Your Dad, in Two Words

We asked men to describe their fathers in two words. This is what they said.

“I only need one word. Abusador.”
Junot Díaz, Pulitzer Prize-winning author.

“Vodka and charm.”
Nick Flynn,
poet, playwright, and author.

“Compassionate and Botox. Wait, let’s replace Botox with awesome.”
Tom Riles, comedian.

“Clever. Witty.”
Andrew Seibert, president of SmartMoney.

Con man.”
Duncan Roy, filmmaker and Sex Rehab With Dr. Drew star.

Taxicab driver.”
Sewell Chan, journalist.

“Brave and loving. I need to elaborate. My father suffered a paralyzing stroke when my mother was pregnant with me in 1959. She already had four other young children at home, and his illness was a major impact on the entire family. I grew up watching him work hard all his life, despite his paralysis, loving and providing for his family.”
Michael Angley,
author.

“Loving contradiction.”
Todd Mauldin, bluesman.

Brilliant and ineffectual (and sadly, departed).”
Alan Poul, director/producer.

Honest Ragman.
David Carr, author and journalist.

“Here’s what I’m going to say. I’m going to do more than two words, I’m sorry. But my dad is generous, honest, kind, principled, direct—but he’s an asshole. And it in some ways is a redeeming grace, because if he [had] all those virtues and was also just a nice guy all the time, he’d be perfect. He is a paragon of all that is best in a man, and yet a complete jerk at the same time.”
Rev. John Finley IV, founder of the Epiphany School in Boston.

“Kind. Withdrawn.”
Joe McGinniss, author and journalist.

Simply complex.
Stafford Arima, theater director.

“Eccentric and honest. He’s definitely eccentric—to give you one example, he’s very proud of his world record for the most number of footnotes in a law review article. It was his Mt. Everest: 4,281. But more impressive to me, is that he’s honest. To the extreme. Whenever we’re on a road trip, he refuses to pull over at any old Holiday Inn or McDonald’s to use the bathroom. Not unless we buy something. Otherwise, he says, we’d be stealing their soap and paper towels. So our bladders may be fuller, but our conscience is spotless.”
A.J. Jacobs, author.

“Aloof. Self-centered.”
John C. Abell, journalist.

“Charisma and character. He had a crowded, loving funeral. I met so many people that day who I’d never seen before; people whose lives had been touched by him. The parking lot was overflowing. It made it easier for me in a way, as grieving him became, unexpectedly, a communal experience. And even though he died when I was 16 he left me with lessons that have been good company my whole life.”
Alexander Chee, novelist.

“Unflinchingly strong.”
Ben Corman, creative director of Rudius Media.

“Quiet. Stern.”
Randy Strauss, EMT.

“I’ll give you two pairs of contradictions: warm/explosive and fun/depressive. What can I say? He was loving, and he drank.”
Gordon Wheeler, CEO, Esalen Institute.

Tough. Caring. He’s a great dad, but of course I didn’t always think that when I was 16 and he was trying to get me not to act like an idiot.
Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern University head football coach.

“Oh, wow. My dad. My dad is… he’s… wow. I’m trying to come up with the two that best describe him. I would say the two words would be…wow, this is… do people have a hard time with this? My dad is sweet and pragmatic. My dad was my high school principal. It sucked.”
Brady Udall, novelist.

“Renaissance man.”
Jeffrey Zaslow, journalist and author.

“Determined, tough, and compassionate.”
Josh Kraft, CEO, Boys & Girls Club of Boston. His father is Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots.

“Casual and guarded.”
Tertulien Thomas, Jr., actor and model.

“Despair and alone.”
Robb Braun, motivational speaker.

“Inherently good.”
Steve Scalzi, director of basketball operations, Northeastern University.

“Alcoholic.”
J. Stephen Hicks, photographer.

“Open mystery.”
David Atchison, writer and producer.

“Blindly supportive.”
Kenneth Hughes, actor and producer.

“Mensch. Integrity.”
Tim Berry, founder and president, Palo Alto Software.

