Good discussion broke out in abundance while I was away.
Well I went away for a week of vacation (yes, that is my tribe, above, somewhere near Yellowstone in Montana) and all hell broke loose. Not really, just a great discussion about what it means to be a man, father, and husband. Which is just what the GMP is all about.
A lot of men seemed to relate to my social problems (and women found the piece helpful, I think). My piece on goodness and the one following up on Vicki Larson’s breakout hit on the Huffington Post about women going ugly both became extended conversations with Vicki about what she meant when she suggested that women might consider less superficial attributes when selecting a husband. I thank Vicki for participating in the GMP forum, even if, as you can see below, we don’t always see the world the same way. Be sure to read Andrea Doucet’s follow up on all this, “Sexy Headlines and Skimpy Science.”
Besides the three pieces below, we had two stories that I’m particularly proud of this week: a follow up to my piece on the new NBC show The Playboy Club by one of the original bunnies and a piece about what its like to be black, male, and single.
Look for my discussion of the Declaration of Independence on Monday (hint: Timothy Matlack was the guy who actually wrote the original document out by hand).
Responses to: “Why I Hate People (But Secretly Love Them)”
Tom, this piece reminds me of a quote by William Saroyan: “you may tend to get cancer from the thing that makes you want to smoke so much, not from the smoking itself.” (from Not Dying, 1963)
It may be stupid hope, or hubris, that I think we can prevent similar despair in our kids—by teaching them to know identify their feelings, talk about their feelings, and how to act, or not act, on their feelings.
I found this fascinating. My first husband was/is a social animal, but for him people were pawns to manipulate and exploit, so I actually think he really doesn’t like or respect people. My current husband is extremely anxious socially–being in groups drains him and he tends to hang out on the margins–but he is a true humanitarian and works in a helping profession. I am someone who is quite comfortable talking to people about their new shoes, or the corian they chose for their new countertops, so I’ve had a hard time understanding his aversion to small talk. Your piece gave me a lot more insight into people who struggle with social anxiety.
I can relate on many levels and i am glad that you realize that you dont hate people you hate feeling less than. Way to let your light shine and great picture at celtics game.
I had to take some big emotional risks to learn it was safe to come out of the cage, er, cave. And as someone else above pointed out … it’s good to know that I can take breaks and retreat to the cave when I need to. I love discovering how much like others I actually am. Flaws and all.
When we come out of a cave, it is usually just to start the walk into a different cave. Caves are homes, where we are comfortable and can function with our highest degree of efficiency. Many of us need caves – the thought of operating without the cave safety net is just beyond comprehension. So come on out – but leave a trail of breadcrumbs.
Thank you, Tom for this insightful piece. I shared it with many girlfriends and all of us agreed it shed much needed light in the dark, well, cave called “why are our boyfriends holing up like hibernating polar bears?” -or- “why is going over to our friend’s house for dinner SUCH a big deal? We LIKE them, remember?”
Always grateful for your introspection, much of which helps us grasp confusing issues between the genders.
Are you wearing green pants?? Go back into your cave and put on a change of clothes before you come back out!
Maybe it’s just brain biology. Much of socializing involves speech and “females have larger Wernicke’s and Broca’s areas, areas responsible for language processing” (check wikipedia: Sex Differences in Humans). I’ve read that males brains may communicate better while doing something mechanical, like bouncing a ball. Is there a basketball game you can actually join?
As a man who’s overcoming his social anxiety I can relate. What I’ve found to work best for me is to take baby steps. Every time I go into a social setting that is anxiety provoking, I tell myself, just try to bring 5% more of my “true, authentic self” to the situation. I used to have this unrealistic expectation that I should be able to be as comfortable as I am with my closest friends in a given social situation, which inevitably set me up for failure and disappointment every time. It was only when I showed myself compassion and said, “Okay, Vik, you’ve been terrified to be yourself in this situation before, just try to give 5% more of your true self to the setting and see what happens”. When I have been able to do this, I’ve found that it works wonders. In the last two years, I have made tremendous strides to the point where I can now say that I’m fairly comfortable engaging in small talk with strangers. Before, I’d literally have to take a shot (or two) of alcohol before a social function just to feel somewhat comfortable and engage with others. Just keep chipping away at this fear little by little and it will soon evaporate.
