How to Be a Good Man (and Talk About It)

I’m trying hard to be one of the good guys.

I know that the two most important things I’ll ever be are husband and father, so I take great care to, as best I can, align my actions with my priorities. My wife, Amy, and I both “walk the walk” in being supportive partners to each other and kick-ass parents to our 8-year-old son, Nick. I also try to be a good guy in the other parts of my life.

And I talk about it.

I’m a professor at a business school who teaches MBA students the importance of being good, employee-oriented supervisors, and how they can develop and enact more humane, flexible and family-friendly workplace policies.

I write a blog to help dads better balance work and family. My goal is to help men think through and articulate their priorities, to be more present and involved fathers, and to be brave at work by refusing to compromise on family responsibilities.

I write for The Good Men Project, which is aimed at creating a conversation, ideas and resources to encourage more men to be good men. I also write at a few other outlets trying to get good dads the respect and support they deserve.

Fathers as Depicted in the Media

When I see fathers denigrated by the New York Times and Clorox, or see dads’ family contributions minimized by Amazon and Huggies, I tend to get riled up. When I see books like “All Men Are Jerks” and “The End of Men” not only taken seriously but also applauded, I really get pissed off. I find myself wanting to scream, “Men are really trying to be both good fathers and still be manly-men providers, and they’re working so much harder at this than prior generations…”

And then seemingly every week, I see something like this – Former football player leaves 3 year old girl alone in a car to go to strip club – and it hits me.

Not all dads are like those I know, working incredibly hard to be good men and better fathers. We see too many men who aren’t good guys – they don’t treat women well, they don’t treat coworkers or employees well, they don’t treat their kids well.

The sad truth is this. A lot of men are Jerks. Jerk bosses, Jerk boyfriends, Jerk husbands, Jerk fathers, Jerks.

And they ruin it for the rest of us.

It is harder to get mad at Huggies when they run ads poking fun at the presumed incompetence and negligence of dads when there actually are guys who refuse to take the 10 minutes required to learn how to change a diaper. It is harder to get mad at “doofus dad” humor that tells boys and girls that they shouldn’t expect much of men when some dads do the incredibly stupid things they do.

I can’t control what other adult men do. But I may be able to improve the situation going forward.

When boys behave badly, we chalk it up to “boys being boys.” But if we do, we risk accepting future poor behavior as “men being men.”

Kids are sponges, and they learn far more from what we do than what we say.

We have to be super-careful about how we act around them so we are role models as good men, and encourage them to stay on that path.

How to Model the Behaviors We Want

It seems to me most jerkish male behavior comes from an inability to:

  1. control anger
  2. admit error
  3. relate to women as equals

Here are some things I try to do (I don’t always succeed) in raising my son to not be a jerk. For now, I will focus on the first two because the third deserves a full article unto itself.

1. I am careful about expressing anger in front of my son

We all get angry.

When the idiot in the luxury-brand SUV cuts me off as if he’s trying to kill me, I want to blow a gasket, yell obscenities, and flip the a-hole off. If my son’s in the car, I don’t.

When the little-league umpire who is taking the game too seriously makes a bad call, I want to chirp my disagreement at the ump or worse) – especially when Nick is upset that he’s out because of a bad call. But I don’t. Instead I bite my tongue, pull Nick aside, explain that while I don’t agree with the ump, we have to respect his decision, and hey, life’s not always fair.

I can’t always catch myself before getting angry. But I try, and I hope my son sees and learns from this.

2. I apologize to my son

I’m the authority figure and senior partner in the relationship with my son. But that doesn’t mean I’m never wrong. Sometimes I’m too short with Nick when I’m stressed out. Sometimes I get too focused on writing or work to be present with him.

But when I catch myself in the wrong, I don’t just brazen my way through or dismiss Nick’s feelings. I get down to his eye level, and I apologize. I explain why I was wrong and why I won’t do it again.

Through my example, I hope that Nick will learn to take responsibility for his mistakes, and to treat people with respect even when he is the one in the position of power.

3. Relating to women as equals

As mentioned, this topic warrants a long discussion, so look forward to more to come.

I know that all men are not good guys. But I’m trying to be a good man, I’m trying to raise my son to be a good man, and we need to talk about these issues. I know a lot of other guys who are also trying hard. Hopefully, in the next generation, we can cure the world of jerks, one son at a time.

© Scott Behson

Scott Behson, PhD, is a Professor of Management at Fairleigh Dickinson University, a busy involved dad, and an overall grateful guy. He runs Fathers, Work, and, a blog dedicated to helping fathers better balance work and family, and encouraging more supportive workplaces. He also writes on work and family issues for The Good Men Project, an online men’s magazine. He lives in Nyack, NY with his lovely wife, Amy, and awesome son, Nick. Contact him on Twitter (@ScottBehson), Facebook, LinkedIn or email.