In many black communities, people have talked about a crisis facing the young black male. They appear to drifting into many kinds of anti-social behaviour, and have too high a profile in many violent crimes. The causes of the problem are many, but in a broad sense alienation plays a big role. Part of that alienation is bolstered by a paring away of the many ways in which young males can be brought along from childhood into adulthood. It is mentoring of a sort that is missing.
It was refreshing, therefore, to find myself part of an attempt to bring some of that mentoring to bear. Fellowship with fellows is often about trying to do the connecting in a male way. When men decide to get together, it often happens without too much elaborate scene setting. Our female companions and relatives shudder at what we find acceptable. We don’t need a lot of frippery, just a place and a purpose.
This gathering (not just to play cards) had been suggested long ago, but never seemed to find the right time, till now. The idea of men meeting to play poker sounds typically masculine. Yet, as a pretext for communing and fellowship, it was a perfect idea. Many of the younger generation can feel at ease in such a setting, whether they are experienced card players or not. But, the setting can always be given a seriousness that helps guide proceedings. So it was when the ‘elder statesmen’ took the chance to introduce ideas of working for what you want, starting from the bottom, setting goals and objectives, showing ambition, and other virtuous characteristics. The younger men listened respectfully.
Those younger men could also teach, and do so without seeming arrogant or knowing it all. They understood well the rules and language of poker, which, as in most games, are particular: burning; flop; river; blind, etc. I make no bones about not being a poker player. I understand the game, but never got into playing it. I enjoy and enjoyed watching others play and trying outsmart each other with bluffs and counter-bluffs. Ironically, a group of other men about my age, sat off to one side from the main table and talked about social problems–including unemployment, crime, and socialization. We can see them around, and the ravages that they cause.
It is not enough to hold hands and walk across dangerous roads with children. They need to be able to recognize dangers for themselves and learn how to navigate them without their hands being held. Many of us lament the demise of the family and how that framework does much to hold those in it to standards that make for a better social setting for most people. But, family means seeing more than direct siblings but also those who fall within our social net who may not be directly related but can be influenced.
I am reminded, too, in thinking about what the mentoring means that while as young people we are able to take ourselves where we want to go, as older people we are taken where others want us to go. Better to give directions early to those who will take us along later in life.