I just appreciate your honesty Tom. It is a more common experience of men than we like to admit and at the end of the day all of the men I know that have struggled with this – including myself – often come to the same conclusion – fear of others and some degree of self-hatred. No matter how gregarious, successful, and charismatic we may be on the outside it is amazing what undercurrent of insecurity, shame, and self-hatred can be roiling around inside of us leaving true happiness and peace quite elusive.
This ‘topic’ (this quirk called manhood) just underscores the need for us to buffer and/or buttress our boys as they enter the cave, ’cause they’re gonna go in one kind or another…in record numbers… letting them know it really can be, and is only, a temporary protective mechanism from the good ‘ol ubiquitous & universal trauma of the male socialization process. We need to sow the seeds, that germinate in time, with the happy realization that the world is a better place with them IN it, than peering at the rest of us from afar.
It’s safe, Tom, but as an INTJ you know that the cave will always be a happy, and important, retreat. As one who always went to prom and was President of my college Fraternity and has always been part of some “in” crowd, I can tell you that it can be as lonely outside of the cave as it can be inside. It’s not so much about proximity or belonging as it is about being comfortable in your own skin. But you know that.
Responses to “Should Women Really Go Ugly?”
I appreciate Vicki’s tongue-in-cheek comments. Pretty funny. It flips on its ear the Jimmy Soul song “If You Want To Be Happy” in which he recommends marrying a less physically attractive woman to ensure that she won’t constantly be tempted by into cuckolding him. Good times. What I find a little tough is the relativism around the descriptor “good.” Existence is a wash of mottled gray hues… that’s a fact. But that there is no good or bad and we’re all just human is a little too up-with-people for my tastes. While we’re all sinners (I use the term for the sake of brevity not it’s religions overtones), there is a marked difference between periodically giving into human emotional frailty and being a bad guy, husband, father or duly-elected public official. Maybe Stalin was a dynamite family man but it would be completely dishonest to describe him as anything but “bad” and there are far less infamous example of not “good” that we bump into every day. It would be nice to be able to say that a guy (or lady!) who makes morally defensible decisions on most occasions is, in fact, good. Great conversation, V & T. Excellent call on the positives of being less obsessed with the lives of public personas. I assume you mean everyone but Justin Timberlake…
Thank you for posting such a thoughtful discussion! I’d been following the comments from the earlier rebuttal article, but appreciate this round-up much better.
Mr. Matlack, your comments and questions were thought-provoking as ever.
Ms. Larson, I disagree with your opinion that the word “good” is meaningless. I think the whole point is that it’s subjective, and the point of this blog and its books/articles/etc. are to raise those thought-provoking internal and external debates about how to live a purposefully good life (as a man OR a woman). To define someone as a “good” person, to me, means they are aware of those qualities you define as being “human” and recognize their own work-in-progress.
We women are always telling men that they should be less superficial, and look for women with character and depth rather than nice T&A. So I don’t understand why Vicki Larsen’s article was considered controversial. I think she’s just telling women that they should look for character in a mate, rather than a flashy surface, whether that means strictly good looks, or an objectively ugly guy with alpha male power and status (like Weiner).
The truth is, people who have the most desirable traits, including highly attractive women, and men who are good looking, rich or powerful, get used to people giving them whatever they want without much effort. They may become entitled. They may turn into takers. They don’t value what they are given because so much else is available. People wonder why Weiner would seek other women even though he’s got a hot babe at home. The answer is, because he can. What’s one hot babe to a guy like that?
Those who are less blessed by genetics or luck have to work harder to gain positive attention by developing their other qualities.
