Michael was a tough nut. He stood about 6’ 2” and was a hulk of a man. He worked in construction and spent most of his days dealing with equally able men. When he spoke about his family tears welled up in his eyes. He had so many regrets now that his wife had left. Why was he has been so inconsiderate, angry, and bad-humored all the time he. The tears flowed down his cheeks and he wiped them away with his sleeve, somewhat reluctant to use the tissues on the table beside him.
Sean had been at Christy Ring’s funeral. He walked into the kitchen at home, draped his jacket over the chair, and sat at the big wooden table. His wife brought over a cup of tea and placed it on the table in front of him and as she did she placed a hand on his shoulder. “How was it hon’?” she asked. The simple question was enough to trigger deep emotions in Sean. He began to cry. First gently but within a few moments a grief racked the great husk of his body as he sobbed. He cried and cried.
Contrary to popular opinion it is my experience that men cry as often as women. I would suggest that it is not that men cry less than women, but that men do not often get the opportunity to do so. I find in my work if the right question is asked, if someone shows a curiosity about the man’s interior life, if someone shows a deep interest in his dreams and his losses, then tears come almost inevitably.
There are many kinds of tears. The grief and sorrow expressed by men is of two kinds:
Sean, when he cried at the kitchen table, was not crying about Christy Ring. Though he did not quite understand where his grief came from, it emerged that it was for his unlived life. Christy Ring symbolized a man who gave himself passionately to something he loved. Christy Ring was a hero because of his artistry, his commitment, and how he lived for his childhood passion. When Sean cried it was because deep in his heart he knew he had left the heroic possibilities behind on the hurling fields when he was young when he chose to develop his career, get married, and settle down. The imagination and desire was gone from his life and it broke in a deep grief at the kitchen that day. Because Sean’s wife saw his grief, cared for it, and honored his sorrow he was able to inhabit it.
For many men there is a great fatigue and helplessness in their lives. The work they do often goes unrecognized. The sacrifices go unseen because they fulfill their role, which is what they should do. Why should men be thanked or acknowledged many might ask – men don’t need such recognition? But they do. In fact it lies beneath the surface of much hyper-masculinity we see around us. There is not a man alive who did not want his father to look down at him and say “Here is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased!”
Tears also come from emotional fatigue and helplessness. Many men identify with a feeling that in their lives they are doing the best that they can and it never seems to be enough. Many men feel that no matter how hard they try they are unable to make things better. If you are a man reading this I bet this is true: “Don’t you often feel weary and worn out trying to hold things together, trying to hold your world up above your head, trying not to fail. And are there not times when the whole things caves in on top of you, when you feel that all your efforts go unrecognized. And the truth is that you are doing the best that you can.” For many men when they cry it is when that sense of impotent helplessness is recognized and seen.
As I said above, men carry as many frozen tears as women. The tears that come are not weak, sentimental, or mawkish but rather tears that come from a deep muscular grief long since buried. The tears come not from the eyes but from the soul. Soulful tears often held and carried down from father to father. When Sean stood and cried in the silent movement of the funeral procession it was with an invisible loyalty and connection with his father and his grandfather. This earthy unspoken grief stands like on oak tree in the hearts of men down the generations.
If you are a woman wondering about your man, wonder about his losses, his unlived life, the loss associated with his commitments, the teenage boy in him that still, at 55, longs to feel the soft grass, the 'wristiness' of the hurley, the weight of the sliothar, the delight of cold rain on the skin, the smell of the open air, and all the simple joy and possibility that pumped through his veins on those long lazy summer evenings. Every man has a lost dream. It is the stuff of life.
Dr. Colm O'Connor is a Cork Psychologist. He has written hundreds of articles on family psychology - some posted here.