Tom Fiffer: What It Means To Be A “Good Man”

The tagline for the Good Men Project is “the conversation no one else is having.”

And driving that conversation is a Westport man.

The 5-year-old website reaches 6 million men (and women) a month. Many of them learn from — and are inspired by — Tom Fiffer. He’s an executive editor, and contributes regularly on subjects like his passion: emotional domestic abuse.

It’s not easy to write about. But — like the entire site — Tom sheds light on what masculinity means in the 21st century.

Growing up in the Chicago suburbs, he had what he calls a “normal” childhood. But when Tom was 9, his father dropped dead of a heart attack. “That changed things emotionally,” Tom says. “Including my sense of fatherhood.”

He graduated from Yale, earned a master’s in creative writing at the University of Illinois-Chicago, then worked for Random House for 5 years and a data-based information company for 20.

Tom Fiffer

Tom Fiffer

Last January, he was downsized. He’d written for the Good Men Project since 2012 — he heard about it from fellow Westport Ina Chadwick — at the same time he was blogging on his own creation, Tom Aplomb.

Meanwhile, he was working through a divorce, after 15 years of marriage.

Shortly after being laid off, Tom was hired as GMP’s ethics editor. He wrote several articles a week, and worked with some of the site’s 900 writers.

In June he was named executive editor. He still writes, but is also responsible for filling daily content, and strategy.

The Good Men Project’s goal is to provide positive masculine role models. As a divorced father raising and nurturing 2 boys, Tom makes sure his voice is heard.

“A lot of men are involved in unhealthy relationships,” he says. “But they don’t recognize it. It’s important to get the message to men — and women — that a lot of destructive behavior doesn’t have to happen.”

Good Men ProjectHis stories resonate with hundreds of thousands of readers. When someone tells Tom “That was my life!” or “We were just talking about that last night!” he realizes the power of his words.

While he does not bring Westport specifically into his writing, he knows that domestic violence — particularly the emotional component — happens everywhere. “I’m well aware that not everyone here lives fully happy lives,” he says.

A local organization that he plans to reference soon is Culture of Respect. The Westport-based group focuses on sexual assault prevention efforts at colleges — and aims much of its efforts on men.

That’s important to the Good Men Project. These days, Tom says, men are thinking more about “what it means to be a great husband, partner or father” than money or sports.

More men too “see feminism not as a threat, but as something that’s good for everyone.”

Thanks — in part — to Tom Fiffer, one of the real Good Men.


7 responses to “Tom Fiffer: What It Means To Be A “Good Man”

  1. Both A Great Idea and Not A Great Idea.

    Of Concern, and as female victim of attempted sex assault followed by harassment by male professor and head of department, and then ongoing retaliation for reporting it and trying to transfer away from it at Columbia University, I’m living example of it, is that those of us who are inherently respectful of one another will – via the impact of an organization like this – become more respectful and those that are inherently disrespectful will take advantage of that. I think it’s all just human nature, the organic good and bad of it.

    I have often, very often, blamed the respect for all others that I was raised on for my being victimized not just by the attempted assaulter but also and more so by the academic institution itself. If I had been a bit less respectful and tolerant I likely would not be in spot I am now.

    That diligence in being respectful to all others, turn the other cheek, etc., is very much an American middle class trait that maybe, make that probably, we need to shake off a little.

    Of course my opinion is based on this personally overwhelming experience but it’s also a perspective friends of other cultures have shared with me.

    • Anonymous, Thank you for sharing your perspective. I am sorry you had such an awful experience at Columbia. In general terms, sometimes we are brought up to see respecting others—people, institutions—as requiring us to sacrifice or stifle our own self-respect; we’re made to feel that everyone else comes first. I think when we start from a place of self-respect, we are much less likely to tolerate violations of our boundaries. Much of my writing is to help people understand when those boundaries are being violated and what they can do about it. And Culture of Respect is about empowering women and men on college campuses to stop sexual assault.

      • That sounds great. Thank you so much for replying, and clearly understanding what I was trying to convey. Good luck with your work. I’ll certainly be sharing links to your site with others.

      • So beautifully put “when we start from a place of self-respect…” we are so better equipped to openly (and fearlessly) extend the respect that others absolutely deserve.

    • To Tom and Anonymous,

      Thank you Tom, for your important work with The Good Men Project.

      Although 22% of college women (and 6% of men) are being sexually assaulted, it does not in turn, mean that 22% of the student population are perpetrators. Research proves there are serial rapists on campus and each has an average of five victims. This fact points to the critical role of bystanders; it is everyone else on campus who can make an essential difference. Your meaningful work, Tom, to engage masculine role models and ALL responsible bystanders, is critical. Attendance at prevention programs teaches students on college campuses that the culture which fosters violence is unacceptable and intolerable. Cultural shifts take time and require everyone’s participation – from college presidents speaking from the bully pulpit to parents, administrators, staff, coaches, health professionals student leaders and of course, survivors – we all must partake in the effort to effect meaningful change. There is a role for everyone. Clear policies on adjudication and sanctions on EVERY campus are also part of the paradigm.

      And to your point, Anonymous, we must not forget that it is only since January, when the President’s Task Force on Campus Sexual Assault began its work, alongside the student activists, that the silence surrounding this harrowing public health epidemic has broken. Your experience (and response) has been the norm for too long.Survivors deserve advocates on campus who support them and walk them though reporting options – from anonymous reporting to filing criminal charges. We are at a pinnacle moment, and important efforts are underway to return to a place of basic human decency and accountability. We can change the tide when rape culture is replaced with a culture of respect.

      Sandi Fifield, co-founder
      Culture of Respect

  2. Tom is a very special man who makes a huge difference. Thank you for including him.