Archive for April, 2011

Bitch or Check Out

Apr 11 2011 Published by under Good Men Project

Tom Matlack and ‘CoolMom’ Daphne Brogdon debate: In marriage, if women at their worst are ‘bitches,’ and men at their worst are completely checked out, how is it possible to find a middle ground with a house full of kids?

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Daphne: Simply put, it’s tough. Most women consider their husband to be an extra child. Example: in my household we are terrified of getting a tardy. My husband works very late as a chef and restaurant owner and my throat dries up if I think of my own principal from grade school (though in retrospect her blond bob was winning). We do not want Vivien to be late for kindergarten. But, I realized that while I am pestering my daughter to put her shoes on, trying to shove cereal into the mouth of my 2-year-old, I am also yelling at the middle-aged man in the kitchen reading the paper, “Take your shower now.”

Most women will tell you when their husbands are out of town, though they miss the lovable lunk, it’s easier. There is no expectation of help, so there is no disappointment. My daughter was on time every day my husband was on his recent trip. No problem.

When I went out of town, did I return to a soiled house with a mountain of tardy slips? No. He did get her to school on time, with a lunch. Bedtimes went out the window, but otherwise things were fine. But I had a pre-trip meeting with him and pointed out that white blob on the kitchen wall otherwise known as the school lunch menu.

“I have crossed out the meals she will not eat. If I have not crossed it out then pack a snack and bottle of water.”

He took notes. I’m not kidding.

I just made up an informational packet for a trip for my husband and stepson are taking to visit colleges. It has maps, hotel reservations, places to eat, and contact information. I am preparing myself for when I get the call from the road telling me they are lost or got somewhere late.

It will go like this:

“But, all that information was in your packet.”

My husband will say, “Uh, I forgot it.”

I will then be the bitch as I hiss, “Why do I bother?”

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Tom: I am a cave dweller. I have an office in the third floor of our house with a couch. I like to sleep there, not just on weekends, but during the week as well (especially on Monday mornings). I have a job (kind of). I write about men and invest in a variety of companies. Sometimes I yell at people on the phone. But I no longer have a real office, which makes this whole question much more complex.

My wife sees things that are invisible to me. There are three kids in our house: a 17-year-old girl, and 15- and 6-year-old boys. The teenagers are mine by a prior marriage. They like their stepmom better than me, or at least they trust her more, because of this instinctual divining power she has: how to talk to a teenage girl about her first date without embarrassing her, how to coax a 6-year-old into drinking the pink medicine without holding his chest down and pouring it down his throat while he cries bloody murder, what to do with a massive pile of dirty clothes (other than kick it to a darker corner of the closet), how to throw a dinner party, how to deal with in-laws; the list is endless.

So the issue is two-fold: how does she deal with her superhuman powers and how do I pull even a fraction of my weight? There are times when my wife makes clear that I am checking out and she doesn’t appreciate it. The key for me at those moments is not to get defensive, not to go back into my cave and wall her off. I try to remember one thing, “I adore this women … I adore this woman … I adore this woman.” The mantra only works because it’s true. I adore the feel, the smell, and the look of this woman and all the little ways she makes me a better man and cares for our three kids.

But after the mantra, I actually have to get off that couch in my office and do something. Shop for groceries, drop the kids at school, talk about what color I’d choose if we redo the wallpaper in our bedroom (guys, I am not kidding, this is important shit). Give my son a bath. Make my wife laugh. Just about anything but crawl back into that my cave, which is my natural habitat.

It’s a daily battle and some days are better than others, but I am checking out just a little bit less today than I did yesterday. My kids are still nuts, but I adore them, and I adore my wife—and she seems to appreciate what I am trying to get done, which means I have an extra long nap coming to me in the very near future.

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Daphne: Hang on, Tom, you know you are checking out and you want to escape. Why? Not that I didn’t just rush off for an hour this evening with my gal pal for a cocktail because our kids were bugging us, but why can’t you stay engaged? Why can’t men see the invisible? If, God forbid, anything happened to your wife or ex-wife, would you find a way to talk about that date, or would your kids be like, “Yeah, growing up I just knew my old man wouldn’t figure it out.” (Yes, I was raised in the ’70s.)
I think men/husbands/dads know that us women folk will know how to pack a snack and know the right flavor of kid toothpaste to buy, so they throw up their hands and let us. Do I take pride in the fact that my kids and my stepson come to me for things they don’t come to their dad for? Damn straight—but that reward is also a burden, and I would like dads to wake up. If you don’t, we are going to import a robo-dad made in China who remembers which day is swim class and that my daughter hates peanut butter.

