Can a Dad Cry? Yes, But I Probably Won’t

While playing a game of “Would You Rather”, my daughter asked me – would you rather cry glue or sweat maple syrup? My initial response was sweat maple syrup. While it would make exercise more challenging, It’d be delicious. However, when I thought about it for a few seconds I changed my answer to cry glue. I said that I sweat most days, but I never cry, so crying glue would be a non-issue.

My wife was not as impressed by my logic as she was appalled by what she perceived as a lack of emotion, prompting her own follow up question – “What is wrong with you?”

I’m not here to stand firm on some antiquated concept of manliness and that real men can’t, don’t, or shouldn’t cry. I’m saying that I don’t, or at least don’t often enough that I’d be worried about gluing my eyes shut should my tears to Elmer’s. Do I get sad sometimes? Sure. Is the average thing that makes me a sad enough to move me to tears? No. Some people (men, women, whoever) are more expressive with their emotions, and the bar to clear for tears to fall is set lower. I demand olympic high jump quality of sadness.

Though it’s probably more accurate to say I’ve adapted to a higher crying threshold. I look at my kids, and my two year-old son will cry if you give him the cup that he asked you to get for him. Not the wrong cup mind you, but upon receiving exactly what he asked he’ll get so upset that he’ll cry. My four year-old daughter won’t cry about getting a cup, but she will cry about not being able to sit next to her Mommy at dinner. My six year-old daughter won’t cry about a seat (thought she will yell about it), but she will cry about being blamed for something she (allegedly) didn’t do.

I get that kids cry over just about anything, and I try not to hold that against them. My first reaction when my kids cry isn’t to tell them to stop. It’s my second reaction. I at least ask what’s wrong first. If they have a legitimate reason, then I’m there to comfort them. If they are crying because they can’t get the cap back on the marker, then I politely invite them to get their shit together.

If we carry that emotional evolution up to a grown man, and odds are that unless somebody died, I’m not going to cry about it. My mom passed away when I was in my mid-20’s, and since then I think I’ve adapted to set that as my threshold. So in your average day, the saddest possible thing that could happen doesn’t come close. Outside of family funerals, I’ve maybe cried three times in the last twenty years.

  • One instance that comes to mind is after my last game of high school baseball. Yes, I understand the irony that there is no crying in baseball, but baseball was over.
  • Another is watching the movie My Life with my college roommate. Just two dudes hanging out on a Saturday night enjoying some fruit salad and crying about Michael Keaton. Wild college nights, amiright?
  • One that I would describe as a more of a heavy mist than crying, but the one my wife brings up most often, is one lone tear falling from my eye when Jim said goodbye to Michael on Steve Carell’s last episode of the Office. I mean, they were a regular part of my life for seven years. Lots of pets die faster than that. If somebody can cry about their dead cat, I can drop a tear for Michael Scott.

Sure, I’ll get a little misty eyed listening to the Jimmy V speech, and it may seem like every time I watch It’s a Wonderful Life somebody starts cutting onions. I mean, I’m not a robot, but no actual tears are falling either. And yes, I understand the irony of Jimmy V saying you should cry everyday, but if I laugh and think then I figure two out of three isn’t bad.

People have asked if I cried when my kids were born, and no, I didn’t. I was happy when my kids were born. One of the things my wife hates most about me is that I didn’t cry when she was walking down the aisle at our wedding. I found the fact we were about to spend the rest of our lives together as something joyous and not so sad it was worth crying about. What an asshole I am.

I’ve been so happy I could do a lot of things, but cry hasn’t been one of them. I fundamentally don’t understand the concept of “happy tears.” Same goes for the notion of “having a good cry.” A good cry sounds about as good as a good colonoscopy. As I’ve mentioned before, when my daughters get married I suspect I’ll be emotional enough to cry then, because part of that will be sad for me. But in most cases, the emotional response my kids generate is either joy or anger – neither of which are tear producing.

So I don’t think there is anything wrong with me. It’s not like I have no feelings at all, or that I don’t recognize the feelings in others. I’m not a sociopath. If anything, isn’t it a good thing to feel an emotion, understand it, but not get carried away by it? Isn’t that kind of self awareness something we want to instill in our children?

I don’t want my kids to grow up thinking I’m emotionally distant or cold-hearted or anything like that. They know when I’m happy, when I’m proud of them, and yes, when not mad at them – just disappointed. Of all the emotions they’ll see from me, is it so bad that sadness wouldn’t be one of them? Is the fact that they don’t see dad cry going to somehow stunt their own emotional development. I dunno, maybe? But I’m certainly not upset enough about it to cry.

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