Bawlin’

Real men cry. These are their stories.

There was a time when my kids were little and I was going through a messy divorce when I cried pretty much all the time. But in recent years, I tend more toward anger than sadness when emotions run strong. I know it’s just a cover, but somehow my shell has hardened again.

In an effort to get my tear ducts flowing again, I asked men from all across the country to tell me about the last time they cried. Not surprisingly, some guys didn’t want to talk publicly about bawlin’ their eyes out. But many surprised me by echoing what I felt: They wanted to cry more. They desperately wanted to access the pain and sadness that was stuck somewhere between the heart and the eyes. Others (the lucky ones, and quite often the toughest ones) told me they had no trouble crying. They were in touch with themselves.

Many of us grow up being told—by our dads, our older brothers, our coaches—that we shouldn’t cry, and that if we do we certainly shouldn’t admit to it. That’s bullshit, obviously, and the sooner we get that idea out of our heads, the better off we’ll be—and the better men we’ll be.

What follows is extraordinary, if you ask me. Men (some famous, some not) lay themselves bare for the world to see. Some of their answers made me laugh. Others made me want to cry.

When was the last time you cried? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

“Charlotte’s Web, page 165. ‘I’m done for,’ Charlotte tells Wilbur. Try reading that aloud to your kid and not crying.”
Jonathan Eig, author

I cried while watching Aliens the other night. Sigourney Weaver does that to me.”
Thomas Patrick Naughton, project coordinator

“The day I got out of jail.”
Tim Donaghy, former NBA referee who was convicted of betting on games

“I’m pretty good at repressing my emotions. Actually, I’m kind of in favor of repression. It gets a bad rap. But back to the question. It was probably at my niece’s bat mitzvah. It was at this suburban Jersey country club, and I was dancing with my three-year-old son. I was carrying him, and he had his head pressed against my shoulder, and I felt such gratitude that I wept.”
A.J. Jacobs, author

I had a baby this year. So I’ve cried more this year than in the past ten together. I’m guessing a month ago. Anything in a movie or TV show about a baby will do it. Sometimes just holding my son will do it. It causes me to think about all the tiny, little, seemingly inconsequential decisions that led to his birth; they now seem super-important. And I think about dead family members and friends who never met him. And I just think how incredible it is that he’s so lacking in fear or guile. I keep saying he’s a good person, and I know that’s ridiculous, but it just feels true. I cannot imagine my four-month-old growing up and committing genocide. Though if he does, I hope he’s the best genocidist he can possibly be.”
Joel Stein, journalist

In the locker room with our seniors after last year’s bowl game.”
Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern head football coach. (NU lost in overtime to Auburn.)

“About ten minutes ago.”
Ron Cowie, photographer

The last time I cried was the night after my brother first molested me. I was 10. He was 16. I’m 33 now. We still haven’t talked about it.”
Anonymous

“I cry all the time. My mother had a big impact on my life when I was young, because I had a lot of respect for her. Her father died at an early age, and she had a lot of brothers and sisters, and her mom couldn’t take care of all of them. So she and two other younger siblings went to the orphanage for a few years. One time when I was about 14, I decided I was going to run away from home. I’m getting all my stuff together, and then my mother gets up and she comes downstairs. She says, ‘What are you doing?’ I said, ‘I’m leaving. I got to go. I’m running away.’ And she said, ‘Well, let me fix you a sandwich.’ And I decided maybe I wouldn’t go.”
Dave Cowens, NBA Hall of Famer

“About six or seven months ago. I was at the tail end of three 16-hour shifts, and just broke down for about three minutes. It was a good time.”
Mike Letourneau, audio engineer

“The last time I really drained my ducts was when I walked into my home to see an oak box resting on my bookcase. Delivered that day, it holds the ashes of my Rhodesian Ridgeback, Ulee, who my wife and I had to euthanize a few weeks prior, a month shy of his twelvth birthday. Ulee taught me how to love without expectation and prepared me for fatherhood in a way that I could never have appreciated beforehand. Holding him while the sedative took his last breath was hardest thing I’ve done. I cried for three days until dry, provoked at every turn and action by a decade of memories: his leash hanging from the hook by the door, the smell he left on his pillow, peeling the plastic bag off the morning newspaper, walking by the enormous vacancy by the back door or passing the park on the way to work. The box brought all of it rushing back in a flood. I cried for several hours. And I’m sure I’m not done.”
Jeffrey O’Brien, journalist

“When I struck out against Dustin Louthan in Bambino League baseball at the age of 13. My dad said, ‘Stop crying. You have to earn your cries.’ I stopped, and I’m waiting until I earn one. I suspect when it comes, it will be big.”
Will Leitch, author

I want to cry pretty much every time I watch my network these days. Rick Sanchez? Really?
Anonymous, CNN employee

CONTINUED

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About Tom Matlack

Tom Matlack is the co-founder of The Good Men Project. He has a 18-year-old daughter and 16- and 7-year-old sons. His wife, Elena, is the love of his life. Follow him on Twitter @TMatlack.

