Real men cry. These are their stories.
There was a time when my kids were little and I was going through a messy divorce when I cried pretty much all the time. But in recent years, I tend more toward anger than sadness when emotions run strong. I know it's just a cover, but somehow my shell has hardened again.
In an effort to get my tear ducts flowing again, I asked men from all across the country to tell me about the last time they cried. Not surprisingly, some guys didn't want to talk publicly about bawlin' their eyes out. But many surprised me by echoing what I felt: They wanted to cry more. They desperately wanted to access the pain and sadness that was stuck somewhere between the heart and the eyes. Others (the lucky ones, and quite often the toughest ones) told me they had no trouble crying. They were in touch with themselves.
Many of us grow up being told--by our dads, our older brothers, our coaches--that we shouldn't cry, and that if we do we certainly shouldn't admit to it. That's bullshit, obviously, and the sooner we get that idea out of our heads, the better off we'll be--and the better men we'll be.
What follows is extraordinary, if you ask me. Men (some famous, some not) lay themselves bare for the world to see. Some of their answers made me laugh. Others made me want to cry.
When was the last time you cried? I'd love to hear from you in the comments.
"Charlotte's Web, page 165. 'I'm done for,' Charlotte tells Wilbur. Try reading that aloud to your kid and not crying."
Jonathan Eig, author
"I cried while watching Aliens the other night. Sigourney Weaver does that to me."
Thomas Patrick Naughton, project coordinator
"The day I got out of jail."
Tim Donaghy, former NBA referee who was convicted of betting on games
"I'm pretty good at repressing my emotions. Actually, I'm kind of in favor of repression. It gets a bad rap. But back to the question. It was probably at my niece's bat mitzvah. It was at this suburban Jersey country club, and I was dancing with my three-year-old son. I was carrying him, and he had his head pressed against my shoulder, and I felt such gratitude that I wept."
A.J. Jacobs, author
"I had a baby this year. So I've cried more this year than in the past ten together. I'm guessing a month ago. Anything in a movie or TV show about a baby will do it. Sometimes just holding my son will do it. It causes me to think about all the tiny, little, seemingly inconsequential decisions that led to his birth; they now seem super-important. And I think about dead family members and friends who never met him. And I just think how incredible it is that he's so lacking in fear or guile. I keep saying he's a good person, and I know that's ridiculous, but it just feels true. I cannot imagine my four-month-old growing up and committing genocide. Though if he does, I hope he's the best genocidist he can possibly be."
Joel Stein, journalist
"In the locker room with our seniors after last year's bowl game."
Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern head football coach. (NU lost in overtime to Auburn.)
"About 10 minutes ago."
Ron Cowie, photographer
"The last time I cried was the night after my brother first molested me. I was 10. He was 16. I'm 33 now. We still haven't talked about it."
"I cry all the time. My mother had a big impact on my life when I was young, because I had a lot of respect for her. Her father died at an early age, and she had a lot of brothers and sisters, and her mom couldn't take care of all of them. So she and two other younger siblings went to the orphanage for a few years. One time when I was about 14, I decided I was going to run away from home. I'm getting all my stuff together, and then my mother gets up and she comes downstairs. She says, 'What are you doing?' I said, 'I'm leaving. I got to go. I'm running away.' And she said, 'Well, let me fix you a sandwich.' And I decided maybe I wouldn't go."
Dave Cowens, NBA Hall of Famer
"About six or seven months ago. I was at the tail end of three 16-hour shifts, and just broke down for about three minutes. It was a good time."
Mike Letourneau, audio engineer
"The last time I really drained my ducts was when I walked into my home to see an oak box resting on my bookcase. Delivered that day, it holds the ashes of my Rhodesian Ridgeback, Ulee, who my wife and I had to euthanize a few weeks prior, a month shy of his twelfth birthday. Ulee taught me how to love without expectation and prepared me for fatherhood in a way that I could never have appreciated beforehand. Holding him while the sedative took his last breath was hardest thing I've done. I cried for three days until dry, provoked at every turn and action by a decade of memories: his leash hanging from the hook by the door, the smell he left on his pillow, peeling the plastic bag off the morning newspaper, walking by the enormous vacancy by the back door or passing the park on the way to work. The box brought all of it rushing back in a flood. I cried for several hours. And I'm sure I'm not done."
Jeffrey O'Brien, journalist
"When I struck out against Dustin Louthan in Bambino League baseball at the age of 13. My dad said, 'Stop crying. You have to earn your cries.' I stopped, and I'm waiting until I earn one. I suspect when it comes, it will be big."
Will Leitch, author
"I want to cry pretty much every time I watch my network these days. Rick Sanchez? Really?"
Anonymous, CNN employee
"When my friend Kirby Puckett passed away unexpectedly. He was coming to visit and play golf and get together. He was a great guy. When I heard he had a stroke and passed away ... He's just one of the best human beings that people would know. He was a lot of fun, he was a friend to so many people. And besides being teammates and all that, we were fishing buddies." Dave Winfield, baseball Hall of Famer
"I was in the front seat of the car, facing west toward the sun. I had been watching my niece all day. We had gone swimming--I had taught her how earlier in the summer. I looked into the rearview mirror to check on her and with a smile she met my gaze and spoke. "I love you, Uncle." On the car ride back home, tears caught the lashes of my eyes for a moment. It was the first time in a long while that I had cried."
Silas Forster, sales associate
"I honestly can't remember the last time I cried. I used to cry fairly often, for no reason. Well, depression was the reason. Antidepressants, thank God, have mostly kept me from reaching that low for the past decade. But there have been times when I almost cried, when I wanted to cry, when tears welled up behind my eyes--at the funeral of my uncle, at the birth of my son--but the gates wouldn't open."