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Tom: Something about being a divorced dad, at least in my case, has made me obsessive-compulsive about being on time. My kids joke about how I’m always early. Someone told me soon after I got divorced with two baby children (and was shattered by the experience), that if I only got to see my kids a few times a week that I should never ever blow them off and I should always be on time—if not early. And that has carried over to the rest of my life some 15 years later. I am the one taking the kids to school most mornings and, yes, we are usually early.

When it comes to the more important things—like bedtimes, making sure our little one is progressing in his reading, and thinking proactively about family activities—I am a stereotypical couch potato. My wife is the one who can be trusted with such things, and she does occasionally remind me of what I should be doing if I wasn’t such a loafer. Guilty as charged.

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Daphne Brogdon is CoolMom; she is also a regular contributor to Momversation.com. A comic and TV host, she resides in L.A. with chef husband Mark Peel, two young children, and a teenage stepson.

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The $14 Trillion Question

Apr 11 2011 Published by under Good Men Project

As it turns out, when defaulting on maturing Treasury debt could put the world’s financial markets into a state of chaos, $38 billion is nothing. The real issue is what happens when Congress has to vote to increase the current $14.25 trillion federal debt ceiling, an action that could become necessary in the next five weeks.

What are the men’s issues at stake here? Social Security (roughly $5 trillion is money the government has borrowed from other accounts, mostly from Social Security revenues, according to federal figures), the trillion-dollar cost of sending our men into wars in the Middle East, education reform, Medicare, Medicaid, and unemployment insurance that resulted from the “he-cession.”

A bipartisan committee appointed by Obama to study the problem of the deficit came back last December with recommendations that included tackling social security, raising certain taxes, and simplifying the tax code itself in an effort to take $4 trillion out of the budget over the next decade. But it’s unclear whether anyone in either party has the guts to do anything but dance around the real problem.

Just speaking as one guy—a businessman raised by Quakers—here is what I would like to see both parties have the courage to address:

  • Fix social security and stop playing the Ponzi scheme—really no better than what Madoff did—whereby we make a specific commitment to future retirees when taking their money, then use it to pay our bills for non-related federal programs, leaving us completely unable to live up to financial commitments made at the outset.
  • Exclude all U.S. military personnel from political squabbling. Pay them no matter what. While we are at it, greatly increase the resources spent on treating PTSD and brain injury resulting from wartime service.
  • Go to a flat income tax that eliminates the massive complexity and unfair loopholes of the current IRS code. Make sure that the vast majority of government services go to those who need it at the bottom end of the economic spectrum, but stop fighting over a set of supposed incentives so complex that even a guy with an MBA from an Ivy League institution can’t understand it.
  • Bring our men (and women) home. We need to rebuild America, not the Middle East.
  • Build more schools, not more prisons.
  • Restructure Medicaid and Medicare to make them fair and sustainable.

What do you think? We need all thoughtful men and women thinking about this—that’s for sure.

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For more, please read:

Military Families Face Pay Freeze, More Uncertainty

Shooting the Truth

Blood-Splattered

—Photo Michael Kamber

 

 

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Good Discussion: Men’s Health and Women’s Colleges

Apr 09 2011 Published by under Good Men Project

GMP founders Matlack & Houghton

Good Discussion

Our mission at GMPM is to spark a national conversation about manhood. Recently, I have noticed that the comments on several of my columns are, frankly, a lot better than the columns themselves. Thus, Good Discussion is born. Each Saturday morning, I’ll highlight one or two pieces from prior weeks that sparked some thoughtful discussion, providing a selection of comments that ask, answer, or amplify critical questions about manhood. As with all conversations we have here, Good Discussion is open to men and the women who love them.

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Responses to: Is Manhood Killing Us?

A year ago my wife threw me out of the house. She had finally had enough of our mediocre and unfulfilling partnership even though we had a 4-year-old and a 1-year-old. Depression that I’d carried for most of my life contributed to the relationship failing, and worsened as a result. Becoming a dad has been the most positively transformative experience of my life. Becoming what feels like a part-time dad has been devastating. The Good Men Project has propped me up and kept me slogging forward.