Comments

  1. What an evocative question with heart-tugging answers, many of which of course made me cry or called up similar experiences that made me cry harder. I know. I know. I’m a woman, but for some reason watching men with their sons often makes me cry. Any men. Any sons. I had to take a reading break because this story reminded me (and compelled big, ploppy tears) of our 8year old son singing “Somewhere Out There” with his dad in a century old church on a tiny Island in the 1980s and how I cried so hard I had to step into the sanctuary to avoid disturbing them.

  2. Tom Matlack says:

    Thanks Suzanne. I think as a guy, the idea of men crying too is the kind of thing that is very hard and also very profound. I think of guys like John Oliver, who I have known since he was married, serving in Iraq and surviving all that death only to come home to lose his daughter … and spending years trying to learn how to cry for her loss. That to me is at the heart of where we are as men and the truth of who we aspire to be.

  3. Bern Cohen says:

    “I cried yesterday when my son arrived home safely from Nigeria. He was, for three weeks, training doctors on how to improve their response to disasters and emergencies.”
    —Bern Cohen, actor

  4. John Badalament says:

    “I cried tonight as I said goodbye to my father in-law, Jack Ellis. I also cried tonight when I looked in on my daughter and son sleeping sweetly.”
    —John Badalament, Modern Dads

  5. Steve Scalzi says:

    “When our team lost and missed an opportunity to play for an NCAA tournament berth. To spend four years driving towards a chance at immortality—knowing you can hang a championship banner and to have it end otherwise—is both exhilarating and exhausting. They were tears of gratitude for the work of our program more than disappointment.”
    —Steve Scalzi, director of basketball operations at Northeastern University

  6. Hi. Good question… and an important one! Men do anger, rather than tears. Women do tears, instead of anger… neither are ‘real’ and therefore dishonest. I teach Emotional Intelligence and try to walk my talk, so I cry pretty often… and I’m proud of that. I cried yesterday when my granddaughter said some mean things to her sister, then lied to me about it. I coulda been angry, but instead the tears were more honest and more powerful for her to see what it does to me/her.

    Please take the judgement off of crying, guys. Crying is real, it’s healthy, it’s healing, it’s genuine (and frankly, girls love it when a man is strong enough and trusts her enough to cry with her). The strongest man I know is the man who’s strong enough to cry.

    • Hello Matt,

      I have to disagree with you, based on my own experiences. Women in my family were taught never to cry. My mother upheld every dry-eyed moment that women exhibited on TV, in church, any public place.

      That said, this emotional damming is every bit as harmful to women as it is to men. There is nothing natural about it, nor even human. I am very glad to hear that you are “walking your talk.”

      It has taken me many, many years to let go of the anger and allow myself to cry. I am very glad for every opportunity and every example I have met. Many of my teachers in this lesson have in fact been men.

      Here’s to strong men!!
      Kitti

  7. I didn’t cry for 35 years, not once. But a traumatic experience a year ago sent me on a 6-month jag. Often, I had no idea why. It would hit me like a sucker punch. A long year on numerous couches have brought me closer in touch with myself (sorry, but that’s a fact), and now I can at least connect my crying with feelings. What a relief.

    The last time? This morning. A woman on NPR was describing saying goodbye to her college freshman then seeing parents on the street yelling at their kids and thinking ‘no, don’t do that, they’ll be gone before you know it.’ I was dropping my 8yr old, my youngest, off at the school bus. The crying moment was sudden and brief, but no mystery.

  8. What a wonderful question to ask and what brave answers you received. Of course some tug at our hearts more than others. But more importantly, the variety of reasons and experiences was so refreshing. Men DO get a bad rap when it comes to crying. Honestly, I don’t know how they hold it in so long.

  9. Another good article! You are not alive if you don’t cry – that is the conclusion I have come to after almost 20 years of stuffing it. And that is what men are doing by stuffing it and pretending that they are angry (I like what Matt P wrote) – slowly killing themselves. I cried this morning thinking about my father who died fifteen years ago. Crying does not have to be a big dramatic production. It can simply be a spontaneous response to sadness, joy, or any other number of life experiences. As a woman I knew some time ago said, “It is just like taking a shower on the inside.” I like that.

  10. I cried last when I read the post about Ulee. I have been contemplating this same event as my little 14 year old friend Jax gets older and older. I don’t know if I have the courage to take his life away. I think I am hoping for natural intervention. It will be impossible to manage however it happens.

