Tag Archives: Tom Matlack

Are Stay-at-Home Dads Macho?

This is the third in a five part series of discussions by Laura Munson and Tom Matlack of “The Good Men Project.”

Laura Munson:

Last year, my husband was suddenly unemployed, and after many years, I finally got a book published. I was working insane hours and touring the country on book promotion and he was making breakfast and bag lunches, driving kids from school, to music lessons, to sporting events. He gave me the greatest gift anyone could have given me at that time in my life: He kept our family life normalized. Sure, the kids now got chips in their lunches, and he opted out of organic milk. But I saw what really mattered, and it wasn’t a potato chip or a pesticide here or there. It was security. It was the kind of love that men seem best at giving — at least my man. It didn’t mean there was a lot of “I love you when you sit in a dark room and type all day” or “You look sexy in those flannel pajamas that you’ve worn for two weeks.” It was a quiet knowing that he had a role to fill, and he did it powerfully. It was a perfect swap, but we both believed it was temporary. That was the unspoken operative word. Because if someone had told us when we were courting that I’d one day be the breadwinner, and my husband was going to be a stay-at-home dad, we would have balked. At 20-something I wanted to pursue my career and have him pursue his. I wanted to re-convene at the end of the day and share food and conversation and maybe snuggle on the couch while we watched a movie. In my 30s I wanted to have children and we did. Then I wanted to stay at home and be a mother and write books while my babies slept, and I wanted him to work, and be fulfilled — and then I wanted that end-of-the-day meal and that conversation and that snuggle. Life went like that and we felt lucky. But in our 40s, things changed for a while and we are better for it. I’m not sure I know what “macho” means. But if it has to do with power, then being given the space and time to fulfill my career dreams is one of the most powerful gifts I’ve been given.

 

Tom Matlack, stay-at-home dad:

Not only are stay-at-home dads macho, but all dads who show up for their kids are macho. You can’t be a dad and wall yourself off from your child. Perhaps that was the way in prior generations, but one of the greatest changes for men today is the opportunity we have to engage and learn about ourselves through our relationship with our kids.

I spent 18 months at home with my young children just after getting divorced. I only had the kids part time and I found it amazingly hard when they weren’t around — and amazingly rewarding when they were.

The feeling of holding a child, especially my own, in the crook of my neck is as close to God as I have ever been. When my life was completely falling apart around me — at least in part because I’d been working so hard that I had completely forgotten that I was a father — spending time with my kids reminded me what was important and gave me a purpose.

Machismo is about confidence, swagger and knowing what is important. Dirty Harry is macho, not only for what he does, but how and why he does it. He’s a badass on a mission to right the wrongs of the world. Dads, particularly stay-at-home dads, are the same way. They take care of their kids with a purpose. Mothers have something essential to give their children, but what dads have to offer is no less important. For those of us who have finally, fully internalized that fact, there is nothing in our lives more important than our children — and no one who is going to tell us otherwise. We will dive through brick walls — and endure being called “sissies” — to care for our kids in a way that makes up for time lost in prior generations.

Fifty years ago, women were trying to figure out how to get out of the home and into the workplace while still being good moms and wives. For men in 2011, our primary challenge is to figure out how to be at home with our kids while still holding down a job. To those guys who stay home to raise their kids: You are lucky, macho men. The dad at the playground or at the “Mommy and Me” playgroup doesn’t have to cower over in the corner. He can stand tall and do his thing, playing with his kid in a manly way, because it is cool to be a dad.

Laura Munson:

I totally agree. I live in a town where most of the fathers I know are able to show up at their kids’ sporting events and play performances and music recitals, and even school parties because of the close proximity to their workplace — if they have a work place. Here, many of the men are out of work, and their wives are the breadwinners. I also live in a town that is full of Montana “macho” men who strut their stuff all over the ski hill, and in the mountains, hunting, fishing, climbing — “getting after it,” as they say. I asked my son to define this “it.” He said, “It is doing what you love.” In this sense, being with your kids as much as possible is just that.

MATLACK:

I agree with you here. I agree macho means power, but power with intention for good. Macho men are heroic men, whether in Westerns or sports or at home. One of the biggest changes in the gender geography, as you describe so well and as we explored at length in The Good Men Project is the transformation of men as seeing fatherhood not as some kind of obligation in addition to their jobs but as the central role they fulfill on the planet—-one that can be done with machismo. The dad at the playground, or at the mommy and me playgroup, doesn’t have to cower over in the corner as some kind of freak. He can stand tall and do his thing, playing with his kid in a manly way, because it is cool to be a dad.

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Tom Matlack and Laura Munson debate other questions about modern love:

How Important is physical appearance to long-term fidelity?

