December 2, 2010
What does it mean to be a "good man" in today's society? For Tom Matlack, it starts by just asking the question.
"You can have all the money in the world and it doesn't matter, it's the people in your life that matter," says Matlack, co-founder of The Good Men Project Foundation and the online magazine, goodmenproject.com. "We started the foundation to help at risk boys and spark a national conversation about manhood."
Matlack knows something about being "at risk". His successful career in finance made him millions, but his personal struggles with alcohol nearly cost him his life on more than one occasion. Between a rollover car accident on the highway and being thrown through a plate glass window in a Manhattan restaurant, Matlack feels lucky to be alive.
"I was completely focused on my business ego. I'd negotiated a deal worth billions and had this perfect, superficial picture--two kids, a big house, a wife. I had everything and yet I was ashamed of my behavior--drinking, cheating. At 31, I was a professional success and personal failure all at once," explains Matlack.
"I hit rock bottom and had to call my mom from a parking lot to explain why I got kicked out of the house. Here I was on the cover of the Wall Street Journal, yet I wasn't going to see my two children at Christmas. My son was 6 months old. I woke up and decided I'd either kill myself or do it slowly if I didn't make changes."
Now sober, Matlack dedicates his life to helping men be honest about the struggles of doing it all.
"At its core, men were trained to run, run, run and put the big numbers on the scoreboard," he says. "Women love to talk and talk about their emotions but with men--this is definitely not the case."
Matlack started the online magazine to build a community where men could post and share articles about topics that range from battling addiction to being a good parent. He's since gathered several essays written by men of various races and socio-economic backgrounds into a book titled "The Good Men Project", which was recently made into a DVD.
"Men are more open to listening to issues in male ways, like being in the locker room," says Matlack. "It's not talking about emotion directly but talking about emotion in terms of a story of a guy dying in combat. Hearing things in stories--or writing them down--is how it resonates for men."
Both the book and DVD capture defining moments from men who describe what's important in life. "It's where these guys sort of wake up and say, 'Oh my God, I've been living a life in a way that's not authentic. What am I going to do about it?' "
For Matlack, that clarity came when he was feeding his infant son. "I hadn't spent much time with my kids because I was busy working too hard and playing too hard," he says. "It was one of those spiritual moments--just holding my own child and noticing him for the first time. The sound of him suckling the bottle, the smell of his head, the way his body slowly relaxed in my arms, and putting his head in the nook of my shoulder. This became a ritual for me. I would rock him and it was 10 or 15 minutes of every day where I was completely at peace. I had a son. I had always wanted to be a father and I'd been chasing my tail this whole time, not realizing I already had everything I wanted in life."
Now that infant son is a teenager--but Matlack knows the example he sets will have a lasting impression.
"I find that teenage boys in some ways are struggling more profoundly than men are," he explains. "Nobody has told them it's okay to want to stay home with your kids or focus on being a great Dad, as much as it's about accomplishments and how much money you make. Just like women were trying to balance coming out of the home, men are trying to balance coming out of work and going back into the home."
And with all royalties from the book and DVD going to support youth groups such as Boys and Girls Club of America, Matlack wants to continue the dialogue with future generations.
"The great blessing of my story in my own life is what I try to share with other people, but it took me a while to get there," he says. "I think it's time for men to not be silent and that we talk about what it means to be a good father, a good son, a good husband. And that answer is going to be different for everybody."
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