There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love.
I remember the first time I cried. It’s one of the first memories I have of anything. A young man’s first tears aren’t usually as traumatic as the ones that follow later in his life, but that doesn’t mean this inaugural foray into my emotions didn’t hurt at the time.
“Why? Why did he have to die?” I wailed and buried my head into my dad’s chest while pounding against his shoulders in feeble, alternating flails with clenched fists. “It’s just not fair!”
It was 1986 when torment first found me. I was four years old, and Dad and I were sitting on the red cushioned seats of Fremont’s Paramount Cinemas watching Optimus Prime die at the end of The Transformers: The Movie.
In the years since, it’s safe to say that I’ve cried more than most men and likely even most women. I’ve tried to hide my feelings and abide by the codes of masculinity that stipulate that men are weak if they lose a few tears when their emotions get the best of them. Truth is, I’m no stoic. I’m weird and sentimental and my emotions run off the threads of my sleeves. I’ve been called an “old soul” for as long as I can remember. Stand by Me is my favorite movie, and not just for the adolescent adventures encountered by the stories four main characters. No, I love Stand by Me because I’m a sucker for the narrator’s reflections on friendship, death, growing up and growing apart. Even while writing, I feel tears form in my eyes thinking of the movie’s final scene and hearing Ben E. King’s voice carry the end credits.
Although I’m not scared to cry, it’s not something that I’m particularly proud to announce. From the time we’re young boys, men are taught not to cry. Some of us face taunts of being weak on the playground if a teardrop escapes over a scraped knee. We’re teased and called “girls” (or worse) if we cry at times for others to see.
Don Draper doesn’t cry. Neither does Bogart (although he came close). They hide their pain, masking it with booze, smokes, bravado, anger and womanizing. They are real men and real men don’t cry. Right?
Now, I’m not seeking a world of over-sentimentalism where all guys devolve to blubbering messes over every scratch, knock-down, bruise (physical or to the ego) or criticism. Much of the emotional concealment taught to men is necessary. Sometimes keeping your chin steady or your voice from quivering during a funeral speech is exactly the portrait of resolve a family needs to persevere. In fact, in many cases the greatest show of strength comes from not showing tears at all.
But on so many other occasions, men might be better off if we knew we could cry in forums other than during athletic celebrations, at funerals or during the father/daughter dance at our daughter’s wedding. And maybe life could be just a little easier if we offered the substance of our hearts to friends in settings without bar stools and empty beer bottles.
Sometimes, tears help, and sometimes tears heal. Sometimes the pain is too damn great and no words are left. Sometimes the only thing we can do—the only thing we should do—is cry.
Jim Valvano had it right when he said, “there are there are three things we all should do every day…Number one is laugh. You should laugh every day. Number two is think. You should spend some time in thought. Number three is, you should have your emotions moved to tears, could be happiness or joy. But think about it. If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special.”
Sometimes, men should let their emotions move us to tears because it’s OK to cry.
It’s OK to cry when the Righteous Brothers sing Unchained Melody and your heart aches for what that song means. It’s OK to cry over a love that was once had, is now lost or who never returned. This twisted passage of life happens to us all.
It’s OK to cry when we’ve run out of answers and know we need help. It’s not brave to suffocate emotions and feign bravado to the outside world. Courage comes from being strong enough to ask for a hand to hold or an ear to listen.
When a friend who feels his life—whether it’s a marriage, work, or something else—spiraling downward asks for support, it’s OK to cry alongside him and truly share in his or her suffering. Few things in life will ever show someone the extent of your caring like the expression of mutual tears.
It’s OK to be a four-year old boy and cry at Transformers.
It’s OK to cry over happiness or sadness, desperation or elation. Welcome tears with both smiles and frowns.
It’s OK to believe what Jim Valvano said. Crying can be part of a heck of a day.