Be a Man – The Crying Game
By Gregory Henn
The other day I was watching, of all things, the Disney cartoon Robin Hood. It’s a movie I had grown up with and naturally I was very fond of certain moments. One such moment is the scene where Robin Hood is on the verge of being executed after the archery tournament. Then suddenly, he is freed and chaos erupts at the festival. The large chicken character, Lady Cluck, is targeted by several of the rhino guards, and a call is made to “Seize the fat one!” What follows is simply beautiful: The Notre Dame Football fight song rings out as the heroic chicken rampages through a stampede of rhinos like a mighty running back trying to make it to the end zone. It’s such an amazing moment in an already amazing movie, and as I let my feelings wash over me, I started crying.
Now, I wasn’t sad per say, but I think I was just extremely nostalgic for a time when things were simpler. I actually re-played the sequence and got all the same feels the second time through. But as I let the rest of the movie play, I began to feel slightly embarrassed. It seemed largely silly, I told myself, that I could let a cartoon chicken attacking cartoon rhinos cause me to weep. I instinctively began thinking of some rugged and tough activities I could do after the movie to offset my emotional outburst, but then I stopped myself. You know something? I was glad I was crying. And then another question instantly filled my mind: I wonder if other guys feel the same way?
You see, as men, we face a very real problem. For reasons unknown, one of the most absurd and yet commonly held beliefs in our society is that it’s not “OK” for a man to cry. Somewhere throughout history, it became not “manly” for a guy to simply show emotion. People have gotten it into their heads that when a guy starts feeling sad he need only “man up” and get on with life. Does this strike anyone else as odd? In an attempt to try and understand it, I had to go back…WAY back…to my childhood.
I’ll come right out and admit that, as a boy, I cried a lot. The tears were always (mostly) justified and I never felt like I was doing anything wrong. But then sometime around junior high, I started looking up to older guys who I wanted to emulate. Whenever one of them would appear to get sad, I’d hear people say things like, “come on, just be a man!” Almost instantly, crying stopped seeming like an appropriate outlet for male emotion. With just a few choice words, crying became an activity reserved for girls and little babies, and eventually began to exude feelings of weakness and shame. After all, the men I looked up to were “tough” and left their tears unshed, even in pain. That was the image of manhood I believed in and strived for in my life.
Now whether they’ll admit it or not, I think other guys have probably gone through this same experience. And while it might feel initially good to be able to resist your natural urges and appear outwardly strong, I can tell you first hand, that it does more damage than good. You see, what people fail to mention is that the emotional stunting that can occur as a result of these simple “man up” phrases, is devastating. The truth for my life (and no doubt other guys) was that by suppressing my tears so much, over time I actually lost the ability to cry at all. I can safely say there was a period of time between ages 13 and 21 where a lot of sad things happened in my life, but I didn’t cry once. 8 years, and not a single tear shed.
Not being able to cry meant a lot to me over those years, but it was never a good thing. It meant that I was seldom honest with myself and with others. It meant that I valued the presentation of my outer appearance over the truth of my own inner feelings. It meant that rather than deal with things in my own heart, I passively handled things through other emotional outlets like music and various forms of media. It meant that I was unable to show empathy to others who needed me. But perhaps most troubling, it meant that I had the worst time relating to women.
Once the emotion of sadness was squelched in my heart, other emotions quickly followed. Making and keeping girlfriends was nearly impossible. Try as I might, I just couldn’t connect with them emotionally. And this continued on even after I eventually did have a good cry. For a long time in my life, the longest relationship I ever had lasted less than two months. I don’t think that’s because I’m not a cool person, but because when it came to being open and vulnerable in a relational sense, I just couldn’t do it. Everything was surface level, and trying to really express myself felt awkward. Underneath all of it though, the true irony is that I can safely say that “manly” was certainly the last thing I ever felt.
Fast forward to now, and I can happily say that I am starting to fully understand just who I am in the complete range of my emotions. And while I certainly don’t just cry at a moment’s notice (unless we’re talking good Disney movies), I am at least able to be open and honest with myself about when I want to. There’s been another change too. As I sit and reflect about what makes a man a man, I no longer see someone who never sheds a tear. Instead I see a man as being someone who is so in tune with himself that he feels secure enough in his identity to show emotion when he chooses. And it’s only in hindsight I can say that that’s what I should have been looking for the entire time.
Can we agree on something? Its time we stop telling other guys, especially boys, to “man up” in the face of emotion. When a guy cries, he’s expressing an emotion true within himself, and contrary to popular belief, showing it doesn’t make him weak. I reject the notion that a guy, upon reaching a certain age or level of maturity, has to suddenly act like he has it all together. I reject that a guy should feel shame in turning to others for emotional help. I reject that a guy needs to suppress his sadness in favor of saving face in front of his friends. And ultimately, I reject the notion that a man who cries is somehow anything less than a man.
I hope you will too.