their sons, if they haven't done their own emotional work, they won't be effective role models. Fathers who aren't able to tell their sons that they love them--and I've met many--struggle with emotional consciousness and find it difficult to offer their sons an appropriate example.

Young men need the counsel of Boomers who've figured out how to function emotionally as men. Mentoring hasn't been part of our cultural tradition, but men can--and need to--begin mentoring each other. Twenty years ago, I started a men's group of eight guys in their forties--representing over three hundred years of collective male experiences. We supported each other through the rites of passage into manhood we'd all missed out on and are still meeting and becoming better men, partners, fathers, and friends.

Many Boomers have already done the work and have taught their sons the value of identifying and working through their emotional issues rather than remaining slaves to them. Unfortunately, though, as many, or even more, men still function in a shutdown mode, remaining emotionally numb to their pain.

It's way past time for men to stop accepting their emotional limitations and begin empowering themselves. That means looking inside, doing the work with other men, and reaching out to mentor younger guys. It's what acting like a man is all about.