The Good Men Project: Real Stories from the Front Lines of Modern Manhood. Edited by James Houghton, Larry Bean and Tom Matlack. Boston: The Good Men Foundation, 2009. $14.99.Ã‚Â 251 pp. www.goodmenproject.org
The Good Men Project, edited by a triumvirate of authors, makes a good first impression. It is an unassuming book, not wearing its heart on its sleeve, offering a slew of genuine, mostly first-person stories by men willing to reveal their blemishes as well as their gold. The range of topics and backgrounds is unusually diverse.Ã‚Â Many men offer serious revelations, in some cases surprising us with the courage required for them to give us their (apparently) real names in their bylines.Ã‚Â The essays are divided into four categories: fathers, sons, husbands, workers.
Steve Almond contributes a breathtakingly candid essay about his runaway masculinity, warts and all, concluding with a realistic redemption through his devotion to his son.Ã‚Â John OliverÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s magical piece portrays a white man attending a funeral in a black church several years after his daughterÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s death, in an unexplained link that I found very moving.
Norm Appel bares the soul of a drug-troubled family in which one son dies and the other nearly follows suit, eventually rebuilding his life around helping drug addicts through interventions.Ã‚Â Stuart Horwitz plays music on the streets with his daughter and practices non-attachment.
After Rolf GatesÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s sister dies, he tries to keep everything the same despite his daughterÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s subsequent birth until he starts meditating and comes to own the changes in his life. Christopher Koehler shares with us his success by the skin of his teeth at fatherhood, snatching the good life from a near-suicide and his emotional neglect of his son.
Kent George relates to us a surprisingly tender story of a boy who doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t like to fight.Ã‚Â Serious dysfunction evident in family fire-building in author Keith AckersÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ childhood is transformed into more functional creating of fires as an adult with his daughterÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s help.
Ricardo Federico tells us of how he received the fatherly advice for which many men ache, closing with an ethereal visions of years and generations passing before our eyes.Ã‚Â Editor James Houghton pens a gripping story of himself as heir to the Corning fortune, adjusting after his fatherÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s sudden, calamitous car accident.Ã‚Â Houghton grows up a rich kid just wanting to be like everyone else, and finally decides to opt out of his heritage and to start a non-profit to help former and current prisoners.
Joe DÃ¢â‚¬â„¢Arrigo writes a moving tale of his wifeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s death from stomach cancer.Ã‚Â Amin Ahmad provides an all-too-rare glimpse of working class life.Ã‚Â Michael Kamber tells us of himself as a war photographer with truly phenomenal courage, in constant motion, at times breathtakingly irresponsible, yet a man of awesome achievement. One of the great pluses of this book is the ability of such writers to stay grounded in telling such tales, allowing us to relate to and empathize with them.
Julio Medina portrays the powerful transformation of a drug dealer after, while in prison, his niece brags to him about her drug dealer boyfriend. Subsequently, Medina enrolls in a prison seminary masterÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s degree program. He also takes a big risk when he picks up a stabbed man in an attempt to help him, getting blood all over himself and dangerously flying in the face of the prisoner code.Ã‚Â Medina has dedicated his life since then to working to stop prisoner violence.
Curtis B. provides an absorbing, detailed, fascinating tale of his work for the Peace Corps in rural Mongolia, where Genghis Khan is worshipped.Ã‚Â Joseph LeavensÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ curiously flat final piece, ironically titled Ã¢â‚¬Å“Resolution,Ã¢â‚¬Â in my view comes close to contradicting much of what the rest of the book stands for.
In the end, this unique book leaves a mixed impression. Its very diversity gives it a somewhat scattershot tone.Ã‚Â More skilled editing might have helped; having three editors could be less advantageous than having one. While Robert Pinsky, who happens to be one of my all-time favorite poets, opens and closes the book with poems he generously contributed, these particular pieces are somewhat underwhelming and fail to fully connect with the bookÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s themes. Stronger selections for the opening and closing essays would have also strengthened the book.
The Good Men Project collects together in one place well over thirty varied voices conveying an overall impression of optimism and the potential good men have for doing great things.Ã‚Â Imperfections aside, it provides a rewarding and instructive ride and is recommended.