I went to a funeral this weekend. It was a small, family service held deep within the mountains of North Carolina. It was, I suppose, one of those funerals where the mourning is focused more around saying goodbye to a well lived life, rather than angry at the universe for snatching someone from our midst too soon. In any event, it was a sad day for our family. So it goes.
This funeral brought to mind an issue that’s been plaguing the modern man and creating emotional volcanoes. The problem I’m referring to is the idea that “real men don’t cry”. Oh yes, we love spreading this lie around our culture, don’t we? We’ve coined the term “strong silent type” and, in the rare instance that a guy does cry, it’s either celebrated as an emotional tour de force or passively scored and perceived as weak. Both and neither of the perceptions are completely accurate – allow me to explain.
Why it should be celebrated…
Men are notorious for bottling-up good-old-fashioned, extremely helpful, emotion. Over years and years, it’s become en vogue to keep a stiff upper lip and not allow ourselves the natural – yes, natural – expression of crying. Crying is a physical act that enables us to manage emotion via our bodies impulses. Isn’t that cool? Think about it. When you get super scared and the adrenalin pulses, your body is naturally releasing a chemical that allows you to escape or defend the oncoming danger with super-hero-like force. Like adrenaline, crying is a gift that your body gives you to be able to release the massive tension inside and function.
However, because we’re dumb animals, we ignore the natural impulse to cry and suck it up. What ends up happening is that you a)never release the tension, b)work twice as hard at dealing with a situation, c)find way less constructive avenues for release, or d)all of the above. This weekend, at the funeral, one or two tears were shed. When men would take time to share, their voice would quiver, they’d take a deep breath, they’d apologize for showing emotion, and they would continue on. We all know the drill, don’t we?
Imagine what a better world it would be if Hulk had just let it out? If Kobra Khan simply allowed himself to cry? If Bebop and Rocksteady locked arms and sang a big, snotty, chorus of Lean on Me? Joking aside, it’s helpful to cry, it’s constructive to cry, and it’s time to redefine masculinity and stop perceiving a mastery of emotions as ignoring the ones that help (crying) and celebrating the ones that hurt (sucking it up).
When crying isn’t always appropriate…
Let’s examine the greatest movie of all time: The Godfather. When Don Corleone went to view Santino’s bullet-ridden body, he cried. Oh yes, the most powerful, manly man ever on the silver screen slobbered, snotted, and mumbled, “Look what they’ve done to my boy…look what they’ve done.” However, and this is a big however, when freaking Johnny Fontane met with The Godfather and began to cry in his office, Vito slapped the junk out of him and said, “You can act like a man!” What’s the difference? Why would crying be accepted on one hand but get you backslapped with the other? Because there’s no room for crying in certain arenas.
Johnny Fontane was, essentially, at work. He was upset about his job, he needed help, and he was talking to his boss. Gentlemen, crying at work is weak. Crying because you’re not getting enough shifts, because you just bombed a review, or for any reason at your place of employment is not an option for a Grown Man. At our jobs, we are hired and paid to be professional. When you cry at work, you’re using your tears as tools to get what you want and avoiding your big-boy words to express emotion.
Also, crying with a lady-friend is okay, but you’ve got to use it sparingly. Again, the tears as tools theory works very well on the tail end of a DTR where you feel like you’re losing the upper hand and she’s about to break up with you. When you cry, you manipulate the relationship and that’s just not fair. Now dont’ get me wrong, I’ll cry like a baby with my wife. Oh lord, that woman has seen more tears than Jimmy Swaggart’s handkerchief. But those tears are spent on times of real mourning, intense emotion, and moments when words fail me and emotion overcomes me.
The bottom line is this: You know when crying is helpful and when it’s being used as a tool. When it’s helpful – cry like Tammy Fae and don’t be embarrassed to let it the heck out. Your family, friends, and society in general will thank you. However, if you’ve got ulterior motives for crying, suck it up and be a grown freaking man about it.