Men aren’t supposed to cry, we’re told. We suppress our emotions, or ignore them entirely. Rub dirt on it and walk it off.
To some extent, I admit I live up to that threadbare stereotype. I don’t think I cry all that often. Whenever I do, it’s usually to shed tears of joy, like when my sons were born. And there are several reaffirming movie lines that still never fail to hit me right in the tear ducts, such as:
- “Hey Dad? You wanna have a catch?“
- “To my big brother George: the richest man in town!“
- “This grumpy old race car once told me something: ‘It’s just an empty cup.‘”
Then there are those times when a huge crying jag will sneak up and just overtake me. Like last weekend.
As everyone in the world but me knew, packing up my truck for the big move took a lot more time than I anticipated. This meant I had to leave a lot later than I planned. Since most of the drive would therefore be at night, I decided the best way to keep alert was to crank nothing but ’80s music. These were the songs that I identified with most, the ones I knew by heart. Comfort food for the ears, and all that. And best of all, since I was alone in that cab, I could do whatever I wanted–sing along at the top of my lungs, play one song over and over, drive-dance like nobody was watching–without wondering if my seatmate was contemplating saving his soul by throwing himself out onto the highway.
Right about when I crossed into Pennsylvania, I slid an ’80s compilation CD into the player and rocked out to several classics. Owner Of A Lonely Heart. Arthur’s Theme. Everybody Wants To Rule The World (twice). I was revved up and going strong.
And then came The Living Years.
In a decade championed for its cheesy music, this song reigns as the gold standard–the donkey milk, if you will–with its trifecta du fromage: mawkish sentiment, swelling crescendos, a choir of little kids. I recognized the opening guitar riffs immediately, and when Paul Carrack launched the lyric I belted it out right along with him. (Every generation … blames the one beforrrrrre….)
And then I just lost it. Tears began gushing down my face, and my nose became enough of a streaming snotfountain that I considered pulling over into a rest stop until I could get it together.
I hadn’t been feeling sad about anything. I’d made my peace with the move and was actually excited to set up my new house. And it wasn’t the song itself; my dad is alive and well(ish), and we get along great. (He’s even told me he loves me a couple of times.) Instead, my body finally decided to acknowledge the stresses of the past few months and cast them out in a torrent. And after it was over, I felt fantastic. Cleansed. And exhausted enough to pull over for the night at the next exit.
Crying is good, and I’m happy to say that I think my sons know this. It’s hard to tell, of course, since the nine-year-old tends to think that every setback signals the end of the world, and the six-year-old has developed a hair-triggered umbrageometer. But if I were to try to pinpoint the things I definitely want my sons to take into manhood, one of them would definitely be not to underestimate the value of a bone-deep bawlfest to purge whatever’s bouncing around in your belfry. It’s natural. It’s healthful. You don’t have to do it publicly if you don’t want to. And if your girlfriend thinks any less of you because of it, she’s not worth another second of your time.
Just don’t overdo it, OK? If you can find a frequency somewhere between 1) John Boehner and 2) a fence post, you’ll be fine.