I’ve always hated this expression – “all the good ones are either gay or married.” This adage holds that good men are hard to come by and if you meet one he will most assuredly be unavailable. Meanwhile, I’m wishing I could ethically start a dating service because I know a lot of good men and a lot of good women – many of whom tell me that the other does not exist.
I hate black and white thinking and so right off the bat I object to gay OR married…I look forward to the day when it’s gay AND married…or better yet, just “married” works for any two people who share life and love together. The mythology of the good man dates back to Adam. I still contend that Eve got framed and yet it seems that good women have been blaming themselves for dumb shit that men do ever since. We live in a world in which responsibility for relationships of every kind rests primarily if not solely upon women.
Men are not at all difficult to understand but I hear from women all the time that they’re mystified by us. I say that if he’s a good man he’ll share his point of view and what he’s about. The struggle – even for a lot of good men is to do so with vulnerability. As boys we were socialized not to be aware of our feelings, much less share them. This is slowly changing and yet we have a long ways to go. Bad men are ridiculously easy to understand – they just take and offer little or nothing in return.
There’s a lot of gray in between the ideals of “good” and “bad” men. Most of us are doing the best we can with what we have. We are limited by being afraid and ashamed to ask for insights and skills in all that we do not understand. What the world needs is more good dads – older, wiser men who are willing to guide us and teach us what we didn’t learn growing up. There is no point in a man’s life in which he wouldn’t like to have a dad to hold him accountable, be proud of him, and encourage him. We need dads to believe in us. We need teachers, mentors, coaches. Life is a never ending series of learning experiences and most of them hurt when there’s no one there to cushion the blows.
I met with yet another amazingly good single mother today. She half joked that I needed to teach a class on how to be a good man. I can teach the willing but those who most need to learn do not tolerate men like me. I thought long and hard about what can be taught and what cannot. I thought about incredible organizations like Spruce Run and why we need them so very much. I thought about Thoreau’s quote that, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation” and how if nothing else we should stop being quiet. I thought about who taught me the most important things about being a man and I am both honored and saddened to tell you that I learned the most important things from two women, a girl, and a boy.
The first woman was/is my wife. She loves/loved me unconditionally and she taught me that it was okay to be myself and she put me on the road to believing that I was Good Enough. She believed in me – saw things in me that I had not been taught I had/was/am. She was patient as I became the man she knew I could be.
The second woman was my therapist. She was the mother I always wanted and she helped me to grieve the dad I would never have. She taught me that I had nothing to prove. She showed me that I could love myself in much the same way that I love my children.
The girl was my daughter and she is the most amazing young woman ever. In my heart she will forever be five years old because when she was five I was her hero and she inspired me to be worthy of her adoration. I have spent twenty two years wrapped around her finger and I have cherished every moment. She is a delightful blend in that she has the very best of her mother, the very best parts of me, and a whole ton of stuff that she claimed for herself. She is strong and assertive and powerful. She is loving and nurturing and empathic.
The boy is my son and he is the greatest young man ever. In my heart he does not remain a fixed age – instead he is everything that I wanted to be at every age he becomes. I have stood on sidelines of every kind and I have yelled and whispered, That’s my boy!” He is all that a good man embodies. He has integrity and honor and enormous amounts of love. He is passionate, compassionate and a true gentleman. He has both knowingly and unknowingly inspired me to be a better example – a better dad and a better man.
In a more perfect world, there would be little if any distinction between what it means to be a good man and what it means to be a good woman. Physiological differences do very little to explain our differences. Gender norms and other forms of socialization guide us toward different roles, sets of standards, and expectations. The most vital disservice done to men in my eyes is the lack of social acceptance – the almost total absence of expectation that we as men can experience and express vulnerable emotions.
I remain forever grateful to all who have taught and inspired me. I am honored to share what I have learned. It seems to me that good men teach primarily by example. It is my hope that all of us find the courage to ask for the understanding and the skills we were denied.