The power to mentor boys lies with male figures

A man plays chess with a young boy. Male figures play a crucial role in mentoring boys.

Photo credit: Photo I Pool

What you need to know:

  • A mentor should be a trusted adviser and role model; he is knowledgeable and willing to invest time and create opportunities to show how to do the right thing.
  • A close relationship between the two people inspires exchange of values and ideas, learning from each other. ­­

A young man gets onto the floor to dance to a song the radio has just started playing. His grey haired grandfather observes the rhythmless steps, sneers a bit and then removes his necktie and taps the young man to show him how “we do it.”

Before long, the young man and his grandfather are dancing in sync and look set to win the next dancing competition whenever it is announced!

That short episode of an advertisement on one of our televisions is a modern-day illustration of mentorship and the boy child. In recent years, there has been a huge backlash about the boy child and the wanton neglect he suffers. The bane has, of course, been his mother, who has “over-empowered the girl child”.

His mother is, metaphorically speaking, all the women in the country who have raised their voices and actions in support of the girl child. In the storm, we have forgotten why it was necessary to empower the girl child in the first place, and are likely to rubbish both the gains and the efforts that went into it.

Mentorship was inspired by the character of Mentes in Homer's Odyssey. The poem follows the Greek hero Odysseus, king of Ithaca, and his journey home after the decade-long Trojan War.

After the war, his journey lasted for 10 additional years, during which he encountered many perils and all his crew-mates were killed. It was assumed that he had also died and many men flocked to try their luck with the supposedly widowed Queen Penelope.

Mentes, who, for some reason, didn’t go to the war, advises Prince Telemachus to go out in search of his father. The boy faithfully goes, without contact details, without phone calls, just inquiring from strangers. And after he miraculously finds his father, they return home and together eject the suitors of Penelope, thus restoring his parents’ marriage.

In the dancing episode above, the old man notices the young man is doing it wrong. He takes the initiative to correct the mistake. He shows the way, without stopping the music, or interrupting the flow. The young man doesn’t resist, he is happy to learn from his grandfather.

Three lessons about mentorship emerge from these two episodes. The first is that the mentor is a trusted adviser and role model: he is knowledgeable and willing to invest time and create opportunities to show how to do the right thing. The mentor equips the protégé, preparing them for the challenges ahead. The close relationship between the two people inspires exchange of values and ideas, learning from each other. ­­

The second lesson is that mentorship is a relationship. From that advert, the two men have a common interest- the song. They are happy to be dancing partners, suggesting a relationship built over time so they know each other’s interests. It is also possible the young man developed the interest from listening and watching his grandfather.

In the Odyssey, Mentor was the friend and surrogate father to Telemachus, son of Odysseus and Penelope.  He introduced Telemachus to community leaders and guided the young man's search for his father and heritage.

Third: in mentorship there is mutual trust and respect. It offers personal and professional advantages for both parties. A mentor or a guardian prepares the mentee for the mental, physical, or emotional challenges they will face in their journey to overcome an inner conflict and achieve their life goal.

There are abundant opportunities for learning and growth both ways. It is also time for creating and having fun, learning more about each other, improving self-esteem and enhancing social relationships. With mentorship, comes deployment: one is empowered so that they empower others.

When it was time to go in search of his father, Telemachus did not go with Mentor. The time they had spent together sharing valuable knowledge is what was there to push him forward. When the young adult on our television station needs to go to the real disco, grandpa won’t be with him there.


The three challenges for the boy child are today related to these three aspects of mentorship. The first challenge is that in traditional Africa, men hunted the food and brought it home for the women to cook. They took the livestock out to the fields to feed and to the river to drink. The older men worked daily with the younger men so mentorship was a daily occurrence.

In today's classroom fuel money-driven economy, where men and women stand equal chance to bring the food home, what niche have the men curved for themselves as the women continue to be in the kitchen whether willingly or unwillingly? Where are the men who have done it right and are willing to stand up and show the right way?

The second challenge is relationships. It is significant that the dance in our advert above is between two men. It is neither mother nor grandmother teaching the young man to dance.

The two men are at home in the living room, not out in a club. Where are the men in the families spending their time? Are they communicating and developing relationships of mentorship and trust with their progeny?

Finally, the question of mutual trust and respect. Have the men earned the trust of their progeny? Have the men deployed themselves for their children and, in turn, are awaiting to deploy them?

A mother cannot teach a son how to be a man. No matter how much time she spends with that boy, a male figure, who knows what is right and needs doing, is necessary. And that, my friends, is where we, as a society, are lacking.