"The old male initiators -- King Arthur was one -- are interested in the souls of the young man. That's what the young men are missing, that there aren't any older men who are interested in their souls." -- Robert Bly, poet

They don't make Father's Day cards for the old male initiators, our fathers who are not our fathers. In his orations at gatherings of men, Robert Bly calls these elders "the male mothers." There are no greeting cards for them. There is no day set aside to honor them. And yet, they deserve the honor.

These elders performed duties our fathers could not perform. They led young men into realms of the male world that our fathers could not lead us to. They nurtured us. When Bly says they were interested in our souls, he does not romanticize. The Industrial Revolution removed the father from the side of his sons, leaving a void to be filled, however partially, by "the male mothers." These older men saw in young men the future of the world, not merely the future of commerce. They sought to instill virtue by word, deed and example.

Each of you will have to attach your own names and faces to the men who fit this description.

In my life, they were Jay and Ralph, Gene and Ernie, Fred, Gordie, John, Vince, Ed, Carl and Chris. I see them all now and recall the lessons they taught. To each name I can attach a specific quality that they shared by word, deed and example -- Jay, humor and creativity; Ralph, adventure and the importance of camaraderie in a good workplace; Gene, generosity and service to others; Ernie and Ed and Fred, craftsmanship, vigilance, integrity and the importance of friends; Vince, the importance of praising others and the good they do; Carl, the power of words and humanity; Chris, conscience and sacrifice; Gordie, hard work and team work; John, leadership, daring and discipline.

When Robert Bly, reflecting on men in modern society, mentions the "male mother," he uses Arthur as his first example. Here was a king interested in the souls of the young men around him, a leader who offered himself as a mentor. (Too many other leaders in recent American history have only been interested in the brains and backs of young men, as far as they serve the nation's economy and defense.)

The great jazz musicians had such mentors, interested in their souls as well as their talents. There was a time -- Bly thinks it is behind us -- when young men would travel hundreds of miles to find a mentor to provide the nourishment, experience and wisdom that did not come from their fathers, that, indeed, could only come from a man who was not the father.

"Young men need the blessings of older men," Bly says. "Young men need to be admired."

Young men need acceptance. The roles of men and women have changed drastically within a generation. But, however revolutionary the change, young men still need the acceptance of older men.

The elders have forgotten to provide it.

The young men have not learned to ask for it.

It used to be that boys didn't need to ask. In the extended family, there were uncles to serve as "male mothers." Or there was a grandfather, maybe two, and his friend. If a boy could not reach his father -- if the father was physically or emotionally absent -- another man could stand in, and that man would be close at hand. Looking back, I can think of more than a dozen men I should honor on Father's Day, for each made a contribution, each performed the beautiful deed of taking an interest in me and finding something worth praising.

But Robert Bly is saying that such relationships no longer exist, or are too rare for the good of society.

From 1960 through 1990, many things happened, and a frequently overlooked thing was the dramatic increase in the mobility of young people. As more and more young people moved away from the old industrial centers of the East, going West/Southwest for sun and fortunes, they lost touch with their extended families. Men broke further away from their fathers -- which frequently was something desired, or forced by divorce -- but they also lost regular contact with "the male mothers."

Bly might have here an explanation for a loss of soul in the 1980s. It might explain, in part, why the Eighties are regarded as the Get-Mine, Every-Man-For-Himself years. Throughout the turbulent period of Vietnam through the Reagan presidency, there weren't enough older men interested in the souls of young men. And not enough young men interested in offering their souls for nurturing.

This weekend, this Father's Day, I am going to give thanks for the older men who nurtured me, each in his own way and in a way my father couldn't. And I am going to seek out a young man to admire.