—Matt

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My daughter was 3 when I walked out of my marriage, and I went through hell for years. My daughter was the only reason I kept going. With the support of my family, especially my brother, I got through it all in one piece. All the struggles I had, advice I received, and experiences I have are, in one way or another, told through this project, and it continues to be one of my sources of good advice from real people.

—Chito S.

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I lost my dad over a year ago because of heart disease. He was a very hardworking man who spent decades working grueling hours. He was a workaholic because that’s how he defined his contribution to our family. He kept everything in because he wasn’t one to talk about his feelings.

A few years ago he was finally ready to retire and take a few family vacations with my brother and me because he wanted to make up for lost time. But it didn’t work out like that. Nine months after heart surgery, he went for a walk by himself and just collapsed by the side of the road. His heart just gave out. The last memory I have of him is that he and I watched the World Series together.

I have a wonderful family. But there is always going to be a hole because he’s not with us anymore. He won’t be here to see my brother or me get married or have kids. And my mom hasn’t been the same person since his death. There are so many things I miss about him. His sense of humor, his laugh, the way he felt and smelled that was just “Dad.”

So guys, if there is one thing you do for your family, you’ve got to take care of your health because they want you around. I wouldn’t have cared if we had to pinch pennies growing up if it meant my dad could have been around more and had less work stress. Nothing is worth not being around for the people that love you.

—Erin

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My dad was a hard worker and a wonderful provider to us. He frequently worked 70- to 80-hour weeks in a demanding field of surgery, but he lacked much as a parent to younger children. As a result I don’t think I had a relationship with my dad properly until he quit the position he was in and started working regular full-time hours.

The thing I want most of all for my dad is the opportunity to be happy and to enjoy good health and a better relationship with us than we had together as kids. The less he works, and the more he is him, the better it is getting. And I especially don’t want my own fiancé having the kind of life that my dad had to lead.

—Bec

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My son Jemal was born in 1969 and I made a vow to be a different kind of father than my father was able to be for me and to make a different kind of world where men were not isolated and alone. My father tried to commit suicide when I was 5 years old. Though he survived physically, our lives were never the same.

We know that, on average, men commit suicide at four times the rate of women. As shocking as this is, it doesn’t capture the full picture. The truth is that suicide rates increase with age. According to Dr. Will Courtenay, author of the forthcoming book, Dying to Be Men, men in their 60s and 70s are six times more likely to commit suicide than women in that age group. That goes up to seven times for men in their 70s. And men 85 or older, the suicide rate is nearly 18 times higher than it is for women. Plus, we know that a down economy and job loss impacts men more destructively than it does women.

It’s time we told the truth and began to change the personal, interpersonal, and societal practices that are killing us all.

—Jed Diamond

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To be honest, I have no particular desire or expectation to live very long. My father died when I was a small child and I live under the expectation that I won’t make it to 40 … To be honest, I’ll be disappointed if I survive to 30.

—Jay

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I felt like you, Jay, until I read the last paragraph of this blog.

—Bobbert

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Responses to: Are Women’s Colleges Outdated?

In law school, I was on the editorial board of the law review, which consisted of 7 women (out of 12 board positions), 5 of whom had gone to women’s colleges … a little striking, to say the least. I didn’t pick Mt. Holyoke because it was a women’s college (quite frankly, it was the best school to which I was admitted), but I have looked back gratefully on that fortuituous decision many times in my life. It has shaped my life, and my choices, in so many ways, and I’m both glad and grateful.

—Karen O’Connor

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I went to Smith. It’s hard to describe what going to a women’s college did for me. The experience of being in a place where women engage in every conceivable function in college life operates most powerfully on a sub-conscious level. As those in the advertising biz know so well, it is the assumptions that are made, not the overtly stated message, that carry the most weight. Regardless of our backgrounds, we left Smith assuming that women can, and do, do everything.

A part of that powerful, subconscious message is in the mission as well. It’s no small gift to the psyche of a young woman that everything she sees, all of the money and effort and business of the college, from groundskeepers to professors to endowment, are going toward educating her and her sisters. The implicit respect for women and what they have to offer is enormous, exhilarating, and never leaves you.

