What I’m about to say may be a little tough for some dads to choke down.
Real dads cry.
Real dads don’t follow the silly notion that “real men” are masters of their tear ducts, impervious to pain or hurt, and without real emotion. They push aside society’s incorrectly considered statements such as “man up,” “bite your lip,” and “suck it in.”
A real dad understands the healing power of tears, and he teaches his children that crying is not only okay, but that it truly heals and makes great things possible.
As a father, this has been among the most difficult of all the Single Dad Rules for me to master. As Noah ages, I find myself constantly combatting the urges to use those same statements with Noah that I myself grew up hearing. I constantly have to remind myself that it’s okay to let my son cry. I have to bite my lip as I catch myself saying things like “that’s nothing to be upset about,” “big boys don’t cry,” or even worse, “only babies cry.”
Never do I purposefully think to say such things, but often are the moments that I find the words desperate to escape my open lips. More often than not, I realize they’ve been said after the fact, and I find myself correcting the incorrect statement that was just made, telling Noah that it actually is okay to have hurt feelings or to feel sad about something.
A real dad validates genuinely hurt feelings or sadness being experienced by his child. He assures his child that there is nothing wrong with feeling sad or despondent. If the family pet dies, he doesn’t respond to the very real grief with “it’s just a dog.” If another child calls his child a hurtful name, he doesn’t respond to the very real feelings of betrayal with, “it’s really nothing to cry about.” If his child gets injured, he doesn’t demand that she stop crying.
Instead, he explains to his son that pets can be very special, and it’s okay to be as sad as you like for as long as you need. He explains to his daughter that when others say things that hurt us, it’s okay to feel hurt and it’s okay to cry over it. When that same child is physically injured, he encourages her to cry until she feels better.
Real dads understand the healing power of tears. They understand that a child who is allowed to cry, learns to release the stress and emotions he is feeling, which is the most powerful and often the only way the child will truly grow above the moment. Real dads understand that to stop a child from dealing with the pain that life will constantly dish out simply forces the child to store that pain away, burying it in the corners of the mind, giving it space to affect his actions and reactions for the remainder of his life, or until it is somehow finally dealt with.
This is not to say that real dads must validate or encourage whining, tantrums, or other such behaviors. It is simply to say that when a child is genuinely hurting, physically or emotionally, a real dad let’s the child’s tears perform their function.
It is far more than speculation or theory that tears are healing and beneficial to a person’s emotional and physical health. As the body and mind experiences stress, the hormone ACTH or adrenocorticotrophic hormone is released and stored by the body. ACTH is associated with several physical conditions such as high blood pressure, peptic ulcers, and heart problems. When a person cries, ACTH is expelled within the tears.
In other words, crying rids your body of stress. There is a scientific and physiological reason why people feel better after having a good cry.
Children are no exception. Their little bodies and minds are constantly being introduced to stressful situations. As they grow, they are constantly slapped across the face with new ideas, new concepts, and new circumstances. As adults, it’s generally simple to take things in stride, eliminating unnecessary data as we go. Children aren’t blessed with as much discretion, and as such are often filled with as much or more stress than adults, though it be very different by nature.
And so, real dads actually do encourage crying of the healthy sort. In all reality, real dads know that life, and the world around it, will take care of teaching their children not to cry. They know that the society we live in looks at those who cry as weak and as such will do everything in its power to make sure no tears are shed. In our society, a person who can’t bury their sadness as if it never happened is often labeled as feeble and pathetic.
But real dads don’t care what society thinks. They offer their children a tough shoulder to cry on so that when their children grow and society teaches them the things that it most certainly will, they can always come home to a dad who will be happy to let the tears flow, and who will never devalue them for it. They will always have a rock for a dad who doesn’t mind a few tears rolling down his shirt. They will always have one place, where they themselves can still feel strong, doing the very things that others tell them will make them weak.
This is not to put mothers out of the equation. Mothers seem to be programmed to instinctually do this. They are generally the go-to when a good cry is needed, and the nurturing that happens with a mother is not only important, it’s essential.
This is rather to say that children who see their fathers as tough, or as men who could crush boulders, bring down buildings, or flatten forests, sometimes will need a place to cry that is rugged and strong. They need those tough hands to stroke their hair, rub their back, and tell them everything will be all right. They need the toughest guy they know to be okay with their very real need to deal with life through tears. They need those massive hands to hold them once more.
Yet far too often, fathers not only fail to give such an environment to their children, they refuse to give such an environment to their children. So many fathers have been completely programmed by the world to never cry, to never admit weakness, and to sweep all things sad under the next proverbial rug. They’ve been teased about crying both as children and as adults. They’ve watched others become the center of ridicule. They’ve been inundated with the messages of the media, who make crying men out to be no stronger than matured dandelions in a windstorm.
And so they teach the same to their children. They somehow believe they’re callousing their children against the same things they experienced or witnessed in their own lives. On one hand, they are so sure of the cruelty of the world. They know what the world teaches and how it reacts to those who properly deal with their emotions. On the other hand, they ironically have such little faith in the ability of the world to teach it, that they themselves dish it out to their children in the name of protecting them.
