Last night, just as Kate Hudson accused men of being interested only in sex and sandwiches, 500 men and women packed a sold-out Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston to watch The Good Men Project documentary film for the first time and launch the anthology. The audience laughed, cried, and applauded. At the party afterwards they entered into a lively discussion about what it means to be a good father, son, husband, and worker. Sex and sandwiches never came up.
The Good Men Project: Real Stories from the Front Lines of Modern Manhood is a groundbreaking anthology of thirty-one essays by a broad range of men--rich, poor, black, white, straight, urban, rural, famous, ordinary--all writing about the challenges, obstacles, triumphs, failures, and defining moments they encounter. It's also a documentary film, a social media community and a series of live events that the founders hope will ignite a national discussion about what manhood means today in America. All proceeds from the book and film go to The Good Men Foundation, which serves at-risk boys through the Boys & Girls Clubs of America and Big Brothers, Big Sisters.
Below are brief excerpts from the just published anthology, whose contributors range from such accomplished writers as Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Charlie LeDuff and Not That You Asked essayist Steve Almond to an NFL Hall of Famer, a former Sing Sing inmate, and a Pulitzer Prize-nominated photojournalist embedded with U.S. troops in Iraq and many normal guys just trying to figure out what it means to be a good man in modern America.
The first night I had the kids on my own I gave them baths, slipped them into matching footie pajamas, tucked Kerry into her bunk, and then warmed a bottle for Seamus. In my bedroom, I turned off the lights and rocked him gently while he drank. I inhaled deeply. It was the scent of my son that changed everything--his scent and the sound of him suckling his bottle, the softness of his skin and the sensation of holding him as his body gradually went limp with sleep. I looked down and realized that this--being a father--was my deepest satisfaction. Chasing Kerry around the house at five the next morning, catching her, and tickling her as she screamed with joy confirmed it.
--Tom Matlack, "Crash and Learn"
After we dunk a few too many Oreos, I lean against the bathroom doorframe as Jessica brushes her teeth. It's awkward for her because she is too short to see the mirror. She'll need a step stool; I suppose there will have to be other fine adjustments. Okay, no one thinks of everything. We will become reacquainted. The trip from Wisconsin to New York City and then back to Iowa was good, but to know each other in this new living arrangement we will need to establish domestic routines. In the year we have been separated, despite a December visit, she has grown and changed so much I hardly know her.
--Perry Glasser, "Iowa Black Dirt"
I'd spent half my life dreaming about things that never happen. But this? I grabbed my boy and squeezed--his spindly body, smooth arms, elementary-school aroma--and just like that got caught up in something. No doubt there's a name for it somewhere in some parenting textbook I never read, a name that captures the notion that there's a reservoir filled with everything we've ever held back, and that it can rise up and splash without warning.
--Jeffrey K. Wallace, "No One Saw a Thing"
So I have learned to conduct periodic "relationship check-ins" with the women in my life--whether the relationship is familial, romantic, or platonic. I don't care what a man says; if he is honest, he will admit that a large part of his self-image hinges upon how he is perceived by the women around him.
--Regie O'Hare Gibson, "Talking Shop"
In the days following that last Christmas, we didn't talk about the past. We talked about the future. We spoke of the sorrow, of missing our children's weddings and the births of their children, our grandchildren. We talked about her funeral, the eulogy I would give, the music, her burial. Pat was not controlling, but she did have specific requests. She wanted her service to be a simple one. She spoke of meeting God. She had some questions for him. She wanted to know why there were no women priests, whether that was His idea.
--Joe D'Arrigo, "Silence"
Newlywed life abroad was often a fiendish torture that our neighbor Dante would have considered too harsh for his nine circles of Hell. We fought about everything. Tiny decisions became multistage debates. Meals became interminable staring contests. What'd you do today, honey? Oh, right, I was with you for nine of the past eleven hours. We have nothing to say, and now--no offense, dear--I want to smash your goddamn face with this leg of prosciutto.