@ Tom Miller— Thanks for noting that I inject humor, if not Botox, in my life.
Sure, existence is a wash of gray, but we can all agree that some things are “good” — that parents care for their kids, that people get paid a decent wage, etc. — and what’s “bad” — murder, rape, abuse, etc. But when it comes to behavior, “good” is kind of meaningless because we have too many definitions of it, which is, of course, what Tom says when he writes it’s a “self-defined concept.”
I love the Quaker statement, “Let your life speak.” If we followed that philosophy, the world would be a much better place
Responses to “What is Good?”
Interesting you bring up being a “good father.” Women obsess about being a “good mother,” especially since that seems to have amped up in recent years as Ayelet Waldman notes in her book, “Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Occasional Moments of Grace.” She also notes that there’s no definition of being a “good father” — basically, as you mention, they “show up.” But saying that showing up is being good isn’t fair to fathers who do a lot more than just that. I think when you become a parent, you take on the obligation to be present in their lives — it’s a given! The expectations women place on themselves as well as society for being a good mother is a lot more than just showing up. I’m curious why that is.
And, I’m also curious why you don’t consider morality as an essential part of the being a good man conversation. Bernard Madoff may have been a good father to his sons when they were growing up, but he was by no stretch of the imagination a good man. In the end, one of his sons took his own life in response to the sins of his father. Isn’t morality at the heart of being good?
Hmmm, Vicki I actually think showing up is the essential part of being a parent, mother or father. Not sure where you are going with the “a lot more than that” either for fathers or mothers. I run into a lot of parents who have expectations for their kids that are completely self-centered and unreasonable. For me anyhow, I really try to allow my kids to be who they are and be a very active presence in their lives without forcing them to become someone they are not. That is what I mean by “showing up.” It is actually intended as an very all-inclusive phrase. So not sure why you need to somehow put me down as a father for saying it that way.
You also misunderstand my point about morality. I am not saying that morality isn’t critically important. In fact we have plenty of rules about what constitutes bad behavior, like that of Madoff. But when it comes to virtue I actually think morality is essential AND its a much more personal matter. That is my point. I can’t dictate my goodness on someone else (thereby saying that somehow my way is better than yours). Is Michael Kamber a good man for taking amazing pictures of war? Yes he is. Is Julio Medina a good man for working with inmates leaving prison? Yes he is. Is Jeffrey Wallace a good man for devoting his life to his autistic son? Yes he is. They have each found their own definition of goodness is all I am saying. I admire them all and and am inspired by each of them for different reasons.
ah, Ayelet. Well we were in the same class at Wesleyan. We actually spoke back to back at our 25th reunion a few weeks ago. But she seems to dislike me because at one point I gave her friend Elizabeth Gilbert’s second book a bad review on HP and I had the gall to question the myth of personality surrounding Eat, Pray, Love though I certainly didn’t fault Gilbert for that. She felt somehow I was being unfair to perhaps the most successful memoirist in the last decade. So quoting her probably isn’t going to convince me of much here.
My first wife and I did well with out daughter because, I think, neither of us were particularly anxious about the details. I was a grad student who worked in psych nursing evenings for her first five years or so, so I was the day parent. We (my wife and I) were basically Dr. Spock parents who never read Dr. Spock. So we were very relaxed about developmental markers, etc. Our daughter turned out fine, got an MFA from Columbia, and is a filmmaker in London.
I think “Eat, Pray, Love” is absolutely one of the best things I’ve ever read. I am flummoxed that anyone could find anything to dislike about it.
With Marcuse, I’d think that much “morality” is surplus morality– someone wants you to do things that benefit them (or systems of oppression) while telling you it’s good for you.
Tom — I think you have misunderstood what I wrote so please allow me to clarify. And I am certainly not putting you down; that is not how I treat people. Still, I apologize if that’s how it’s coming across.