“I don’t know if can do it in a couple of words. He was a typical World War II guy—never said anything about his whole deal over there and didn’t really talk about himself, about anything really. He just went to work, raised kids, and tried to do the right thing. Basically he was a barber. That was his main deal, being a barber. I used to go to his shop when I was a kid and watch all the men play checkers and listen to them talk about theirfamilies and politics and baseball. He got a Purple Heart because the enemy blew his jeep up one time. He just happened to jump out of it in time. When he came home from the war, instead of going to college on the GI Bill, he decided he had to go to work. He got married and had kids right away and went to work.”
Dave Cowens, NBA Hall of Famer.

“Brilliant, out-of-control.”
Michael Kamber, photojournalist.

Winner. Loser.
Tom Junod, writer.

“Thug life. It’s a good thing, Dad.”
My son, Seamus Matlack, about me, Thomas Matlack, founder of The Good Men Project.

“Brilliant and idealistic.”
Me, Thomas Matlack, about my dad, James Matlack.

“Hard-working. Remote.”
James Matlack, about his father, Bob Matlack.

 

UPDATE: Since Tom Matlack first posted this column, scores of people have joined in to describe their own dads in two words. It became a meme on Twitter (#MyDadin2Words), a discussion on Facebook, hit the front of HuffPo, and is showing up in search results all over. Thanks to all who participated — we’ve compiled over 100 more answers below. (You can view right from here, or sign into Scribd if you want to download the PDF.)


Dad in Two Words

♦ ♦ ♦

The Good Men Project: Real Stories from the Front Lines of Modern Manhood. It was how the The Good Men Project first began. Want to buy the book? Click here. Want to learn more? Here you go.

 

 

About Tom Matlack

Thomas Matlack is a venture capitalist.

Comments

  1. Hurtful memories

  2. Wish I never had met him.
    SELFISH GIVER

  3. Rupinder Mangat says:

    My Hero.

  4. Da Man.

    By the way, I love Junot. One of my favorite authors.

  5. Chris Beveridge says:

    Craftsmanship matters.

  6. Ass Hole.

  7. courage the cowardly dog says:

    Quiet thinker.

  8. Loving hardass.

  9. sorely missed

  10. Ted Bowen says:

    Terribly missed

  11. Emotional. Flawed.

  12. Ray Page says:

    Mister Smiles

  13. Inappropriate, lovable.

  14. Artist. Achiever.

  15. Manic Depressive.

  16. heroin addict

  17. Cruel. Brutal.

  18. Jock steady, baby

  19. fading away

  20. Crystal says:

    Silly and Virtued,

  21. Jessica says:

    Bleeding Heart.
    My father always let it be known how much he loved me and my family. Even after he died I still feel it today.

  22. Absentee Sadsack

    He left my mother with two children. She has never stopped loving him. He didn’t know us growing up and now he really doesn’t know us because he has Alzheimer’s.

  23. tolerable alcoholic

    hate him when he’s drunk, tolerable when he’s not

  24. Carolyn gordon says:

    Wholeheartedly missed. He died 8 years ago, didn’t see me get married–I miss him every single day.

  25. diana french says:

    Two words, this is easy… Earth Angel. My dad is my hero in so many ways. He died too young, left too many broken hearts because we miss him. reminds me of an old country western song, “angel flying too close to the ground” Happy fathers day Dad. I love you forever and forever. Every good thing about my life has you in it somewhere.

  26. blackberryjam says:

    backhanded slap

  27. quincyscott says:

    I fail at this. I give up. I can’t boil the man down to two words. But I am rather moved by so many of the comments here, and really I think I have my dad to thank for that. My father was and is a soft-hearted man, easily brought to tears. I am, often, a complete asshole, in a way that I can’t imagine my dad has ever been. Sometimes I think he’s a fool, sometimes we have argued, but I and everyone else who knows my father knows he is the most decent, most giving and patient human being. Sometimes, in my best moments, I have a big, tender heart, and I got that from you, Frank Scott.

  28. fun loving
    whore monger
    ass hole
    but I miss him!

