When Mark Greene looked back at his published work on The Good Men Project, he realized he was remaking manhood. And a book was born.
Mark Greene is a man of many words, each chosen carefully for maximum impact. His new book, Remaking Manhood, is a collection of his essays published on The Good Men Project, and while each chapter stands alone, together they constitute a strong voice for men and an even stronger call to break the Man Box and remake masculinity into a force that constructively supports the lives of both men and women. Greene recounts and draws wisdom from the chapters of his life—from his early boyhood to becoming a stay-at-home dad at 45—to emphasize the importance of sharing our stories, and in doing so drives the conversation forward to a new model of masculinity—one that embraces and encourages male vulnerability.
In the book’s opening chapter, “The Lack of Gentle Platonic Touch,” Greene focuses on the devastating effect of men being deprived of non-sexual touch, and the resulting absence of connection.
There is only one space in our culture where long term platonic physical contact is condoned for men, and that is between fathers and their very young children …. How do we teach our sons to understand how touch works? How to parse out the sexual from the platonic? …. If men could diffuse their need for physical connection across a much wider set of platonic relationships, it would do wonders for our sense of connection in the world.
In “Boys and Self Loathing,” he dips into memoir from his mostly stereotypical childhood—defined by many of the same stereotypes The Good Men Project is actively trying to dispel.
He shares some embarrassing moments—when he reluctantly went along with his peers to make fun of other children, and when he couldn’t bring himself to kiss or even touch his middle school girlfriend. Revealing his own foibles and vulnerability lends authenticity to his request that we do the same:
But I will say this to men and women alike. You can’t let other people tell yourstories for you, or censor you, or shame you. If you get a hint of that from someone who purports to care about you, go somewhere and rethink that relationship. Immediately. And if it continues long term, leave for good. And don’t bother looking back …. We live in a society that asks man to whitewash their narratives and keep a lid on their emotions. This is both killing men and damaging the boys coming along behind. The varied and rich private stories of men and women and the conversations those stories invoke are part of the greater narrative of being human. If we are struggling in life, it is not because we have shared too many stories. It is because we have shared too few.
In “Cruelty, Perversion and the Boy Scouts,” he describes his introduction to Scout camping:
Where capture the flag could drift off course into Lord of the Flies at a moment’s notice. All of it stank of overheated sour sweat and fear.
And he calls for an end to childhood bullying:
This is the insidious impact of bullying on children. It becomes the primary filter for their experience of the world. What might have been a vibrant, exciting week at a wonderful camp becomes instead a deadening scramble to avoid eye contact, proximity and exposure. When bullying takes root, engagement, high ideals, learning, hope and self esteem fall by the wayside. They cease to have relevancy. The full focus of a child’s world becomes when and where a stranger’s angry, sweaty hands will be put on them, day after day after day …. Why do some men express their power by abusing those weaker than them, when, in fact, weakness should be defined as the need to abuse anyone ever, at any time.
Greene’s essay “The Last Late Show With My Father,” will resonate for anyone whose father departed during childhood:
My father left when I was six years old. The age my son is now. I don’t remember my father leaving. Did he walk out with a suitcase? Did they engineer it so he left while we were at school? I remember an argument, in the back bedroom with the door closed. I remember doing my little-child Saturday chores as the spring wind blew through the house, I remember that. But his exit, days or weeks afterward, is not something I recall, forty five years later. I don’t remember a day when he was suddenly gone …. When children are forced to release something they hold dear, it cements into their memories the moments preceding it. The way of the world before that change. The smells and sounds. They hold onto what is gone with a feverish intensity. When a child loses someone or some place dear to them, you had best be ready to replace it with something warm and real, or you will haunt your child with loss.
Turning to his own transition to fatherhood in “Babies and the Rebirth of Men,” Greene openly admits the paralyzing fear he felt when his son was born.
I wasn’t ready to be with a baby. I didn’t understand the rhythm of it. What was the beginning, middle, and end of this task? Every story of my childhood swarmed over me. Every loss. Every failing. Life seemed inexorably sad in that moment, alone in the house with my newborn son.”What the hell is WRONG WITH ME?” I thought, my fears cascading up. I felt utterly trapped. But looking back, I can see why it was scary. This fear was about things that could not be negotiated away, or run from, or laughed off. This fear was about something that could never ever be completed. My problem was, I really didn’t know how to be still. To just sit still and be with him.
