Wisdom of the ages: From elderly to elder – A guide for fathers and sons

by Ken Plattner

Fathers have sons, then sons have sons. It’s been going on for a long time, and that’s the way of it. The gracious and wise father has proudly held his children, rooted for them in school and sports, disciplined them with the courage to say “no,” encouraged their dreams, and emancipated them into mature adulthood.

With good fortune, you were launched into the world by a wise father who was comfortable in his own skin, who had his own friends and dreamed his own dreams. Hopefully, your father was a man driven by the values of accountability and integrity – someone you could trust – who wanted nothing but the best for you, who was there for you when you were scared or needed a papa.

Most of us, even if we had really great fathers, have still had to struggle with issues of identity, industry, trust, intimacy, and leadership.

The good news is that there is an ideal and a path through wisdom that’s lodged deep in the cells of every man. From our core, there is an eternal wisdom that will sustain us. We need only have the courage and persistence to delve into our sources. There we will tap the wisdom of the ages.

Ancient fathers knew and trusted the inner elder – the wise one who lives in every man. Much reverence was given to this way of seeing and trusting the world. Now, here in the 21st century, we are once again recovering the concept of wisdom and the power of claiming our elder energy.

Why is it that certain people age with vitality, vibrance and vigor, but many others shrivel, lose their juice, close themselves off, complain of aches and pains and wither away while waiting to die a sad and lonely death?

Many of those we know as “elderly” have adopted someone else’s idea of what their particular life should look like or be. On the other hand, “elders” have broken away from conventional thinking; they are generally free and willing to risk. These are people who are still growing and changing and trusting.

The Developmental Process to Becoming an Elder

As a society we have lost many of the ceremonies and passages around becoming an elder. There are still some societies that honor their elders. They respect the wisdom of those who have lived and experienced their life into maturity. It is a journey from the world-of-doing into the world-of-being. This is a sweet-spot of genuine freedom and radical bliss that, when achieved, creates a new lifestyle and a new consciousness.

Ken Kuffner, a Houston attorney and Lead Elder in the ManKind Project International, created a new framework on the stages of the elder journey just before he died. Kuffner identified a developmental process that involves a series of stages.

  • The Awakening
  • The Choice
  • The Struggle
  • Resolution and Development
  • Acceptance
  • Being in Service
  • The Ultimate Stage – Passing On

The Awakening – Facing the Inner Elder

The stage of awakening usually comes shortly after “midlife.” A growing realization starts to emerge: “This is my body and my life. I am responsible.” Sometimes it takes another form: “I do not wish to fight, to compete or to dominate. I would rather encourage, give, teach, honor and bless.”

This is the beginning or awakening of elder energy. It comes from deep inside. It’s an internal process and a “call” – sometimes beginning only with a whisper.

The Choice – Moving into Golden Elderhood

This is a new phase of life where we realize that we have more of our life behind us than in front of us. We want to take clear responsibility for how we live the rest of our life.

The key to this phase is a deep knowing – knowledge of becoming intentional and conscious; self acceptance with a refusal to sacrifice personal integrity; a commitment to “cross the threshold,” such as  becoming a declared Elder within the MKP community; and choosing perhaps to have a guide or mentor for the elder journey. This is a difficult decision to make, often frought with perils and resistance that block the development of the wise elder.

The Struggle – Facing the Shadows of Old Age

Our culture defines old age as a time of decline and disengagement. It’a a time of making peace with our losses – hair, teeth, libido, muscle structure, memory and our loved ones.

We begin to see that all our hurts, joys and struggles have contributed to our growth and wisdom. Kuffner said, “The opportunity for growth and development at this stage is as great as in the first year of life. And with this opportunity often comes struggle as we face and deal with our personal history.”

Resolution & Development – The Tools and Skills of Elderhood

In this stage of development, authenticity begins to freely emerge. The elder begins to study the ancient traditions and practices of other societies.

Emerging elders begin to review their own lives by taking a careful inventory, re-scripting and reframing their stories, then harvesting their own personal wisdom. Humility, feeling safe and nurtured, developing a capacity for compassion and integrity,  actualizing a desire to give back to the world in the spirit of service and generosity – these are the hallmarks of the elder journey at this stage.

Such an elder is comfortable in his or her own company. The elder has forgiven the past, let go of looking to the future. Instead, the elder enjoys the eternal present. The elder values slowing down and savoring the present like watching a slow-passing parade.

Acceptance – The Adventure of Elderhood

Now comes what Ken Kuffner called the turning point. The elder has made peace with the past (forgiveness, and letting go of fear and guilt), claiming true strength and wisdom, laughing from deep in the belly, feeeling comfortable in silence and self-acceptance. This energy is powerfully contagious.

Being In Service – Empowered Eldership

At this point in the elder journey, there is a passion for service. The characteristics of empowered elders include purpose and meaning, humility and wisdom, the grace and gift-giving of a master or sage. In service and blessing, elders are at home. Their mission is clear. There is a desire to serve the world with conviction and commitment. These elders have accepted the role of mentor, teacher and leader. Elder energy flows freely from the heart.

The Ultimate Stage – Passing It On Before I Pass On

Albert Einstein once said, “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all art and science.”

Facing a failing body and imminent death, the elder is once again stepping into a new phase of life, another beginning. Because the elder is a seasoned practitioner of change and new beginnings, this last stage, death, is much like the others – another beginning. On his or her final journey in this life, the elder looks at what was once important, contemplates how it got her or him to this place, to this “now,” and then looks at what part it plays as he or she prepares for the final letting go. Now is the time to say goodbye, to pay attention to beauty, mystery and awe.

These days bring awareness, contentment and connection. Most elders become comfortable with the idea that we are spiritual beings who only temporarily occupy a body. As the Elder prepares for the next transition, he or she completes what needs to be done before “it’s time.” For many elders, death is as beautiful as birth.

There is a satisfaction at the end: “I have lived my life full and well; and now my life is over.” This is a place of extraordinary power and peace.

This elder understands the journey of Morrie Schwartz (Tuesdays with Morrie):

  • Learn how to live, and you’ll know how to die.
  • Learn how to die, and you’ll know how to live.

Here is the message wise fathers pass to their sons. Hopefully, the brilliance of elders like Ken Kuffner, Kirby Benson, Terry Jones, Tom Daly, Don Jones, Robert Bly, Sam Keen, and countless other wise ones will light the way – so that all our sons may know the wisdom of the ages.

[Editor’s Note: An unedited version of this article was first published in the Journal of the Society of Certified Senior Advisors, March 2005. Kenneth Kuffner was writing a book, Elder Energy, with Kirby Benson and Ken Plattner when he unexpectedly died in 2006. The book project was set aside after Kuffner’s death.


Dr. Ken Plattner, a United Methodist minister, has served as a hospital and hospice chaplain, including service as the director of Hope Centers in Denver from 1981 to 2004. He also co-wrote with Rick Steves the award-winning 2006 guidebook, Easy Access Europe. Ken was the Colorado MKP center director (2005-07)  and now serves as the MKP Elder Vice-Chairman. For more information: http://kenplattner.com.

– is a deeply personal issue that everyone decides for himself. Sometimes the price is high, sometimes low. But this is not very important for life. Life is an interesting thing. And the price on Viagra – too.




Author: Editor

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