But there is no protection in telling a child that crying shows weakness. There is no protection in becoming angry or agitated with a child who takes “too long” to deal with sadness. There is also no protection in calling a child’s sincere crying childish or immature. To do so, sets up eventual trouble on the horizon. Every difficult and painful moment in a child’s life must be dealt with at one point or another. Real dads know that, and they’re not only okay with it, they’re helpful and encouraging to its natural process.
Some children will attempt to deal with those moments sooner than later. They’ll attempt to release their stresses and sadnesses through anger. They’ll verbally hurt or assault their peers, their parents, or their teachers. Some become bullies. Others become obnoxious. And some will seclude themselves from others. The majority of the time, anger, obnoxiousness, or isolation is simply a mask for sadness and problems that haven’t been dealt with, which is why it is so important for fathers to let their children deal with whatever is thrown their way as soon as possible.
And while some deal with it in their own way while they’re young, others bottle it up and store it in the deepest cellars of their minds. It inevitably finds its way out later in life, damaging relationships, damaging work ethic, damaging friendships, and damaging spirituality.
Some turn to addictive substances to try and deal with the sadness that was never cried out. Some never leave those addictive substances. Some lose their lives to them.
Others spend their lives fighting depression, never sure why they can’t let go of whatever is dragging them down. Others mask their uncried tears with laughter, always putting themselves in front of the crowd as the class clown or the life of the party.
And so, with all this in mind, and in an attempt to have balanced kids who turn into balanced adults, real dads let their children cry.
And, they let themselves cry.
Over time, I have grown skilled at suppressing the natural urges to keep my son from crying healthy tears, but I am far from perfecting the ability to let my own tears flow.
Real dads cry, and they permit themselves to cry in front of their children. It has been said that it takes a strong man not to cry, and an even stronger man to cry. This statement is perhaps among the most profound ever stated, and among the most true.
Real dads are faced with all the stresses that come naturally with life. There is no man who never had a constant assault of the pressure that accompanies his every breath. No real dad has existed that didn’t have to deal with pain, loss, death, financial dismay, or any other such heaviness. Being a real dad in and of itself is laden with stress. It is no easy task to keep all of the Real Dad Rules. One must be vigilant and constantly aware of his short-comings. Just doing that leaves no option but occasional frustration and worry that will need to be dealt with.
So, rather than coup it up, and rather than sweep it away, real dads learn to cry. They practice crying. They perfect it until they learn to effectively and promptly unload the stress and sadness that they will occasionally, and sometimes often, feel.
But how does a man learn to cry? How does a man learn something that he has forced away for decades? Each man must find his own path to healing, for each man has a different past, and different voices sounding in his head.
I have the taunting of my school peers. I have the voices of my parents and siblings. I have the jeers from my close friends. And, most recently, I have the voices of my ex-wives. And all the voices are telling me that emotion is weak and that crying is even weaker.
Yet, I work to learn to cry.
I believe that there are two things a man must do to learn. First, he must go to places in his mind that he’d rather not touch. He must unbury unhealthy memories that have never been dealt with, and he must be honest about them. Of course, this is far easier said than done. For me, the help of a professional counselor has been able to take me to many of those places.
Second, I believe he must write. He must sit down, using whatever medium he wishes, and he must start writing or typing about things he’s worked hard to never confront. For me, the most therapeutic writing has been sitting at my computer with my eyes closed, letting whatever words about whatever topic flow into my mind and then flow their way into my fingers. The things that have come out have often left me speechless, but more importantly, they’ve often left me melted in a puddle of long-needed tears.
And each time I complete this exercise, I feel happy. I feel relieved. I feel as if a burden has been lifted from my shoulders. Many times I have a follow-up urge to go hit the gym or go do something active outside. I have greater determination to take care of myself. And, most importantly, I find myself being a better, and a more real dad, to my son.
I have long ago decided that when any tears begin to surface in Noah’s presence, I will always resist the urge to push them back in. One of the greatest gifts I’ll ever give my son is the ability to believe that tough guys cry too.
At four years old, my son has seen me really cry twice. Both times he was adrift with concern. Both times, he approached me and said nothing until I finished crying. Both times, he asked me if I was okay, and I told him that Dad was sad and that he was crying because crying makes things better. And, both times he responded with the same question. “Is it okay if I cry too, Dad?”
Dan Pearce, Single Dad Laughing
Please share your comments on today’s chapter. What are your thoughts and beliefs when it comes to men crying. How do you feel about the way society views men who cry?
PS. Today’s post is the thirteenth chapter in a read-along of my new book The Real Dad Rules (which will go on through February of next year). Don’t wait to read the rest ofThe Real Dad Rules! Get your own copy today (Amazon, Kindle, iBooks,Nook, Hardcover, or visit the official Real Dad Rules webpage for signed copies). Get it for yourself. Get it for your kids. Give it as a gift. Just get it, and get in on the conversation!
While I wrote this book to everyday dads (from an everyday dad), I believe that its message can be applied to and appreciated by mothers and fathers alike. And thank you for sharing today’s post.