Editors: James Houghton, Larry Bean, and Tom Matlack
Type: Non-fiction, essays
Full title: The Good Men Project: Real Stories from the Front Lines of Modern Manhood
I read it: December 2015
I knew this book was a right place, right time scenario for me when the opening story was set in the city I live in. Not only that, but “Iowa Black Dirt” by Perry Glasser was about the author living for a few years in our neighborhood—about a half mile from our current residence. His challenge was learning to connect with his daughter as a single father in Des Moines, and kicked off the “Fathers” section of the anthology.
The other sections cover the remaining broad topics in the modern male life: “Sons,” “Husbands,” and “Workers.” Some stories are by aspiring or professional writers, such as journalist Charlie LeDuff’s take on putting his career on hold in “Stay at Home, Dad” or the personal look that John Sheehy gives to his father and his hometown in “Skeff.” Other selections are offered by men with unique perspectives: a professional football player, an ex-inmate from a notorious prison. The book is even framed by poetry: playing off the “front lines” imagery of the subtitle, Robert Pinsky pens “Samurai Song” and “The Knight’s Prayer” in an effort to connect ancient (fantastical?) examples of manhood with the need to articulate modern definitions.
Variety and honesty are the uniting features of the essays. A devastating story about the loss of a spouse or child might lead into a straightforward account of the common yet gnawing ache of children simply growing up and leaving home (“For my sake, they could have stayed at ages nine and twelve for about twenty more years,” writes Stephen Karl Klotz). I was fascinated by the anxiety of Stuart Horwitz when he discussed how his daughter was not a reader like himself. So in his mid-30s he stopped reading and picked up a guitar to connect with his child in her musical hobby. That journey rode its own wave until it changed course, and he summarized:
Then I recovered a little Zen. It is what it is. Stop asking questions. Don’t accuse her of being lazy, not committed. Let it go and be there for her in the way she needs you to be. Keep learning the lessons at hand.
Keep learning the lessons at hand. I was drawn to The Good Men Project when I needed lessons to contextualize a personal failing. I did find relevant articles on the site about the subject matter I was researching, but I’m glad I opted for the membership so I could get the book that started it all. It’s a level of quality up from the site’s often clickbait titles, and is entirely accessible and relevant. As contributor Regie O’Hare Gibson put it in “Talking Shop,” it’s all about the “ongoing quest to understand this ever-shifting thing called manhood.”