What’s more important to a good marriage — great sex or fighting fair?

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What’s More Important, Great Sex or Fighting Fair?

***Please note that THESE HERE HILLS will be moving on Saturday January 29th to http://www.lauramunson.com/blog ***

Tom Matlack, creator of the Good Men Project, and I recently took on some interesting questions to see just what “big girls and big boys are made of.” Our answers were illuminating for me. See what you think. We’ll publish them in a series on both of our blogs and you can also find a few featured on the Huffington Post. I’ll link those here too when they run.

What’s more important, great sex or fighting fair?


MATLACK: Fighting is a part of every marriage, but not necessarily a useful part. I’ve never seen the benefit. I grew up watching couples going at each other with venom. Too often, it seemed to me as a teenager, committed couples got all tangled up and didn’t have the common sense to fight in private. It was right there for the kids, and the rest of the world, to see: a couple who loved each other so much they felt compelled to scream in each other’s faces. What does that achieve? I still don’t know.

Great sex surpasses all conversation; it is the greatest, most intimate, most complete form of communication. There’s a reason that, in Biblical times, the verb “to know” was synonymous with sex. Fights are about the basic disconnect between men and women. We use a different language to describe the same thing. More important, we display emotion in very different ways, and that leads every couple I have ever known to fight. If they aren’t fighting, it’s because one or the other has tuned out and given up.

For us guys, words often fail. The source of so many fights is our inability to be vulnerable, to admit that we were wrong, to ask forgiveness. But when husband and wife have great sex, there is a connection beyond the cerebral, beyond the differences. There is a connection, a union—a knowing—that is beautiful and healing and joyful. The world stops and two people crawl into a cave all their own to experience each other in all their nakedness.

Great sex takes practice, focus, and time. But it keeps a relationship fresh. Fighting—even well—is a waste of time and energy.

MUNSON: I like what you’re saying about connection. Even though you say that fighting is a waste of time, you also admit that if a couple isn’t fighting at all, then there’s a strong chance they’ve given up. I think you learn how to fight as you learn how to have your unique physical connection in sex. It’s always growing and changing, but there are some baseline ways to have both ways of connecting work. The key is respect. If you’ve lost respect for your partner or vice versa, it’s going to come out in those raw, real, hot moments of fighting and sex. The other key is trust. If you trust and respect each other, you’ll have success in your disagreements and in your intimacy, but if those are lost, then the relationship can’t sustain either.

*♦◊♦*

MUNSON: I consider myself an excellent “fighter.” I rarely lose my temper, and I am skilled at talking through my emotions with connective tissue made up of empathy, forgiveness, and surrender. Sometimes I think my husband would rather not have to be on the other end of that. In his mind, this is not necessarily “fair” fighting. After all, he was the quarterback on his high school football team. He’s a textbook “guy.” And to me that means he deals with his feelings by going outside and chopping firewood, or driving his dirt bike straight up a ridge as fast as possible. I’ve come to see that maybe he’d rather I blew up.

After almost 20 years in this relationship, I’ve learned that talking through hard issues is not easy for him. Here’s what is: bullet-pointing his feelings in an email. Quick statement of conflict. Direct and practical suggestion for resolution. The whole thing wrapped up in a cyber-second. And when I meet him in this manner, you’d think we were seasoned psychologists. Years ago I’d call this mode of “fighting fair” a massive cop-out. I’d think our marriage was in ruin if our arguments were reduced to bullet-pointed email exchanges. I pictured emotional health in across-a-table heart-in-the-hand eye-to-eye conversation that didn’t cease until a resolution was found. And sometimes, that’s the way we fly. But not usually. We have learned what works for us and what feels fair—and that’s what matters. We deal in reality. Leave the fantasy for the great sex.

♦◊♦

MATLACK: My wife is Italian. She is used to dishes flying all over the place. It’s not that I wish she would blow up—she does blow up. But that doesn’t advance the ball of intimacy in my view. I’m with your husband on chopping fire wood and driving a dirt bike up a ridge, breaking a phone or punching out a wall (once I called my contractor sheepishly after putting a hole in a wall with my fist—to which he responded, “Oh, yeah we do those for free!”). Like I said, words often fail us, especially in the heat of an argument. And taking some time to get some distance—from each other and the issue at hand—to vent our anger, so we can think rationally, is a great idea. But I’m not sure I like the idea of bullet points—that seems a
little too distant.

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About Tom Matlack

Tom Matlack is just foolish enough to believe he is a decent man. He has a 16-year-old daughter and 14- and 5-year-old sons. His wife, Elena, is the love of his life.

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