—Sandy

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I was adamantly against going to an all-women’s college—until my Mount Holyoke tour. Not only was the campus beautiful—and don’t think that wasn’t a big factor—but the rhetoric they used made me stop and think.

As an athlete (competitive swimmer) and as a girl with a lot of guy friends, I assumed a co-ed school would be the place for me. But my guide made me reconsider when she brought up living four years in an environment that focused all of its efforts on ME. I would learn uniquely, I would grow uniquely, I would be supported and encouraged and built up to be the very best version of the woman I could be.

No other school had offered me that.

In the end, I chose to go to Mount Holyoke, and in my junior year, I became a tour guide so I could help encourage other young women to make the similar choice I made—choose an all-women’s college, if that’s the right choice for YOU. For the education of you, to grow into being the absolute best, most well-rounded, self-focused (NOT self-centered) woman you can be.

There will always be men around as both potential dates (depending on your sexual orientation) and potential friends—not all women’s colleges are cloistered nunneries accessible only through impenetrable forests or on mountaintops. But take the time to consider college may be the only time an entire institution will be devoted to developing a girl into a woman.

Oh, and Mr. Matlack? Yes, pillow fights in our pajamas may occasionally happen as well.

—Rebecca

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I was like your daughter—committed to a liberal arts school but wondering how I would survive without the male friends I loved. What I found out after a year was simple: Male friends are great, but great FEMALE friends? Invaluable. I had real, true girlfriends for this first time in my young life and I owe Mount Holyoke for both a top-notch education and the best women I have ever known, who have sustained me in the years since. The issues with cattiness that I had feared existed, but they existed for my female friends at Amherst too, and in a way they had it worse—they had boys to fight over! My male friends from high school were all there when I graduated, and I’ve made plenty since. But those Mount Holyoke girls…they’re my best friends, and I’m so much better for it.

—mhckate

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I am an alumna and longtime (now term-limited) board member and spent lots of time working on how to articulate Barnard advantages. Your article about your visit thrilled me as you clearly “got” all the things we hold dear about Barnard.

—Fran Rodgers

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There was a response piece written by Colleen Gribbin, the high school principal of Saint Mary Academy-Bay View and Rhode Island’s Principal of the Year in 2007: Why Gender Education Matters

She wrote:

While Mr. Matlack’s feature focused on all-girls colleges, the process of creating powerful female leaders can and often does start with empowering our daughters with same gender education at an even earlier age.

In response to that piece there was this comment: from Nancy Freeman:

I agree that there is enormous value in all-girls education, but I find it interesting that this essay does not discuss why that may be. I attended an all-girls Catholic high school for two years and was a high achiever, a class leader. I transferred to a “better” private but co-ed school and my grades slipped and I almost didn’t graduate. Not because it was harder; it wasn’t by any stretch. It was my attitude that changed 180 degrees in the presence of the “boys.”

Women are terribly competitive, but in an all-girls school, that’s all there is to do: learn, compete, and achieve. Gossip and cliques are a plague, but there really are no distractions to pursuing your full potential. There are no perceived or imposed restrictions to how far you can rise as an individual among peers.

In my junior year, as the new kid in a new school, I operated in class the same way I had when at the all-girls school: If I knew the answer—and I often did—I raised my hand, discussed, and debated with the instructor. Except, as I very quickly learned, that intimidated the boys. It didn’t take me too long to cool my jets and stop standing out, to fit in. If I expected to date some of these boys—and I wanted to—I couldn’t scare them away by appearing smarter than they were. So I dumbed down.

It’s my own experience and might not appropriately be extrapolated to others. However, having experienced both education models, and looking back, I am shocked at how powerfully undermining co-education was to me, and might be for other smart, strong females. The sexual tension and distraction of high school males and females in class together, at an age when bubbling hormones and relationship exploration starts to become a preoccupation, is one factor that may unnecessarily complicate and undercut academic achievement.

—Nancy Freeman

 

—Photos: Good Men Foundation/reid.gilman Flickr/Columbia University

 

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LM: Vision – Hope in Detroit?

Apr 05 2011 Published by under Related Links

With the economic cancer quickly moving from homes to cars, the first test of what our new President really means by “hope” will be determined by how he responds to the crisis in Detroit. A Guest Blog Post By Thomas Matlack.

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State Radio – Camilo

Apr 05 2011 Published by under Related Links

Music video for State Radio’s song “Camilo”

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