"We're supposed to show up for our wives and kids in a way that prior generations frankly weren't," says Brookline resident Tom Matlack. "It puts men at this crossroads: we're supposed to be intimate with our wives, spend a lot of time with our kids, and try to figure out how to be the breadwinner all at the same time. Me and all my friends were kind of saying, 'Wow, I really don't know what to do.' "
Matlack is co-creator, with James Houghton and Larry Bean, of The Good Men Project: Real Stories from the Front Lines of Modern Manhood, a book and accompanying DVD, directed by Matt Gannon, featuring essays, poems, and short films by the famous (former Patriots linebacker Andre Tippett, former poet laureate Robert Pinsky) and the not-so-famous (a yoga instructor, an ex–gang banger), all grappling with the same big question: what does it mean to be a good man?
Sifting through a vexing existential issue like that isn't unique to bearers of Y chromosomes, of course. But recent cultural shifts have seen men suddenly experiencing what "women have been for decades," says Matlack. The difference, he says, is that "women love to talk about this shit. They love to talk about their emotions. And I don't think guys think about it that way. If you try to approach it that way, you're gonna scare guys off. They're gonna think they have to end up on Oprah's couch, crying their eyes out."
Instead, he says, "the way men have related forever is through stories. Through stories about their lives, about heroism large and small."
Once upon a time, Matlack was a 29-year-old CFO, "taking the world by storm." Later, he was a successful venture capitalist. "And guess what? I was a pretty shitty father and a pretty shitty husband."
So Matlack set about gathering stories from a vast cross-section of American manhood. Friends such as Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner — imagine Don Draper taking part in a soul-baring project like this? — and writer Sebastian Junger helped put him in touch with other creative types. A national essay contest yielded six stories for inclusion.
It was important to get "as diverse a group as we possibly could, to then find the commonalities across rich, poor, black, white, gay, straight, whatever," says Matlack. "All guys who are asking the same question." Be they sons, husbands, fathers, workers, or all four, their hugely different life stories are never less than compelling.
Even better, they encourage guys — so often prone to "compartmentalizing" — to think hard about the same issues of manhood. The hope, says Matlack, is to communicate "that if you're a guy, you're not alone. We're all asking these questions."