  29. Dreamer and Booster

  30. he died when i was eight..sadly ive never got to know him really.. but i felt he was very brave and strong..but also broken and sad..still makes me sad when i think of him…what life he had to go thru..how tragic it ended…but i know he loved me and always treated me right..at least as good and long as he could..

  31. Ecologist & poet

    truly wonderful was my send choice: he never said anything mean about anyone not even my
    mom and has been a terrific dad.

  32. “the greatest”

  33. Bobby C says:

    Still MIssed

  34. Kevin D. Maskrey says:

    Cowardly lion.

  35. GO. LAKERS.

  36. My father: alcoholic tragedy. This fits for many reasons – and it is not meant to malign the man. This year is my first father’s day. It has been almost fifteen years since my father drank himself to death. His life – and my life growing up with him – was an alcoholic tragedy. The biggest tragedy was what he lost out on and what we who loved him lost out on as well as a result of his alcoholism. His actual death was also quite a tragedy, as if it were taken from the Greeks themselves, because he was found dead in our family home after hemorrhaging to death on the day that he was supposed to sign the retirement papers from his high-ranking gov’t job because they were too incompetent to come up with anything other than fire/retire as an option for a chronic alcoholic who had served them for almost thirty years. And yet, like many tragedies, my father in all of his imperfection is the greatest inspiration for the life I live today and the father I am and will be.

  37. Honest. Humble.
    My father was a bank president and chairman of a large bank holding company. When I would visit his office, he insisted I greet everyone properly-especially the men and women who, after hours, cleaned his office and emptied his trash. He knew all their names, their family stories and never let me say anything derogatory about them. He was exactly like his father in that. Respect everyone regardless of station in life. He makes me proud still with that attitude-and I strive to be the same. And he loves my mom deeply.

  38. David Higginbotham says:

    GOOD MAN!

  39. The two words that describe my father the best are “Ass Hole”

    I was adopted and he’s always made it painfully aware to me, that I am not loved or as
    important as his 2 biological children.

    Sad.

  40. Making amends.

  41. DaddyYo Blog says:

    The two words that describe my father the best are “Committed” and “Faith”
    … The two words almost become one when using them to describe my dad. As
    far back as I can remember my dad has been a religious man. His unshakable
    faith and commitment to his family and his God have always been his driving
    force. From business trips across the country to 2am calls to go to work and
    be in his office for 48 hours at a time, he has done it all in commitment to
    his family and the faith that called him to be the man he is.

  42. Van Dyke, Michael @ VTC says:

    Tough guy

    My father grew up under pretty rugged circumstances. His father left an already struggling family of 5 kids to be raised by a mother who worked as a waitress, post WW I. For much of his early life, he was pretty much a street kid who loved baseball and boxing. During the Depression he jumped trains and travelled across the country looking for whatever work he could get. For most of his adult life he worked rotating shifts in a chemical factory, long before there were things like environmental regulations. I worked there, too. I know what it was like and it wasn’t pretty but he did what he had to do to make a living and provide for his family.

    When I say tough guy, I mean that he took what life dealt him and kept fighting. As a father, he was tough but fair and I respected and appreciated what he did for me because I know what it took for him to do that. I miss him every day.

  43. Graham Phoenix, Male eXperience says:

    Domineering, Loving.

    He so wanted to the best for his family. He never stopped trying. Not just his wife, my mother, but also his three boys. I was the youngest and could see how hard he found it to have boys who didn’t do what HE wanted. He loved us so much he could see what was best for us. His fault, if you can call it that was that he found it difficult to let us go in the direction we wanted. But perversely, that’s what we did. We flew off and worked and became successful. I became a world-class lighting designer, the eldest became an aeronautical engineer, still working at nearly 70. The middle brother became a hairdresser. Not much in common except a desire to be ourselves. Hmmm…. maybe our father put that there…..

    Thanks for listening

    Graham

  44. MkAllen says:

    “Hard Working”. The man worked 2 jobs most of his life and God was he hard on himself and everyone around him.

