Just when we thought the luster was off our young president we receive the news from Oslo that the world thinks differently. The beer summit in the Rose Garden was not a good sign. Health care has sparked one of the most vicious legislative battles in recent memory. The war in Afghanistan, the one our President said so often is the one we need to win, is not going well. Even SNL, a clearly left-leaning satire machine, decided to pile on with its list of broken promises from Guantanamo Bay to Iraq. It must be that the Nobel is awarded not just for great men but for good ones too.
As someone who cried the night of the election I too have gotten skittish recently. But this all has me re-evaluating where we are and where we have been. There is the obvious: the very fact that our nation, despite its history of racial hatred, could elect a black man president is a reason for optimism all by itself. But the issue goes much deeper than skin color. Its about character and approach and the struggle that so many men of Obama's generation, and mine, are facing today: how do I juggle the demands of fatherhood, marriage, work, and doing something good in the world. Obama has to live this on a personal level while trying to make a difference across the globe.
If you talk to the guys on Wall Street or the guys on the line in Detroit at a GM plant or the guys in Sing Sing or the guys coming come from their third tour of duty in Iraq or the stay-at-home dad in Boston or even the "normal" guys who are doctors or teachers in places like Alabama or Iowa with a beautiful wife a couple great kids, they are all looking themselves in the mirror and asking themselves the same question, "What really matters?"
Manhood is at a turning point in America. Money is no longer king. Having the most toys when you die doesn't mean much. So many of our idols have proven that the drive for public success can rot the private lives, from Letterman to Edwards to Spitzer. Making a difference matters. So does spending time with your kids. So does loving your wife in deed not just words. So does living with integrity from the inside out. That's what some people would call being just a plain old Good Man.
Our president aspires to greatness, no doubt about that. So far he hasn't been great. Many things he wants to get done have proven a thousand times for complicated than he ever could have imaged, from health care to Afghanistan. But when the congressman on Capitol Hill shouted out "liar" in prime time, our president showed that even if he isn't yet great he most certainly is a Good Man that we can all be proud of.
In the end that's why he was awarded the Nobel peace prize. Because he sets an example for the rest of us 40-something guys looking in the mirror asking ourselves those difficult questions how to move forward, no matter whether we aspire to greatness on the world stage or just to be better men.