When did you last cry?
I was walking down the street the other day when I was asked to answer a few questions by a film crew who were making a documentary on Men’s Mental Health.
I had a quick surreptitious check of my groin just to ensure that if push came to shove and evidence was required I could prove I was indeed a man (in my defence it was a very cold day) and with the check yielding a reasonably positive result, I agreed and got ready to answer whatever questions they threw at me.
One of the questions was “When did you last cry?” and while it is twenty-twenty and we are all now evolved and enlightened, it is still a question that I think most males would struggle to answer honestly outside the confines of a trusted relationship.
It’s definitely not a question you necessarily want to answer on a doco for the telly but I answered as honestly as I could and prattled on for a few minutes until they tired of me and went off to find some other man who was perhaps less prone (on a cold day) to mistaken identity in the trouser department, and much more sensible and eloquent in the talking department.
But it got me to thinking about crying and why there is a stigma around it for men, and I thought the best way to analyse crying in men was to look at the times I have cried and see what could be learnt.
Three years ago I was diagnosed with glaucoma. It was a hell of a shock and all of a sudden many things I had taken for granted were taken from me overnight. I tried (and failed miserably) to put on a brave face but internally I really struggled with the sense of loss, uncertainty, and what my world might look like (pardon the pun) in the future.
Frankly, for a few weeks I was absolutely terrified and just barely managed to hold on to my sanity. I especially didn’t want my kids to see how terrified I was, and how close I was to losing it completely so when it all just became too much to bear, I would jump into the shower and let both the water and the tears flow down the drain.
My tears were private, not because I was ashamed of them but for another reason.
For I could vividly remember watching my father have a breakdown when I was young, and it was one of the scariest things I ever witnessed. Because if Dad, who in a boy’s eyes was all knowing and the strongest man alive, couldn’t navigate life successfully, then the world must be a very scary place and what chance would I have. Witnessing my poor dear father in that state had a profound effect on me for many years and it was not something I wanted to pass on to my kids. There is a time to talk through these things and make your family aware of your mental state but I decided, rightly or wrongly, that this was not the time.
The last time I cried was when Mum passed away. I cried with her during the week and let her see me cry because surely a Mum deserves to see her boy cry, and those tears were and are sacred tears. I cried beside her bed as she was nearing the end and my brother Mark put his arm around me to comfort me. I cried when we put her coffin in the hearse after the service and my brother Ted came and gave me a hug.
Those tears were on full display, transparent and open. They were uncontrollable, gut-wrenching, big infantile sobs, welling up unbidden from an unknown place. They were healthy, meaningful and deeply cleansing. In a way I don’t understand they helped wash my dirty soul clean, even if just for a moment, and if grief is the price we pay for love, well I for one was only too happy to pay.
Our tears tell us a lot about ourselves, they can come from places we don’t understand or even acknowledge, and maybe one reason men don’t like to cry is that we don’t really want to find out too much about ourselves.
Some cultures consider tears to be treasures, and in many ways, I feel that about them as well. And like all treasure, some you hide, and some you display, and the choice is yours.
But mostly I wonder if tears, above all else, come from honesty, where the world displayed as it really is, meets you displayed as you really are, and when tears arrive, we are very close to truth.
And as someone much wiser than I once said. Search for truth and it will set you free.