Showing our emotions is a strength.
“There’s no reason to cry,” I said to my son.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t the first time I’d said this to him.
When I was a boy I could easily be moved to tears. I would tear up if I watched a sad or inspirational movie, or even one that was sappily sentimental. More than once I heard someone refer to me as a sensitive boy. It wasn’t a description I appreciated. Like many boys I wanted to be known as tough, strong, or courageous. I certainly didn’t want to be known as the boy who wept while viewing a beautiful sunset.
A few weeks ago our family sat down to watch the Disney animated film The Hunchback of Notre Dame. My son could not bear to watch the ridicule and humiliation heaped upon poor Quasimodo and left the room. He did not return. My son has a very sweet, kind, and gentle spirit. His mother and I see these qualities as strengths and intend to nurture them in him.
So telling him “there is no reason to cry” was not a good method for nurturing his sensitive spirit. Fortunately, I realized this and had a conversation with my son about my poor choice of words. I explained to him that I had not been clear about what I meant and that it is good to cry if he feels like crying. I told him that I feel sad when he cries because I love him so much and that I just want to ease his pain.
Later I asked if he’d understood what I told him. He claimed that he did but I asked him to explain it to me in his words. He said, “It’s okay to cry. You love me and want me to feel better.”
Logan is only six so I will certainly fail him many more times. However, I want to succeed more and help him avoid some of the difficulties his father has experienced.
In her book Rising Strong, about standing back up after failure, author and social worker Brené Brown notes that “men and women who rise strong are willing and able to reckon with their emotions.”
I studied psychology in college and, after earning a Master of Social Work degree from the University of Michigan, worked as a therapist for several years, primarily with adolescent boys and men. So, one might think I would be better at reckoning with my emotions as Brown would put it.
However, despite being that “sensitive” boy, I, too, became one of those men who learned to ignore and suppress his emotions and I have often failed to confront my pain, from the divorce of my parents when I was a teen, the failure of my first marriage over fifteen years ago, to the stillbirths of my twin daughters in 2011. These experiences and others, resulted in a growing detachment from my emotions, causing pain not only to myself but to those closest to me.
It is still a struggle, but at least now I recognize it and am working to be more in tune with my feelings, primarily through “reckoning” with my emotions and working to deepen my relationship with my wife.
Another important support for this issue has been working to develop real and lasting friendships with other men in my community, primarily a group of dads who meet monthly at our local brewery. This group is new and the relationships are still forming but I hope some deep and enduring friendships come out of it.
We need to redefine how we think of the process of dealing with our emotions and feelings, recognizing and honoring the inherent bravery necessary to embrace and work through tough feelings like fear, sadness, shame, guilt, and helplessness.
Brown writes of the importance of curiosity to this process, of the need to be curious about the feelings and emotions we experience and how it shapes our identity, noting that “Curiosity is an act of vulnerability and courage … We need to be brave enough to want to know more.
Our hope is that STAND stimulates this curiosity, helps us to “know more,” and expands the conversation about men, challenging damaging views of masculinity while encouraging men to be more in touch with th
eir emotional lives, and ultimately becoming better, and more whole, men.
(adapted from the note from the editor in STAND 03)