Giving Our Men Permission to Cry
I ALWAYS WONDER WHEN THE LAST TIME MEN AROUND ME HAVE CRIED.
and not because I doubt that they cry, but because i know that they do.
i look at them, especially the one standing tallest and proudest, and i often wonder if he cried on his drive to or from work that morning, giving himself enough time to "get it together" before being in public; i wonder if he's waiting for his evening shower, so he can drown his teardrops in the bathwater; or maybe he'll do it silently before he goes to sleep, choking on his cries because he's been taught to be ashamed by the sounds of his sobs.
or perhaps he will hold it all in, waiting for that socially acceptable moment to let it all out.
maybe after someone passes away or after he gets the news he's been waiting for or after he has his first child. and i wonder how many suppressed tears will accompany that big cry. how many moments have been trapped inside of him, disguised by his puffed chest and stoic expression, waiting for something to finally break the levy. in these moments, i wonder how misunderstood he must feel knowing his loved ones could never understand the depth of his emotional flood.
for obvious reasons, our hyper masculine society has made men feel ashamed of crying or showing any emotion that could be perceived as vulnerability. instead, our men express themselves through rage, anger or other emotions that society deems "masculine." this issue is particularly prevalent within communities of color, leaving our men most susceptible to perpetuating the problematic stereotype of "violent" or "aggressive" arab/black/latino man. and while anger and rage are certainly justified in communities of color (if nowhere else),
sometimes, when life happens,
OUR MEN JUST WANT TO CRY.
I have been blessed with men in my life who shattered this inhumane image of masculinity and created their own. and i say i'm blessed partly because their courage has encouraged me to redefine my womanhood for myself and often against society's standard, but also because they have indirectly taught me how to be a better person for the men in my life, and, in the future, for the man whom i've chosen as my own and the men i hope to help raise.
PUT SIMPLY, THE MEN IN MY LIFE HAVE MY PERMISSION TO CRY WHENEVER THEY WANT.
in an ideal world, they wouldn't need anyone's permission to do so. but the reality is that a lot of our men are waiting on our permission to be vulnerable. yes, even in this patriarchal society - especially in this patriarchal society - our men need our permission to cry.
i want to share with you a few stories about the men in my life who have redefined masculinity in a beautiful way.
the first story dates itself all the way back to my birth. when i was born, mama and baba were expecting to have their third baby boy (long story). well, i was born and i was a girl, and baba cried and cried and cried the happiest of tears. imagine that. baba - a 6'2, deep voiced, broad-shouldered middle-eastern man - cradling his 7 pound baby girl in one arm, and crying with her and her mother.
my homecoming into this world was met by a beautiful man who had permission to cry.
AND THIS FREE EXPRESSION OF EMOTION HAS ALWAYS BEEN WHAT MASCULINITY COULD LOOK LIKE TO ME.
once, as a toddler, i watched my cousin climb the counter to get us some fruit roll-ups. i decided i wanted to climb it, too. she cautioned me several times not to, because she knew i would fall. being me, i didn't listen and climbed up anyway. sure enough, i fell flat on my face. hard. i busted my upper lip and it swelled up immediately. besides the fact that i looked like a duck, i was completely okay. still, when my older brother heard the news, he rushed home from school crying. when he saw me, he cried even more.
my brother has always been my role model for many reasons, but especially because of his emotional intelligence and ability to empathize with and encourage others to be equally free in their emotional expression (shout out to the be free show). my brothers - also 6'2, broad-shouldered "alfa males" (whatever that even means) - were raised by a mother and father who gave them permission to cry. like he did for me when i was a toddler, my big brother has cried for and in front of me on several accounts, and i've been strengthened by his strength each time.
when my father passed away, one of my father's sisters was telling me that her and her husband struggled to leave the bed every morning for a month. they would both lay there and cry. and i think she was trying to illustrate to me how deeply her husband loved my father. and i think she was also trying to express to me how difficult it's been on her - not having her husband's shoulder to cry on, because this time, he needed it for himself.
