Modern Men Are Suffering & The World Finally Sees It —​ But That's Not Enough

Photo: JOSE_ESCUDERO / Shutterstock
guy in white tank top with hand on head

I've been trying to help men for years, trying to invite them into my own struggles so other guys who read my articles here, my newsletters on Substack, or who join my weekly speaker series know they aren't alone when they're feeling lonely or frustrated. 

The world seems to be catching up on some of the issues that I've been talking about for a while, like loneliness, the challenges facing young men, issues with social media, etcetera. I certainly wasn’t first on any of these topics but have been talking about them for a while. All of a sudden, they are front page news everywhere which is fantastic — except no one seems to have any solutions.

But I digress. Men are lonely and it's seriously affecting our health and the well-being of our sons. 

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Knowing that this is the sort of stuff I care about, my awesome buddy, and sometimes editor, Joanna, sent me this article: “Are New Dads Okay?” 

I’ve read it several times now and find it so on point. And, as I noted above, I'm glad people are paying attention. 

But what can we do? How do we solve this? 

Are men OK? No, not really

The author talks about these young dads with babies strapped on trying to scurry around doing errands looking lost, like maybe they want to get laid but feel ashamed about mentioning it to their wives. Like they would like to have a friend, some support even, but that seems like a true nonfeminist thought.  

The author even did a nonscientific survey of 40 dads of kids under 3, and the responses were bleak: I never knew it would be this hard; no quality time with the spouse; no affordable childcare; zero time for themselves, friends, or hobbies. Isolated. On the habit rail with no end in sight.  

The author points to the sad clown face originated by Tony Soprano, and the author says it was popularized by the Boston Globe for modern dads though I think it was the fitness group F3 as I have written about prior. No biggie.  

The whole setup of the article asks about the “mature masculinity” advocated for a generation ago by the likes of Iron John author Robert Bly and whether we have really made any progress in this regard or if things are worse for men now. Did the questions raised by Bly and others in the '70s and '80s ever get answered?

The crux of the issue in the article and all research on the topic is the male loneliness epidemic for new dads (and all men from teens to nursing homes). Who is to blame, and who is willing to talk about it? 

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Breaking the cycle of male loneliness

The author’s take is women walk away from it since they have centuries of sexism and misogyny to deal with, and men “turn inward.” So it just gets worse. And these young dads, and all of us men, suffer. The dads, the article says, know better than to complain. That is the domain of moms and motherhood blogs. But the dads are left “adrift” as a result.

Strangely and sadly, that is the same word principals and headmasters of high schools that I talk to frequently use to describe their high school boys. 

In search of answers, the author reaches out to David Zahl of the Christ Episcopal Church in Charlottesville, Va., on the theory that new dads in faith communities might be doing better (Zahl wrote a cool article about it).

Ironically, Zahl talks not about his church but the aforementioned local F3 group, an organization I know and love, as the most crucial source of male support. One of the guys in Zahl’s F3 admitted that he loved his infant child and wife but “never wanted to hit the eject button more” because he was overwhelmed. Every single dad there thanks him for saying what they felt.  

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Men tend to shrink in groups 

Zahl talks about the sheepishness of the all-male group. How is it somehow not cool to exclude women from anything? But it is necessary. 

Lonely men, the author points out, turn to their partner for support in creating a powder keg when their spouse is already stressed out. Only 38 percent of respondents to the dads in the survey felt satisfied with their sex life. 

The conclusion looks pretty similar to the prior men’s movement.  Men need to embrace their masculinity, just a healthy version.  There is no shame in being a man.  It is pretty damn cool and helpful to the world.  We need good men who treat women as equals and with respect.  And know their worthiness.  

The author concludes: “The dads I know today are neither dominant nor disempowering. They’re good people doing their best. Many are plenty calm about their 'masculine power.' But they could use some quality hangs and a sense of belonging to a culture of family life that extends beyond the fraying edges of their home.”

I loved this article. Sent it to some friends. I posted to a private Facebook group I run with 250 guys.

Then I sat down after doing some lawn work to read for a third time to contemplate if there was anything intelligible I could add.

That’s when I noticed a woman wrote the article. I assumed it was a guy. The woman in question, Kathryn Jezer-Morton, wrote her Ph.D. on the evolution of mom blogs. 

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She had such a popular Substack that it got moved to a column on New York Magazine’s “The Cut” under the title “The Brooding” about the modern family. She is undoubtedly someone I should have known about before and I'm glad I know about her now. 

If I could talk to her, I'd say, "Thank you for noticing and writing about the struggle." It’s not anti-woman or anti-feminist to say that new dads, young men, and likely all sorts of men are in a world of hurt. So many sad-clown faces. So few people are paying attention.  

Somebody hug these poor guys.

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Tom Matlack is on a mission to help men. His weekly speakers series and writing on Substack help men connect with one another and their own emotional well-being. He adores his wife of 20 years and his three children.