  45. Jim Parkevich says:

    Hi Tom
    Caught you on TV the other night and I was immediately drawn to you and your group for so many reasons , it is hard to speak of all my history in this one email. There will surely be more to follow as I have been waging my own battles for good men. More on this later.
    The two words? “loving and terrifying’….To preface this story in a little deeper context, I will recite some very wise words from one of my cousins; “Jimmy, we were born in America but lived in a foreign country”
    And there is the heart of this story and my entire life. A child of the first generation born to immigrant parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and a vast array of extended family and friends from the “old country” of Macedonia.
    Of course, lots of men and women are first born generation(s) of immigrant parents from all over the world, now
    residing in America. The problem that would follow myself, my brothers and my cousins was that our parents, for their entire lives, lived with their petty little aggravations, disregard for education, suspicion and downright
    hatred of other cultures, Turks, Serbians, Greeks and especially Jews. This dismal lifestyle was a burden all
    the generation like myself, had to live with all of our lives.
    And my father, (ta-te’) in his tongue (and mine) was “loving and terrifying”..He would take us to family gatherings where all we cousins grew as close as brothers and sisters. (at age 60, I am still in touch with a
    majority of my cousins). But, Oh hell!. how my father could lose his humanity in a flash and my brothers and I
    got our fair share of beatings with a belt.
    The worst part of this history is repeating the same. Having been divorced for twenty (+) years, I have to wake each morning and look in the mirror, only to hear over and again all the horrible things I said to my wife and child. The verbally abusive way I treated her and the physically abusive way I treated my own son.
    Although I am thankful for the connection to family, it still pains me to realize how little we as a first generation,
    have contributed to America. I have tried in my own right to amend my life and spent a lot of time with the
    Boy Scouts of America, helping to build better men from young boys and through a lot of mental health therapy,
    have learned to control my anger and rage.
    So, It Begins! I have so much more to talk about, if other men out there would like to discuss issues such as what I just outlined.
    You will be hearing from me on a regular basis. I would also love to write an article for other men to share.
    with great respect,
    Jim Parkevich

  46. scott meek says:

    not home.

  47. Two Words: Bad Ass.

  48. Mark Good says:

    The best way to describe my dad would be to use two words together, then separately, self – centered.
    He thinks the world should revolve around him but I have always tried to live in his wisdom.

  49. Lloyd Stenquist says:

    Hopeful and Romantic

  50. Jed Diamond says:

    The two words I’d use to describe by Dad are “Creative & Crazy.” My father was a writer who struggled with the pressures of having to “make a living” and be true to his art. When I was five he tried to commit suicide. When he escaped from the mental hospital where he had been committed, he became a street poet, but our family was never the same.

  51. Ted Invictus says:

    Rapist.
    Thief.

  52. Fabio Oliveira says:

    Hi! Here’s Fabio de Oliveira, from São Paulo, Brazil. You guys are doing a great job. Congratulations! These are the two words that describe my dad:

    Patient: my dad would stop eating during his lunch hour at home to explain to me some facts about plants for a homework. He was an agronomic engineer.

    Sensibility: he is a saxophone player — actually, he also plays clarinet and “cavaquinho”, a little Brazilian guitar played in sambas and “chorinhos”, a Brazilian polka. He composed a song for each of his children (my sister and I) when my mother was expecting us.

  53. Jack Walter says:

    Neglectful alcoholic. Because he was.

  54. suzanne says:

    Southern gentleman.

  55. Two words to describe my dad…always working. He stayed busy working. He never had much time for his family. I guess it was too hard to do both.
    L. Pye, Probation Officer, writer.

Trackbacks

  1. […] the Father’s Day weekend, I came across a post titled My Dad, In Two Words from The Good Men Project (@GoodMenProject on Twitter).  This post also spurred a discussion on […]

  2. […] Tom Matlack of the Good Men Project asked a number of famous men to describe their fathers in two words, he received responses that ranged from “vodka and charm” to “inherently […]

  3. […] Father’s Day is not all greeting cards and man-hugs. The relationship between a father and son (or daughter) is extraordinarily complex, as evidenced by our own view on the subject “Your Dad, in Two Words.” […]

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