Many of the problems that young men face can be traced back to a lack of fathering. It’s estimated that kids in 50% of the white households and 75% of the black households in America live without their biological fathers. Although mothers, teachers and other authority figures may try to compensate for what is lost in a young person’s life due to this staggering statistic, the truth is that boys can only really receive what they’re seeking from adult men. The psychological processes involved in male initiation allow for no substitutes. The next best thing for boys who never received healthy fathering is some kind of mentoring relationship with other men.

As society has grown more aware of the fathering crisis, more men have stepped forward to fill this role. Mentoring programs exist for everything from drug rehabilitation and violence prevention to navigating the college application process. These programs have become more popular because they’ve been proven to work. All too often, fatherless boys express the pain of their underlying wounds through crime, violence and poor life choices. Mentoring helps them to identify – and build upon – their real strengths, and this in itself helps to steer young people away from self-destructive paths.

Oftentimes, these kids have suffered because their abilities and their positive qualities were never recognized and affirmed by others. Boys need older men to serve as their mirror. When they look up to grown men they begin to understand and more clearly envision their own potential. Their ideas about what constitutes integrity, respect, good character and healthy responsibility begin to crystallize. Then, with the help of the encouragement of older men, they can begin to embody these ideals. They begin to blossom with the attention that they receive.

At its heart, the community of men is a brotherhood. This means that boys who react negatively towards grown men because of their own father wounds will end up attacking themselves as well. They tend to cover up their more authentic feelings beneath layers of false bravado and antisocial behavior. By the same token, however, boys who learn to admire and appreciate older men will simultaneously learn to recognize and affirm their own worth.

By and large, fatherless boys struggle to find their way in this world. They suffer along the way, and oftentimes they don’t understand why they’re suffering or what they can do about it. Male mentoring can help them to see their underlying wound for what it is. Then they can begin to heal from it. Mentors step into the psychological vacuum that is left behind when natural fathers fail, for one reason or another, to be a presence in their sons’ lives.