What Does It Mean to Be A Good Man Today? The Future of Men and The Moonshot for Mankind


I began working with men and their families on November 21, 1969 when our first son, Jemal, was born. When I held my newborn baby in my arms for the first time, I made a promise that I would be a different kind of father than my father was able to be for me and do everything I could to create a world where men were fully healed and connected with their families throughout their lives. I had recently earned my Master’s Degree in Social Welfare from U.C. Berkeley but realized that nothing really prepared me for what it meant to be a father for the first time.

            When our daughter, Angela, came into the world three years later, my professional and personal life came together and I launched my website, MenAlive, as my widow to the world to share my work on gender-specific healthcare. At the time there were very few programs focused on men’s mental, emotional, and relational health. Now there are many.

            One program I immediately had an interest in learning about is called The Good Men Project. It was founded by Tom Mattlack and launched in 2009.

“The Good Men Project® is a glimpse of what enlightened masculinity might look like in the 21st century,”

the press raved when they launched. Tom set out to collect stories about the defining moments in men’s lives. He discovered that the connecting idea between all the stories of the men Tom talked to was that there was a moment when each man

“woke up, looked in the mirror and said ‘I thought I knew what it meant to be a man. I thought I knew what it meant to be good. And I realize that I don’t know either.’”

            Tom Mattlack continues to share his insights, understandings, and experiences. In a recent blog post, “Do You Have Five Real Friends?” he says,

“We, as men, are in crisis,”

and offers the following startling realties about men’s lives today:

  • Suicide among young men, 18-24 years of age, is increasing faster than any other demographic.
  • 90% of school shooters are young white men.
  • The average young man is apathetic and woefully behind academically.
  • Introduce disadvantage by race and socioeconomic class, and everything gets even worse.

“But it’s not just young men, of course,”

Tom says,

“I talk to the titans of the industry every day who are lost. A few months ago the father of private equity, billionaire Tommy Lee, went to the office to shoot himself dead. Men of every age, race, and class are struggling. We are four times more likely to commit suicide. We comprise 70% of OD deaths. We are in deep trouble.”

The future of men is at risk and we are learning the underlying causes of our problems.

“All scientific research points to a single culprit above all others,”

says Mattlack, Isolation.

“As men, we are socialized, never to let down our guard or to get vulnerable. And it is killing us.”

Lisa Hickey, The Good Men Project, and The Moonshot for Mankind

Lisa Hickey met Tom Mattack when he was beginning to put his stories together for a book. Lisa describes the encounter in my forthcoming book, Long Live Men! The Moonshot Mission to Heal Men, Close the Lifespan Gap, and Offer Hope to Humanity.

“Sometimes there is a moment that changes your life. Something awesome or catastrophic or serendipitous happens. Maybe it is out of your control. Or maybe you make a choice. You try something new. Get an insight. An epiphany. Your life veers in a direction you never saw coming.

“And everything changes.

“For me, it started innocuously enough. I had been introduced to Tom Matlack; we were meeting for the first time to discuss a book he was putting together. He had asked me to lunch because he had heard I knew something about social media. As we rode down the elevator from his office, he carried the unfinished manuscript in his hands, about a hundred pages, unadorned, double-spaced on white copier paper.

“As we walked the block to the restaurant from his office, he told me that the book was a collection of ‘essays.’ My heart sank. In my mind, essays were boring, academic exercises. But a few steps later he explained that they were first-person stories held together by the fact that they were all ‘defining moments’ in men’s lives. The moment—Tom explained as we were walking—when a guy woke up one morning, looked in the mirror, and everything he knew about being a man—everything he knew about being a good man—seemed to be in question.

“The story of the guy who wanted to divorce his wife but didn’t want to lose his son, and the only person he could talk to was a janitor in the buildings he had to inspect for demolition. The dad who had watched doctors try to jump-start his son’s heart after his first son had died of a drug overdose. The guy who had been to Iraq taking photos of the war, who had come back to Brooklyn and realized he no longer knew how to function as a civilian. ‘You know,’ Tom said, ‘those moments.’

“We weren’t even seated at the lunch table before I realized the brilliance of Tom’s idea. My life changed in a heartbeat.