I was questioning the idea of showing up; because there is no mother I know who would say that’s what she does. We moms obsess about what being a “good mom” is, which is exactly what Ayelet addresses in her book. As she writes: “If you work, you’re neglectful; if you stay home, you’re smothering. If you discipline, you’re buying them a spot on the shrink’s couch; if you let them run wild, they will be into drugs by seventh grade. If you buy organic, you’re spending their college fund; if you don’t, you’re risking all sorts of allergies and illnesses.” She says all we expect of dads is to show up — that’s being a “good dad” (although I believe a good dad is one who loves the mother, but that’s just me …) I was wondering if dads feel the same way, and what, exactly, “showing up” means. It seems too vague to mean much of anything.
That said, you and I are on the same page about parental expectations, given what you wrote.
I agree that we can’t dictate our idea of goodness on someone else, but as humans we can all agree on certain “good” and “bad” things — murder is bad, being kind to others is good, etc. — with many shades of gray.
As for “Eat Pray Love,” I, too hated it — it’s all about the worst of women. But after seeing Elizabeth Gilbert in person and interviewing her, I think she is a warm, giving person, one who understands the responsibility of wealth (and I loved her prior book, “The Last American Man”).
Thanks for listening.
Vicki that helps but I do think you are still missing a fundamental point by separating fathers from mothers and credence to Ayelet’s theory that mothers suffer a particular obligation to be good. In fact our whole project is built around the idea that just like women, men are in the position of having conflicting expectations and desires with regard to family and work. Where women worked so hard to leave the home as part of the feminist movement men are now trying to find their way back home. We are both conflicted. Both genders want to be good spouses and good parents and have a career. So this idea that somehow women suffer more than men on this score is just flat wrong and sexist at this point. Yes I used a male phrase to describe what I meant by being a good dad (“showing up”) but you misunderstood that and spun it into a broader statement about how moms and dads are different when in fact I think in the challenge of balancing a life, which is near impossible in this day and age, we are exactly the same.
As for Ayelet I find her POV very hard to take. I really do honestly like Elizabeth Gilbert and think she more than anyone never expected the fame of her little book that the world seemed to think was the answer to all their problems.
I think “The Good Men Project” is the perfect title. I don’t have a problem with righteousness. Being a good man (to me) means taking ownership of the good qualities traditionally associated with being a man, and rejecting the bad qualities.
Good qualities are things like assertiveness, responsibility, selflessness, honor, sincerity, and respect.
Bad qualities we reject are the stereotypes that we have no self-control when it comes to sex, that we cannot express emotions other than anger, that we must be overly competitive, etc.
A good man lives as an example.
I like the “good” in Good Man Project. There is a websites called the Good Woman Project and I like that too. “Good”. It’s a small word with a lot of impact and that’s what generates some of the negative press it might get from people who don’t like the idea of having any definition of “good” defined to live up to. From a female persepective, I think a lot of women are hungry for truly, honestly, wonderfully, beautifully “good” men. We don’t want just “nice guys” and we really don’t want “bad” boys. We want “good” men. And I think many men want to be “good” men.
I am not saying (nor do I believe) women “suffer more”; I am asking whether men hold themselves up to the same (I think ridiculous) standards many women do, which often makes us feel like failures. It’s a question — not a “look how bad we gals have it, you guys don’t suffer like we do….” yada, yada, yada.
But, you are right — I don’t understand what “showing up” means, and, yes, moms don’t talk like that; we’d give you the lengthy laundry list of what we “do” for our kids! (which is the same as “showing up,” but in all the gory details; it doesn’t mean it’s better or worse than what men do.) To me, “showing up” is one of those cliche phrases we all throw around that are generally meaningless, like asking someone “How are you?” and only expecting “I’m good” (because God forbid someone’s honest and say, “Well, I’ve been having some problems lately …,” plus “good” isn’t a feeling, anyway), or promising to “reach out” to someone. It’s not a personal slam on you, Tom (or on men in general) — we all talk like that. I was just wondering how you, as a dad, define it. But, hey — I can let it go!