And he helps men view fatherhood less as a bundle of obligations and responsibilities and more as a challenging and rewarding journey:
If you let parenting lead you into new ways of being outside your well worn comfort zone, you will find growth. You learn patience. You learn to let things be uncertain. You learn to say yes, instead of no. You relearn how to play. You give up control (and thereby gain a bit of it.) You learn the point at which physical and emotional exhaustion makes fingertip to fingertip contact with the divine.
In “Man as Provider,” Greene draws a poignant picture of the Man Box that imprisons men in conformist, destructive, unfulfilling, and toxic masculinity.
The Man Box is a set of rigid expectations that define what a “real man” is, particularly in American culture. A real man is strong and stoic. He doesn’t show emotions other than anger and excitement. He is a breadwinner. He is heterosexual. He is able-bodied. He plays or watches sports. He is the dominant participant in every exchange. He is a firefighter, a lawyer, a CEO. He is a man’s man. This “real man”, as defined by the Man Box, represents what is supposedly normative and acceptable within the tightly controlled performance of American male masculinity …. Men’s cultural conditioning is such that much of our self-worth comes from being able to earn and spend money and provide that money to those who depend on us. It starts with buying dinner on the first date and ends with putting money down on a mortgage for the family home. This economic validation is the hook that lures men into the provider role. In part, because it does not require learning to validate self through emotional connections; connections which boys and men in America are traditionally not taught to create …. To express emotion, display grief, show vulnerability and process pain requires a degree of personal strength and self reliance that far outstrips what is needed to bully or dominate others.
“Boys and the Burden of Shame” gives Greene the opportunity to quote his wife, licensed therapist Dr. Saliha Bava:
When we talk openly about the culture of shame, the activity of talking shifts the culture. In the moment we speak, we change our path forward. Change our lives. We have the power to replace the culture of shame with something new that is getting created. What I choose to create is called the culture of permission. You may want to choose something different. Perhaps, for you, it is a culture of compassion. Or a culture of discovery.
Other chapters, with selected excerpts below, include:
“Men, Homophobia and Touch”
“The Dark Side of Progressive Women”
“Men and Emotional Self Amputation”
The degree to which men are ready to suppress intimate sides of ourselves as automatically warranting disapproval is a staggering testament to the power of shame in our lives.
“Men Who Police and Punish”
The abusive policing of men’s behavior even inside the man box is brutal. The pecking order is relentless. The jockeying for position goes on night and day. There is no equality there. You’re either on top or trying to get there. It’s a life long hamster wheel that never stops turning. And yet, it is all some men know. It is their only world.
“Glancing at Women”
So, thanks to the jerks of the world for that. You’ve made the rest of us men have to prove on a daily basis that we are not you.
“The Suppression of Men’s Issues”
What we are talking about is the result of a tilted public discourse, in which women’s issues have been successfully highlighted (and justifiably so) and in which men remain victims-in-hiding of a range of issues. We have had the first half of the conversation. It’s time for the second half to begin.
“The Emptiness of Male Friendships”
“The Sadness Ghost”
In the moment he conceptualized the Sadness Ghost, Gus activated his own solution for processing what he was feeling. In that moment, Gus ceased to be a sad person and become instead, a person who was being visited by sadness. This distinction is crucial in processing powerful, sometimes overwhelming emotions like rage, fear or grief.
“A Father’s Secret Walk”
“Are Men Changing?”
I have been writing for the Good Men Project for while now. Since connecting with this vibrant, funny, aggravating and deeply beautiful community of men and women, I have engaged in more conversations about men and manhood than I have had in the previous five decades of my life. These conversations have echoed back down the long corridors of my own history. My time at the GMP has led me back to myself as a small child, a sometimes frightened and confused boy, a rebellious and celebratory young man, a father, a husband and a lover across the many years I have been alive. You can’t spend time here and not reflect on your life. It’s in the nature of the stories that are told here.
“And Then I See And Then I See”
We can be grief-stricken animals if we let fear be our lead story. Loss becomes our only valid sign post for living. Loss is our marker that something real has happened. And so, our future is irrevocably defined by the events of our past when we had no choice, no control.
Well, piss on that. Okay? I’m just gonna say it.
Because inside me, when I fall into that funerary mindset, that rainy droning burial of my child’s hopes, my anger rises to meet it. My son has the courage to laugh. My son has a light in his eyes that startles me with its intensity, humor, mischievous joy and strength of will. My son sings, “get up, stand up” and dances across the living room.
Hold your child close and tell him/her loud and clear. “I love you. I love you so much, I can’t stand it!”
They’ll know exactly what you mean. They always do.
Remaking Manhood is available for purchase on Amazon.
To read more of Mark Greene’s work on The Good Men Project, click here.
Photo courtesy of Mark Greene.