“I went on to help start The Good Men Project, one of the largest worldwide conversations about what it means to be a good man in the twenty-first century. The book was published. A website created at the cornerstone, an online community that attracts millions of people from around the globe every month. Tens of thousands of writers. Live storytelling events. Talking to schools, colleges, universities, organizations, and corporations. Thousands of live phone calls with our community that happen almost every day of the week so that people can call in and truly participate in the conversation.

“And here’s the thing about The Good Men Project. We are trying to create big, sweeping, societal changes—overturn stereotypes, eliminate racism, sexism, and homophobia, and be a positive force for good for things like education reform and the environment. We also give individuals the tools they need to make individual change—with their own relationships, with the way they parent, with their ability to be more conscious, more mindful, and more insightful.

“For some people, doing all that, having goals that big, could get overwhelming. But for those of us here at The Good Men Project, it is not overwhelming. It is simply something we do—we do it with teamwork, with compassion, with an understanding of systems and how they work, and with shared insights from a diversity of viewpoints.

“Over lunch that day, Tom passed me the bread. I sipped ice water. I told him just how much I believed in the idea. The idea of sparking a conversation about the changing roles of men. The idea of talking about the moment that a man woke up, looked in the mirror, and said, ‘I thought I knew what it meant to be good. I thought I knew what it meant to be a man. I realize I didn’t know either.’

“I looked up at Tom and said, ‘I don’t know if I can sell a million copies of the book. But I can sell a million people on that idea.’”

 The Moonshot for Mankind and Humanity          

Twenty years ago I read a research study that changed my life. My colleagues Randolph Nesse, MD and Daniel Kruger, PhD examined premature deaths among men in 20 countries. They found that in every country, men died sooner and lived sicker than women and their shortened health and lifespan harmed the men and their families.

They concluded with three powerful statements:

  1. “Being male is now the single largest demographic factor for early death.”
  2. “Over 375,000 lives would be saved in a single year in the U.S. alone if men’s risk of dying was as low as women’s.”
  3. “If you could make male mortality rates the same as female rates, you would do more good than curing cancer.”

There are clearly biological factors that favor women in longevity, but there is much we can do to help men live fully healthy lives. In 2021 I invited a number of colleagues who were doing great work to help men and their families to join me in what I called our “Moonshot for Mankind and Humanity.” Having written for the Good Men Project from the beginning I knew Lisa and the great work she was doing. She accepted my invitation to join us. Here’s what Lisa recounted in Long Live Men!

“When Jed Diamond told me about his idea for the moonshot mission, I felt exactly the same way as I felt that day I decided to help launch The Good Men Project.”

She went on to say,

“The moonshot mission is an extraordinary idea with a big, hairy, audacious goal. I may be dating myself by mentioning a BHAG, but that’s what it is. Yet the goal of closing the gap between the life expectancy of men and women and getting men to live longer, happier, more enriched lives also feels like an attainable goal.”

“There are some simple things that can be done. For example, getting men to go to the doctor as often as women, especially as they age. To erase the current shame of men dealing with mental health issues. To stop the cultural pressures of ‘work till you drop,’ which seems to be such a part of the narrative told to men, both overtly and covertly. To look at rates of smoking, gun violence, and risk-taking in men versus women and ask why.

“To understand how embracing the full spectrum of gender and sexuality might help men achieve some of these goals. And to help, really help men develop a wide variety of relationships that go far beyond the stereotypical relationships coveted by our culture and media. Men can have deep, long-lasting, intimate, empathetic, collaborative, and caring relationships with every kind of human in existence without it being an affront to their manhood.

“Have a vision, work to create it. We put a person on the moon without knowing exactly how. We can do this too. My personal mission statement is ‘I like to create things that capture the imagination of the general public and become part of the popular culture for years to come.’”

To learn more about Lisa and her work at The Good Men Project, visit her here.  

If you would like to read the latest from Tom Mattlack, you can see his work on here.

Please visit me at MenAlive and consider subscribing to our free weekly newsletter to read articles that help men and their families to live fully, love deeply, and make a positive difference in the world.

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