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Guy talk: 'The Good Men Project'

December 8, 2009 | 11:48 am


About a year ago, longtime friends and former venture capitalist partners Tom Matlack and James Houghton began talking about exploring the meaning of manhood by getting men to share their stories. Today, the Good Men Project is a nonprofit foundation that benefits at-risk boys through the sales of its recently released book and documentary, both titled “The Good Men Project: Real Stories from the Front Lines of Modern Manhood.” The book is a collection of 31 essays by men from all over the country, gay and straight, revealing experiences that are often harrowing but ultimately redemptive.

This week the Good Men Project crew brings its nationwide discussion of what it means to be a good father, son, husband and worker to Los Angeles. The keynote event will be tonight's L.A. premiere of the documentary, directed by local filmmaker Matt Gannon. The screening, held at USC's School of Cinematic Arts, will be followed by a benefit panel discussion event with "Mad Men" creator Matt Weiner (a former Wesleyan classmate of Matlack) and artist Shepard Fairey. Other events include a reading and discussion tomorrow at Book Soup, and a forum on being a good Jewish man at Temple Israel of Hollywood on Thursday. Jacket Copy caught up with Matlack to find out more about the origins of this project.

Jacket Copy: You’ve described The Good Men Project as a four-pronged effort. How so?

Tom Matlack: One is the book; the second is a 53-minute documentary, which is available on DVD. The third is online — we have a very extensive website, Facebook fan page, Twitter, YouTube. And the fourth is the events. All the royalties from everything we do go to the Good Men Foundation, and to organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters. We really wanted to spark a national conversation on what it means to be a man, and to help the 30 million boys and girls in our country who don’t have a father. Also, we wanted this to be a nontraditional book tour, so we’ve primarily not been going to bookstores; we’ve been going to where people need to hear our message — whether that’s prison or a reform school or talking to gangs in the roughest parts of L.A., because that’s where the message really matters.

JC: Among the men you’ve spoken to, have you found any particular commonalities geographically?

TM: After James and I came up with this idea, we found a bunch of our friends who had interesting stories. Many were investment bankers, and they were talking about this issue of what’s important as men. These guys were probably the least likely to be introspective at all. We figured if they were asking these questions, then what about other guys out there? So we set out to find men from all walks of life for the book — not just Northeastern guys like us. I don’t really think it matters where you live. I don’t think it matters what color your skin is, or, frankly, how much money you have. What matters is this issue of what it means to be a man, and what it means to try to juggle the roles of being a father, a son, a husband and a worker at the same time — we’re all facing that. I think that’s the commonality underneath all these very different stories. Women have been dealing with these kinds of issues for decades, but as men we’re just beginning to face them.

JC: I’m generalizing, but is it fair to say that men are more adept than women at compartmentalizing, which is often critical for career success, but can prove damaging at home?

TM: Oh, I absolutely think that’s true. They have a lot of trouble with that. Men compartmentalize so they can keep everything separate, and you see it again and again — men like Tiger [Woods] — who are massively successful in their public lives and failures in their private lives. That was my story. Fourteen years ago I was very, very successful publicly but privately was an utter failure.

More on "The Good Men Project" after the jump

JC: Can you talk about that?

TM: I was this 29-year-old wunderkind Wall Street guy, helping to run this media company that I took public and sold in 90 days for $2 billion. Several days later I found myself kicked out of the house, in a church parking lot, calling my mom on my cellphone, trying to explain why I’d been on the front cover of the Wall Street Journal two days before, and now had nowhere to go. I was scared that I wasn’t going to see my baby kids any more. I was realizing that all the public success didn’t mean anything, and that the things that really mattered, I’d failed at. That was the jumping-off point for my whole journey; I was wandering for a long time. Then I got sober, and ultimately got remarried six years later, and had another kid, and learned how to be a father.

That phone call to my mom was the beginning of what ended up turning into this book, and my journey to try to be a better man, a better father, a better husband, by listening to other men’s stories and being inspired by them. I view each of those guys who wrote the stories in our book as heroes. By getting to know them and reading their stories, I’m better for it. Our hope is that the people who read the book feel the same way.

JC: What’s your ultimate ambition for this project?

TM: It’s for men to realize that they’re not alone. I think most men are struggling with this stuff silently. As men we don’t like to talk about these things in the same vocabulary as women do. Women like to talk about emotions more, and men shy away from that. But men have always talked about these things in terms of stories — “this is what happened to me” — and so that’s why the whole format of this project is stories, some of them very macho stories, that men can relate to and not feel threatened about and can identify with. That seems to have worked.

JC: How do you define being a “good man"?

TM: For me, it means loving my wife passionately, taking care of my three kids the best way I know how, and doing something for someone other than myself.

-- Carmela Ciuraru

Ciuraru is a critic and the editor of poetry anthologies including the recent "Poems About Horses."

Photo: Yosef Netanel plays with the hands of his father, Stuart Klein. Credit: Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times