09/15/2010 03:08 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

The Good Men at Penthouse

Tom Matlack explains his decision to allow Penthouse to republish five essays from "The Good Men Project" book.

For the next five months, essays from "The Good Men Project" book will appear in Penthouse.
If your knee-jerk reaction to this news is surprise, confusion or disgust, you're not alone. The decision to team up with Penthouse in this way has stirred up controversy among some of our readers--and among several of our foundation's partners.

A well-known on-air female personality with whom we had discussed a pilot television program built around the Good Men brand, for example, sent me a blistering email saying she would never be associated with an organization that affiliates itself with pornography.

Here's the thing: I am not good enough to tell you how to be good. I firmly believe that "goodness" is like faith--I shouldn't tell you what yours should look like, and you shouldn't tell me what mine should look like.

That doesn't mean that the pursuit of goodness is a solo journey; in fact, it takes others to see the light, to set an example, to help us awaken from the slumber. That is the whole reason for the Project. We're hoping to prompt a discussion, to allow men a space to tell their stories with brutal honesty, to talk about the very issues that are causing men to suffer but that we don't usually have the guts to face directly.

But nowhere in our magazine, in our book, or in my columns will you see an attempt to judge, to proselytize, to be prescriptive in the very meaning of what it means to be a good man. I have my own hard-earned definition of what goodness entails: loving my wife, showing up for my kids, doing something for someone other than myself on a daily basis and telling the truth. I can't get anywhere if I'm duping myself. As a hairdresser friend of mine once asked me as we entered a locked rehab facility to speak, "What's the con you're still telling yourself, Tom?"

The reason that I chose Sing Sing as the first stop on our book tour was to make the point that no one (no matter what they've done in the past) is excluded from this conversation about being a good man. What I found in talking to criminals and convicted murderers--and other men with profoundly different backgrounds than my own--is that I usually learn the most about how to be a better man from men who are the most different from me.

They cut through the bullshit, touch my heart and prove to me that we're much more alike than I would have ever imagined. I've learned more from construction workers in South Boston than I ever did from my MBA classmates at Yale.

If there was a "goodness club," I don't think I'd be allowed through the front door. I have made some terrible, shameful mistakes in my life, mistakes for which I am still making amends. But as my late grandmother, a woman of simple Quaker faith, told me at my very lowest point, "It's not how you fall in life that counts, Tom. It's how you pick yourself up."

Nothing about "The Good Men Project" is intended to inspire a discussion of why others are bad, evil, eternally damned to hell. This is about men talking about the road to their own self-defined goodness, about guys getting real--about the moment of transformation when a new, better self emerged from the ashes.

That's what I always find inspiring to listen to Ron Cowie talking about raising his daughter despite her mom's sudden death; Julio Medina talking about coming back after a life prison sentence; and Andrew Sullivan talking about scratching his ass (okay, it's not heroic, but it is damn funny).

So back to Penthouse. As you may know if you read my columns regularly, I've developed an interest in certain topics as they relate to manhood: War and post-traumatic stress. Prison. Death. Divorce. Fatherhood. And men's sexuality, with a particular attention to prostitution, porn and sexual abuse.

These are issues that we need to talk about more often--and with a lot more candor.

But I am not God (thank God). I don't have all the answers, and I'm not here to judge anybody. So when Penthouse approached me about running a series of essays, I accepted.

We want to invite as many men into this discussion as possible, and the six stories Penthouse has chosen to publish all have a blunt and positive message about what it means to be a man in pursuit of goodness. The fact that our written words are next to naked women doesn't bother me. Frankly, it's the ideal place for us to reach guys, whether or not they have any misgivings about pornography.

To the many women who support "The Good Men Project," I hope you won't turn away from us. We are not abandoning you by doing this. In this case the articles, not the pictures, are the whole point.

In Search of Real Men No One Saw a Thing