Like most men in America, I get uncomfortable when someone begins to cry. Be it one of my daughters, a close friend, or even watching someone cry in a movie or on television.
Why is it like that for most men?
For me, it had a lot to do with how I was raised—who my heroes and mentors were growing up. I learned early that the men I admired didn’t cry. After all, James Bond, Dirty Harry, or the Duke didn’t cry, and neither did any “real men,” like my father.
Nor did my sports role models, like Alan Page, Jack Lambert, Mean Joe Greene, and Mike Singletary. These legendary gridiron heroes of my generation were tough as nails. Every Sunday, I cheered each punishing tackle these men inflicted upon their opponents. All the while, it shaped my view of how a real man is supposed to act and feel: tough, powerful, in control, never showing weakness to anyone, no matter how much it hurts.
But life does hurt, sometimes profoundly.
Yet as little boys, we are taught not to shed tears early on. We heard frequent phrases like, “Get up! You’re not hurt; brush it off,” or “Big boys don’t cry,” or one of the most influential childhood quotes: “Stop crying or I will give you something to cry about.”
As a result, we grow up embracing the mantra, “NEVER let them see you cry!” And so we don’t. As a matter of fact, as young men, especially during our teen years, we often take pride in not crying.
We’ve adopted the view that tears are feminine, a sign of weakness; therefore, they become very uncomfortable. Furthermore, the mentoring men in our lives tended to only express tears at funerals or on rare special occasions like at a daughter’s wedding. Therefore, tears were relegated to infrequent and often confusing emotional expressions. Year after year, we have stuffed our true feelings into the deep self-made dungeons until only a national crisis will breach its guarded gate.
Unfortunately, we didn’t realize that “unshed tears become a stagnant pool that pollutes our soul.” As a result, now we know that stuffing our emotions has detrimental effects on relationships, especially with our wives and children.
Moreover, it keeps us from being honest with ourselves and others. We often mask our hurt and potential tears with anger because anger helps us keep a lid on our emotions, maintain “manly” control, and allow us to stifle any tear.
But it doesn’t have to and shouldn’t be that way.
Not that we need to become a bunch of blubbering basket cases, but we do need to be courageous enough to express our true feelings to our family and those closest to us.
Tears represent the heart and the essence of what makes us human. To put a lock and key on our emotions is to bury a crucial part of who we are. When we don’t allow ourselves to dig deep into our emotions, it robs our relationships of true intimacy and growth born out of shared feelings.
The tears shed by our wives and children represent a crucial part of who they are. Their tears represent a truly transparent heart. Tears express happiness, frustration, hurt, connection, learning, attachment, broken hearts, joy, and emotional overload.
The language of tears is often saying: “I need you to stop, spend some time with me,” “Share this moment with me,” or “Don’t feel like you have to fix anything, just hold me while my heart heals.”
That is the truth that our tears tell; they represent the heart’s most profound thoughts and feelings. That’s the truth I challenge all men, young and old, to embrace.
Our wives and children want us to share our heart’s deepest thoughts and feelings. Not just on special occasions and not necessarily every day, but consistently, honestly, and openly in the sanctuary of our homes. Allow this honest expression of emotion to draw closer to you; stop burying an essential part of who you are.
Learning a new language is challenging, but well worth the work. Learning the language of tears can bring you closer to your family, spouse, and children. And it can help you be more honest with yourself. Every challenge has its risks, but with great risk also comes great reward. Are you courageous enough to embrace this challenge? I hope so, and so does your family.
Action Points & Discussion/Reflection Questions
- What was taught or modeled regarding tears as a child or young person? Whose teaching or modeling influenced you the most.
- Who were your masculine role models who shaped your beliefs about outwardly expressing emotions like crying?
- How difficult is it for you today to cry or show this kind of emotion to your family, especially your children?
- How can you begin to change this? Who are some healthy people or resources that provide some guidance?
- Who would be better media or sports role models for your children today? What videos, interviews, articles, or books would help you do this?
- How can you have a purposeful conversation with your family regarding healthily expressing any emotions?
- Reflect on how aware you are of your kids’ emotional needs and overall development. How can you improve in this area?
Randell Turner, Ph.D., is an author, counselor, and a pioneer in the men’s & fatherhood movement. Specializing in healthy masculine intimacy, he has dedicated over 20 years to working with men who feel broken, rejected, isolated, and lonely because they struggle with “intimacy ignorance.” His personal and professional experience inspired the creation of “Rescuing the Rogue,” designed to equip men in forging intimate relationships to last a lifetime. His latest resource is Relationship Foundations: A Young Adults Guide to Healthy Intimacy. He lives in Wisconsin and has two daughters and seven grandchildren. For more information, check out his website: TransformingFamilies.org.