Helping American Fatherhood . . . One Dad at a Time
By Tom Konecny, MeetAmerica
There may be no roadmap for fatherhood, but Larry Hagner is providing good directions. His noble online movement – Good Dad Project – does things differently than most dad-sites.
He’s not looking for attention. He’s not an influencer. He doesn’t brag about awards, rankings, followers, or media appearances.
He’s just a dad who wants to make other dads better. Good Men Project is a six-year labor of love that has grown to provide coaching, community and resources for men who struggle with a vocation bursting with extreme highs and lows. Parenting may not always appreciate nor get dads, but Hagner does.
Student of the game
Hagner says he started his program in 2012, but he didn’t. It really began in childhood, where he endured a chaotic life without much stability. Every guy his mom married was an alcoholic and verbally abusive, and Hagner didn’t even meet his biological father until he was 30.
In Hagner’s world, good dads were hard to come by. While many of us had nurturing dads who cared about others, his father figures only thought about themselves. After a while of following their lead, he decided to control the only thing he could: himself.
So it’s rather fair to say he didn’t make the Good Men Project – it made him.
“One day I had enough,” Hagner said. “I checked my ego at the door and tried to be a student of fatherhood. I started this just because I really struggle with fatherhood myself.”
This California-born, St. Louis-raised, former medical sales professional soon found the Good Men Project was more than just something he needed for health and growth, it was necessary for others.
Creating a space
“For dads it’s much harder to build community and relationships,” Hagner said. “Women are socially more community beings. If you look over the past several decades, men have really lacked the skillset of how to build relationships with other men. Women don’t really have that issue. They talk emotion, they talk problems, they very openly express their feelings. Men don’t. They don’t know how.”
The problem is, Hagner asserts, men don’t want to look weak or that they don’t have their act together. As such, men are afraid to examine this because if they talk about emotions they’re going to be viewed as failing or losing, neither or which are associated with manliness.
But he insists you can do this in a very masculine way.
“I think when you create a space for men to talk openly about what’s going on in their life, men have to feel very masculine and cool about doing it,” Hagner said. “If you don’t, men don’t open up.”
Living on the edge
Good Dad Project helps men by utilizing three main areas. Its most popular and valuable is the Dad Edge Alliance, a total of 210 men who gather in small groups in virtual meeting rooms and tackle various issues. Every group has a facilitator who keeps the team on a detailed agenda that faces not-so everyday topics like mental toughness, sex, intimacy, leadership, confidence, communication and patience.
Hagner believes patience and self-sabotage are the top two areas with which men struggle.
“We really understand the pain points of men,” Hagner said, who then drills down specific topics by giving them the tools and resources to sharpen each. The community is highly organized and stays on a strict schedule through a ten-man team which Hagner considers his leadership team.
“Without them,” he said, “it’s definitely hard to do what I do. I can’t do it myself.”
Another area offers the Dad Edge Podcast, whereby Hagner discusses common challenges of fatherhood by often inviting guests and experts to make subject matter easy to understand and overcome. That three-year-old podcast has grown fast – it’s now regularly downloaded in 181 countries.
Good Dad Project also offers books for sale and free download, including a children’s book. Its Dad Edge Facebook presence has over 10,000 likes and followers. Hagner has even set up his first on-site workshop – Dad Edge Summit – for June 7 in St. Louis.
Hagner knows that organized religion has plenty of men’s groups, but even within those environments men are scared to be their most authentic selves for fear of judgment, and it’s hard for them to talk about things that really ail them.
“It’s not to say that these are broken men, they’re good men,” he said. “But men usually aren’t going to talk about that in that type of atmosphere. In our atmosphere we encourage that. The more real, the more raw, the more authentic you are. It helps even the playing field.”
As the name suggests, Good Dad Project is strictly for men. Although there are female speakers that lend valuable insight and a woman’s point-of-view, Hagner believes that if women were a part of the community, “men wouldn’t feel nearly to share what they do.”
One of the Good Dad Project dads left the community after a month, which is incredibly rare. That dad confessed to Hagner that his wife didn’t appreciate the work he was doing. She didn’t see the hard work he was putting in. That treatment is not uncommon, because dads are at a disadvantage upon becoming parents; they live in a parenting community, Hagner believes, which is stereotyped and inherently biased by media and marketing.
“If you look at sitcoms, TV and mainstream media, (dads) really don’t know what’s going on,” Hagner said. “The Homer Simpson-type of thing. Peter Griffin from ‘Family Guy.’ Raymond from ‘Everybody Loves Raymond.’ But I think that’s inaccurate. (Dads) have a deep desire to be engaged.”
Despite the slights, Hagner doesn’t think that dads struggle more than moms, they just internalize more.
“Women talk about it, men don’t,” he said. “They live this quiet life of desperation. They hold everything in. They mentally and emotionally self-sabotage. We can be our own worst enemy.”
Some of the dynamics are different, he’ll say, but a lot of the problems are the same: health, finances and work-life balance. Men struggle with validation at home, and really don’t get the training for it.
Learning from others
Hagner remains strengthened by the dads he meets every day. He regularly receives notes from members who have completely changed their relationships, their careers and their confidence.
“When we are sharpening ourselves to be the best we can be, we then can help others,” he said. “So we serve others better.”
Hagner has it down now, but he never stops learning. He remains humble and in the student role while he gets hands-on fatherhood experience from important, young teachers: his four sons, ages 2-12.
Sons that one day may become good dads like Hagner.