Todd Mauldin, a bluesman and Good Men Project Magazine contributor, gives better advice than most of the celebrities we interview.
Who taught you about manhood?
To the extent I know anything about manhood, I can say it took a battalion to teach me: my own father, of course, plus fathers of close friends, and uncles, cousins, coaches, a few bosses here and there, a few coworkers, pastors, teachers, and AA friends. Plus movies and books and music and my own wandering experience.
So far I’ve learned less from what I was told to do (I’ve never been good at doing what I was told) than what I’ve learned from observing what other men in my life did and how they did it, both good and bad, and then engaging in an adventurous and ongoing trial-and-error process.
Has romantic love shaped you as a man?
Oh, yes. Believe it or not, I’ve been with the same woman for 26 years, well over half my life. I realize this isn’t everybody’s story. However, I can report that I’ve gotten 26 years of constant shaping from the tectonic forces of this long-term relationship, and as a consequence, I remain capable of change and growth and adaptation as I chug into middle age. It just usually takes a lot of heat and pressure.
What two words describe your dad?
How are you most unlike him?
Take your pick: he doesn’t like expectations; I feel driven to exceed them. He doesn’t like being in front of a crowd of strangers; I do. He went to college, became a chemist, yet now works as a gatekeeper at the dump (and loves it); I didn’t go to college and ended up handling millions of dollars in business for a big telecommunications company, playing music, and leading a men’s ministry.
Spiritually, he’s into metaphysics (and leads a meditation group that occasionally meets in a teepee); I’m a practicing Lutheran. I play guitar and sing the gutbucket blues; he whistles and sings Roger Whittaker tunes. My dad is awesome. And I think he’s a lot less judgmental than I am, and that’s probably the key difference that explains why we’re still close.
From which of your mistakes did you learn the most?
I learned the most from being a drunk. I’m living as a sober alcoholic now, by the grace of God and the fellowship of AA. I created a lot of problems when I was drinking, and it was awful. Still, I’ve come to understand it was a huge blessing to have gone through it. I believe I am a better man for having been a helpless addict.
I heard a prayer once at a meeting that really encouraged me. I think it came from an AA group in Washington state: I had to go where I went, and do what I did, to be who I am now. I am neither boastful, nor ashamed. I’m just me now. Thank you, God.
What word would the women in your life use to describe you, and is it accurate?
I asked around, and the consensus word seems to be “honorable.” I think that’s mostly accurate. It’s certainly something I aspire to.
Who is the best dad you know, and how does he earn that distinction?
My cousin Matt. I admire him immensely, not only for, but certainly in part because of, the way he fathers his children and leads his family, along with his wife. He is consistently excellent, and since I consider perfection unattainable, I look for the consistently excellent to be the stars I use to guide myself. He’s engaged with his children at all levels, makes them a priority, and is a good provider of things both material and intangible. But above all, he loves his kids deeply and honestly and is there for them, supporting and mentoring and encouraging. I strive to be more like that.
Have you been more successful in public or private life?
I’d have to say private life, really. Over the last few years I’ve been blessed with and enjoyed a lot of personal growth and success, and found some peace. In my public life, well, there’s still a lot more I want to do, in music, ministry and in the corporate environment. I ain’t satisfied yet.
When was the last time you cried?
Yesterday, while I was in the shower. Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s version of “Somewhere over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World” came on the stereo, and I tried singing along with it (again) and ended up crying (again). I never get past the line “I hear babies cry, and I watch them grow.” There’s a sweetness and a yearning in Brudda Iz’s voice that just wrecks me.
What advice would you give teenage boys trying to figure out what it means to be a good man?
Here is some stuff I think is true and works for me: try to focus on doing right things, not doing things right. If you don’t know what the right thing is, there’s no shame in asking somebody who does. Absent somebody being able to tell you, do the kindest thing, because it’s almost always the right thing.
Don’t be afraid of the darkness; this world can’t help but suck sometimes. When you’re in the darkness, the only true way out of it is through it. Remember to pray, even if you don’t know how, or even who or what to pray to. Don’t isolate; live in community with other people. You need relationships, or you’ll end up bitter and lonely, believing your own bullshit. Endure. Be courageous. Everything changes. Expect surprises. Cooperate. Take any or all of the above and go experiment. Send back word of your adventures.
What is the your most cherished ritual as a guy?
Every day, Monday through Friday, at some point in the day, I call my friend Edy, or he calls me. Sometimes we talk for five minutes, sometimes an hour. We’ve done this for five or six years. We’ve kept it up through health and sickness, crisis and calm, births and deaths. There’s something really magical about keeping up with this little commitment. We talk about what’s going on, our plans for the day, tell stories, discuss music and culture and stuff that we think is stupid or pisses us off. This ritual keeps us strong and keeps us connected. It reminds me that I’m stronger walking through life with a good man as a friend than I would be if I tried to be a good man without one. I highly recommend it.
Watch Todd’s Blues Philosophy video here.
Todd Mauldin is a bluesman who performs with his partner Jack D. Doyle as the Hellbusters. He also leads the A-Men Men’s Ministry at Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd in Reno, Nevada. In his spare time he’s an account manager for a large telecommunications company, a youth soccer coach, a dad, husband, uncle, cousin, friend, and son.