  11. Randy Strauss says:

    Upon crying when pushed to my emotional limit by our marriage counsellor a few months ago, my wife’s response was, and I quote, “Quit being such a pussy.” Stuffing back my emotions is not a choice; it is what is expected of me as a man. Crying is seen as a sign of weakness by our peers, potential mates, current mates, past mates, parents, children and passing strangers. The difference is that men are expected to “do” and women are expected to “care.”

    The only time my wife saw me cry before that was when her cat of 16 years had to be put to sleep. Over the few years that I’d known him, he became my little buddy. I’m not really a cat person, but he had personality. He was the only cat I’ve ever allowed to sleep on my head and my wife has photographic proof.

    The day we put him to sleep, I managed to hold off until the vet administerd the drugs and left the room before I bawled like a lost kitten. Even then, my (soon to be) wife looked at me like I had two heads. Her comment was, “I didn’t know you cared THAT much.”

    So, the thought that women care and cry and men fix things without feeling is a fallacy perpetuated by outmoded stereotypes. Those stereotypes exist and trust me when I say that your peers, children and mates will weigh you, measure you and find you wanting if there is so much as a glistening of a tear in the corner of your eye.

  12. At 6’2″ 225, 5 years in the Marines, nearly 30 years of Martial Arts, and a stint in the gulf during Desert Storm, I didn’t even cry when I returned home to face my entire life turned topsy-turvy. Growing up without a father, I cried a lot as a confused young man, afraid to stand up for himself; despite the many years of martial arts. One of the first things I learned in boot camp is how to shut down my emotions, because the guy next to you could get his head blown off at any second.

    After so many years of repression, it finally happened. I had a chance to meet my father after 33 years of separation. Not knowing what to expect, I approached it like any good Marine would…or at least I tried. Within second of finally coming face to face with my father, I bawled like a baby. That was my last good cry.

    I hope you’ll watch the two of us finally meeting as I’m going to reunite more fathers and sons in the future.

    A Week With My Father: http://www.aweekwithmyfather.com

  13. Randy, I’m sorry that your wife has those huge judgements about you crying! It sounds like they are HER judgements, not yours. It’s still your choice. If you don’t feel safe enough to cry with her around, please do yourself a favor and allow yourself that wonderful freedom when you’re alone.

    As I mentioned, after years of ‘work’, I am now quite Proud of myself for letting myself cry. It makes me feel honest, and real, and alive… and I always feel sooo much better after.

    “Those who do not know how to weep with their whole heart don’t know how to laugh either.”
    – Golda Meir

    – Matt

  14. I am crying right now. Reading all these posts. Its a beautiful thing. Blessings and tears to all.

  15. Just now. after reading Julian’s lost in the museum story and re reading these posts. I find myself like this much these days as the final legal dissolution of my marriage takes place. Suffering and also succeeding in the face of some depression over the years, my wife definitely had the “suck it up” mentality. I rarely cried before, tending to brood instead, now the tears flow frequently and copiously and always when thinking of my son who is just old enough to know that his dad isn’t there when he goes to sleep at night and isn’t there when he wakes up in the morning.

  16. Seeing a man cry is indeed hard, but i have always felt deeply honored if a man trusted me enough to cry in front of me. Seeing one of my boyfriends bawling in a fetal position after his grandma (who raised him) died, totally crushed me. He was so vulnerable.
    I’m so sorry for the men out there whose wives (or others) make them feel weak for crying.
    There are some women who find it wonderful.

  17. Thank you for sharing these stories.

    Some of the comments saying women would disdain men who were crying really bothered me. Men have just as many emotions as women and it’s unfair to pressure them not to express those emotions. I remember my dad crying when I left for college, and he’s not the least bit ashamed of it — as he shouldn’t be.

  18. Placed flowers at the cemetary on Mother’s Day. Hard to believe this is the 3rd Mother’s Day since we lost Mom. Especially hard since I’m a Dad now and there are so many times I’d like to ask her about parenting stuff. Really breaks my heart that she never got to know her only grandson.

  19. My most recent really big cry was about 2 weeks ago at the end of the movie Fearless. Jeff Bridges stars as a plane crash survivor struggling to come to terms with his experience, with his relationship to others, and with himself in the aftermath of the disaster. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more accurate representation of living with, and moving through, the effects of trauma, shock, and dissociation. I’ve certainly never seen one that moved me as much as this film did.

    As a survivor myself (not of a plane crash, but of childhood abuse), it was very easy for me to identify with the character’s struggle to make sense of his experience, to make it mean something, and find his way back to himself. I understand that struggle well and I was sobbing my eyes out as the end credits rolled. It was a very healing and cathartic release of energy I’d been holding, and didn’t even know I’d been holding, for years.

  20. euan cameron says:

    i cried two weeks ago at brian mays rendition of love of my life at the albert hall,a song classicly sung by freddie mercury at queen concerts……..

Trackbacks

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