IT’S HARD FOR ME TO BELIEVE that it was just eighteen months ago that I sat at the little café a block from my office with my former venture partner, James Houghton, as he gingerly approached the topic of my memoir—the one for which I had been obsessively sending him drafts for months. He assured me that my honesty moved him, even to the point of motivating him to write, too. But he had a different, bigger idea than just writing down my story of crash and redemption as a man, father, and husband. His idea was to create a project where men—black, white, rich, poor, gay, straight, the guy in Iraq, the guy losing his job in Detroit, the stay-at-home dad, and the NFL hall of famer—could tell their stories.
James had in mind a simple little book. Unfortunately, where he is humble and understated (perhaps by virtue of having grown up in a famous family about which the press often got the story wrong), I am drawn to grandeur and a desire to find the truly heroic among us mere mortals. Where James was the spiritual leader who actually had the idea, I quickly became the used car salesman of the operation, pushing constantly forward in what quickly became a call to revolution, man style.
What inspired me to believe that our little project could be something far bigger than we had initially thought wasn’t the media obsession with Tiger Woods’ sex addiction—though that was a sure sign that something was wrong in Guydom. It wasn’t going into Sing Sing, or communicating with NYT photojournalist Michael Kamber on the battlefield in Iraq, or showing our film in Hollywood.
No. It was the growing realization that my trite little line, “Every man has a story,” was in fact much truer than I could ever have imagined. Wherever I went, men took me aside to tell me some little piece of their story. Often it wasn’t what had gone wrong but what had gone right—the men who had changed their lives, or the women with whom they had fallen in love and married. But often what I heard was a growing sense of confusion, an off-the-record admission that, as men, we have no idea what is important anymore. We want to do the right thing, but the expectation of us at home and at work has turned things upside down. And all too many boys grow up without fathers, learning what it means to be a man on the streets, and way too often ending up in prison.
Listening to other men tell their truth is the only thing that allowed me to get my ass out of the gutter and become a decent man, father, and husband. The men whom I have met during the Project have each inspired me to grow in a different way. They are my heroes. What we all need as men isn’t more silent suffering; it’s the willingness to tell and listen to the truth of our lives.
Each week in this space, I’ll explore a topic that came up as I traveled the country talking about manhood: stay-at-home dads, post-traumatic stress among our veterans, pornography, fatherless boys, imprisoned men, emotional infidelity, gay fathers, sports, male violence, pedophilia, faith in the most general sense, 21st century boys, and what it means to be a good son, to name just a few.
Mine will be a weekly post that is just one part of the newly launched online magazine that collectively we hope will become the destination for men, boys, and the women who love them, to talk about what it means to be male in the 21st century.
My column will be a conversation starter, not the final word. As I have often said, I am not good enough to tell you how to be good. So I hope that you will join the conversation by telling me how I got it right or wrong each week.
In addition, each week I will pose a “Man Mail” question that I hope to explore in a future column. Please don’t use the comment section to respond to the question (that’s reserved for responses to the current column itself) but email me at [email protected] The more brutally honest you can be, the better.
The first question is, “What two words describe your dad, and why?”
Finally, a word on “Good is Good” itself. When I moved away from doing deals and started spending my time trying to write, I found myself doing a lot of magazine profiles of musicians, scientists, and athletes—generally guys who I just thought were cool and wanted to hang out with. My most recent piece is about a remarkable rowing coach, Charley Butt, who has led his lightweight men to seven national titles while also coaching perhaps the best female single sculler in American history to a silver medal at the Olympics. When I asked Charley how he shifted gears from college-aged men to world-class women, often in the same day of coaching, he looked me straight in the eyes and made clear that there was absolutely no adjustment necessary. “Good is good,” he said.
♦ ♦ ♦
Tom Matlack, together with James Houghton and Larry Bean, published an anthology of stories about defining moments in men’s lives — 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.