--Mark St. Amant, "The Not-So-Dolce Vita"
I had many long, heartfelt talks with Dad and would confide my doubts about my ability and my passion and my long-term future at Corning. Dad would listen sympathetically, acknowledging that he too had doubts at my age, that his nickname in college had been Atlas because he seemed to carry the weight of the world on his shoulders. But he would also tell me he had no doubts about my ability, that he was hearing nothing but great things about my performance and people skills, and that all these current jobs, while perhaps less than stimulating, were the important stepping stones for the years ahead. I always felt better after we talked. His calming assurances would settle me down for a month or two. But as this pattern repeated itself, I began to wonder if my ambivalence and reservations were a result of something more than just our shared tendency to worry. Maybe, I sometimes dared to think, we were just different people. Maybe this was not about my ability but about my desire.
--James Houghton, "Neon"
As a small boy, I was always drawn to the fire, in no small part because it meant I could see Dad at work, doing impressive things that I couldn't do. I would struggle to hoist a single log, but he could tuck six or seven under one arm and still keep the other hand free to work the door. He could not only make fire, he could reach right into it and never get burned. Incredible.
--Keith Ackers, "The Most Important Job"
My dad is retired now, and I've gotten to know him better over the years. And with that knowledge I've come to realize how narrow my perceptions of him had been. How many of us really know what our parents are about when we're kids? How can we, when we don't yet understand what they have done, what roads they have traveled?
--Ricardo Federico, "Whatever It Takes"
As the weeks and months passed, the man I called Dad steadily disappeared down a very long tunnel. Like so many people with dementia, he periodically would manage to rally and reemerge, as if to say, "What's wrong here? I'm giving this the fight of my life, but it's not working." He went from being six foot three and more than 225 pounds to not much more than skin and bones, a shadow of a man, fueled mainly by chocolate milkshakes and delirious daydreams of when he would see his girlfriend next and maybe, just maybe, get to go home with her to stay. And all the while, the strangest goddamn thing was happening: The motherfucker was gaining grace, integrity, and even character by virtue of his will to endure.
--Paul Furtaw, "The Most Normal Thing"
As he walks away I think it is now or never. I shout after him. It's louder than I'd planned, more awkward than I'd hoped. "Dad!" I shout. "Dad! I love you!" He turns only half around, and when he does he stumbles a little bit. For just part of a second, for just long enough for me to register the image, Skeff looks like an old man. But then he doesn't anymore, and he smiles, and he is still smiling and already turning away when he replies, "Thanks."
--John Sheehy, "Skeff"
The governor won't call anymore. Neither will the old colleagues. There will be no more Hollywood parties. No expense account. No action. It will be just you and the kid. And the kid will have no idea how good you were. And worse, in the mania of your empty house and isolated by the Los Angeles car culture, when the afternoon sun is bright and debilitating and that old deadline time, that hour of adrenaline, is upon you, right about then you will wonder whether you were really any good at all. You will find yourself staring into a dirty diaper as though it were tea leaves, trying to augur some story about the failings of the latest immigration bill.
--Charlie LeDuff, "Stay at Home, Dad"
"BFI is going to make you my bitch," I heard Leroy say. A direct challenge and then a quick moment of recognition: I had been pulling a sled, breaking trail through thigh-deep snow, for eight hours nonstop, trying to figure out where in the hell we were, trying to follow a compass around trees, hills, through brush, so that I'd hit a small lake and find a cabin and be assured that no one froze his ass off that night, all while a violent felon was directly behind me, looking at my head, my neck, my back, wanting nothing more than to kill me. At that moment, no job could possibly have had more pressure or stress attending to it. There had to be an easier way to make money.
--Ben Woodbeck, "The BFI"
My first day in Bulgan, I watched the TV that the Peace Corps had given me. It was small and old, and the one channel that came in consistently showed nothing but European fashion programs. I hadn't showered for two weeks and I felt like shit, but I could watch Italian supermodels all day. I watched the TV because it was the only way I could hear English and listen to music I recognized.
--Curtis B., "Khan without the Wrath"
In the NFL, I assumed every year that every linebacker the Patriots drafted could take my job. So I adopted the white-belt mentality--shoshin--heart of a beginner. At each training camp, I went at is as hard as I could. Once the season began, I went hard in games, and I went hard in practice. There were times in practices when guys would look at me as if to say, why are you going so hard? Well, I was practicing the way I planned to play on Sunday. That concept--beginner's mind--followed me through my twelve-year career.
--Andre Tippett, "Heart of a Beginner"
Excerpted from THE GOOD MEN PROJECT: Real Stories from the Front Lines of Modern Manhood
Trailer to the companion documentary film HERE