i really did empathize with her and i can’t imagine how hard that would be. to lose your older brother and then see the man whom you’ve built a life and family with lay in bed and cry with you helplessly during your time of most need. maybe it was her first time seeing him this way. and maybe that would make some women lose hope.
but somehow hearing this story did the opposite for me.
i felt so moved by it. i thought it was so beautiful and powerful. to imagine myself laying next to a man who could cry with me. and i think i realized then that that’s what i need. that any man who entered my life would have permission to cry. because i would want him to feel like a human being, and sometimes, us humans just really need to cry.
maybe that’s why i was only comfortable with certain people while grieving my father. i didn't want to be in denial. i didn't want to be numb. i wanted to feel what i was supposed to feel. to be reminded of my humanity. i didn’t want a shoulder to cry on, i wanted a heart to cry with. i didn’t want someone who knew what to say. there was nothing to say. i needed someone who, like me, didn’t know what to do at all, who just let me be a human being who, for once, had no idea what to do.
and sometimes, our men need the same thing.
sometimes, they have no idea what to do, and it's about time we give them permission to be helpless and human.
so why do we glorify the invincible man? don't we want to know that our men have the ability to feel what we feel? don't we want to raise sons who can sympathize with women and with other struggles that they will never know? don't we want to make our men feel like they can simply "be" in our presence?
my father was unafraid of being human in this way; maybe that’s why i was so in love with him. everything i felt, his heart multiplied: when i was in pain, he was nearly paralyzed. when i was happy, his joy knew no limits. he reminded me that men can express extreme emotions, too, that some men are waiting for our permission to express their excitement and to shed their tears.
to remind us that they're human.
the other day, another one of my aunts told me that, at her wedding, her husband cried, and not just happy tears because he was marrying the love of his life. he cried tears of sorrow and grief and yearning. yes, at his wedding. see, my aunt lost her father years before she met her husband. on their wedding day, her husband cried because he wished his father in law could have been there. he wished he could have met him. he wished his father in law could celebrate his baby girl finding love. he cried because he knew how much that moment would have meant for her.
and, this story, too, gave me so much hope.
after losing baba, i was deeply devastated that the man whom i would choose as my last love could never meet the man who will forever remain my first love. that the two men who shared ownership of my heart could never share the same space. i was secretly angry at my future husband for this, even though i knew it wasn’t his fault. but hearing this story made me forgive him in advance. it made me feel so much better because i realized that i didn't need them to meet, after all.
what i needed was someone who was just as devastated by my loss as i am, because he has the capacity to feel what i feel. because he would truly madly deeply understand what that moment would have meant for me. maybe that’s all i ever wanted - was a man who would be unafraid of crying at our wedding. that would be so much more than enough.
don’t get me wrong, i don't believe that our misery should ever love company, just as i don't believe we should need someone else's happiness to reaffirm our own.
but i think we need to give our men permission to be human. our world is in need of more people unafraid of their humanity. we don't need more victims pretending to be heroes. we don’t need more brave-faced, broad-shouldered men who will stand tall and hold us as we collapse and crumble. we need more men who are unafraid of being held when they need to be. more men who can heal with us. to lay in bed and cry with us and not know what to do. to be okay with neither of us being strong, understanding that vulnerability is strength within itself. to give one another permission to cry the cries that would otherwise never be heard out loud. to learn one another, together.
HERE IS THE STORY I WANT TO END WITH:
a friend once told me about a time when her and her husband shared their deepest insecurities with one another as they stood side by side in front of the mirror. as they were opening up to one another, her husband shared things he had never admitted out loud, things he had never even admitted to himself.
and i wanted to cry right there and then because this visual was so simultaneously breathtaking and heartbreaking to me. i wondered how it must have felt for him, finally being able to breathe after years and years of standing tall and firm while suffocating in his brokenness.
how liberating and terrifying it must have felt to share his pain with someone else, entrusting her with the things that could destroy him. knowing that she could use them against him, but being willing to bet that she never will. knowing that, in that moment, it made her fall deeper in love with him.
i imagined how it must have strengthened their union to finally be vulnerable, together.
knowing that, for once, somebody saw him for the [hu]man that he is.