Jonathan Lesser, journalist
"I cried for three hours last year after my wife found out that I had cheated on her, for the umpteenth time, with a prostitute. It was hard to figure out exactly why I was crying. Was I crying over the pain I'd caused her? Was I crying over the man I'd become? Was I crying over the fear of losing her? Were my tears selfish? Was I capable of feeling true empathy for my wife? I didn't know. I still don't know."
"I can get tears in my eyes from a beautiful work of art. I get pretty emotional around the time of my mother's death, so I probably cried around then, just a month or so ago."
Nick Flynn, author (Nick's mother committed suicide when he was 22. He's 49 now.)
"The last really good cry I had was the night Barack Obama was elected president. I was overwhelmed by what it meant about the country, socially."
Tom Jolly, journalist
"When I told my company about a fellow Marine friend who died in combat fighting for all of us. God, it felt good (to share my pain)."
John "Jay" Rogers, Marine
"The last time I cried I was drunk and stoned and watching an early season of The Simpsons. I laughed so hard I cried."
"The last time I cried was when a caller to my radio show recounted her experience at being put into an anti-gay academy when she was in high school because her mother believed it would turn her straight. The emotional toll was powerful, and she thought of suicide several times, as she recounted how she was ridiculed in that school. I often tear up when people call the show and tell their stories of struggles. It makes me wonder how many more are out there who won't ever call and are still dealing with the pain."
Michelangelo Signorile, radio host
"When I was a child. Crying doesn't fix the problems; action does, and I haven't found a need to cry when I'm 'doing.'"
Dr. Dennis Neder, author
"I had a method for never marrying, then I met Michele, and as our time together passed, the only flaw revealed was mine, my fear of commitment. We decided to make a new life out West. I sipped tequila in the backyard under the dense canopy of East Coast foliage I'd been under my entire youth. My life, my dreams all based on being in or near New York, were ending. I found myself on my knees on the patio, tears running down my cheeks, then hot snot over my mouth and chin. It went on for a long time, till I had no more. It was the best damn cry I've ever had."
Barney Moran, Daddy Boot Camp instructor
"When Aaron's new school recently held a social activity for fathers and sons, every so often I'd reach up and squeeze his shoulder or rub his back, or ask him how many doughnuts he'd eaten. When it was time for me to go, Aaron said, "Bye," and I brushed a bit of chocolate from his face, still soft and as smooth as frosting. A minute later he was off to class, and I stepped outside into the California winter sun. My eyes welled up and my chest heaved. I made a point of looking up into the sun as I passed them. Looking into the sun brings tears sometimes. I didn't really let go until I got into my car."
Jeffrey K. Wallace, professor and author
"It doesn't make much sense now. As you get older, I'm telling you, the feminine side really comes out. I can watch kids with their dads. The smallest of things now bring out that sensitive side in me that we all have in us."
Ozzie Smith, baseball Hall of Famer
"The day I found out about the massive earthquake in Haiti. I cried like a baby almost every day. I had to turn off CNN and do my part as a Haitian American and help my country."
"The day I found out about the massive earthquake in Haiti. I cried like a baby almost every day. I had to turn off CNN and do my part as a Haitian American and help my country."
"Sadly, I don't remember. I didn't come from a household where men cry. In my youth I thought it was a cool thing; but as I've gotten older, I've come to respect men who are in touch enough with their feelings to cry. It's better than repressing those feelings that bring one to tears."
David Atchison, writer, producer, and journalist
"I cry at emotional moments with my soccer team. So do they."
Dan Woog, high school soccer coach
Several years after [my three-year-old daughter] Kate died, I went to the funeral for a classmate of mine from West Point, John Lewis. The funeral was in a rural part of Virginia, on sharecroppers' land, in an old country church. The ceremony was deeply moving and memorable. Nothing like the cold, ritualistic, Catholic funerals I've been to before and since. This service was clearly a celebration of John's life. Every member of John's family spoke before the congregation about him. Then at least forty more people got up to speak about him. They talked about how they had met John, and what his friendship had meant to them. Everyone participated in the singing. Then one of John's closest friends played some music videos on a big screen TV. Country and western... John's favorite, some real melancholy music. I guess it was the combination of the setting, coupled with the music and the sincere, kind words by so many people, but a powerful wave of emotion came over me just then, and I cried more than anyone in the church. John's sister kept handing me tissues, patting my shoulder to comfort me, and I couldn't stop the flow of tears."
John Oliver, entrepreneur (Quoted in "Blindfolded,"
"I cry sometimes, but never when I play baseball. After all, there's no crying in baseball. Maybe you can get away with crying in softball. But definitely not baseball."
Jason Peters, teacher
"Occasionally I cry in the safety of a darkened movie theater or while watching TV alone. But I haven't been able to cry in response to anything in my own life for quite some time. I was an overly sensitive kid. The slightest transgression could send me into hysterics. My father was a gruff, virile man, possessing a Grizzly Adams physique but with a loud, booming voice. He was quick to anger and tended to criticize me for not living up to his concept of masculinity that my older brother seemed to achieve effortlessly. I wasn't able to be the son he had envisioned, and I retreated further into myself. When puberty hit and the baby fat melted away, I grew into a kind of masculinity I didn't know was possible for me. I grew taller than my classmates, found solace in the isolation of competitive swimming, and became a star of the team. Still, I was far from what I thought would garner my father's approval. I let go of the things that interested me most growing up: fashion, celebrity gossip and pop music, seeing them now as trivial. By the time my grandmother died a few years after I graduated high school I was so closed off I was unable to cry at her funeral. I stood over her open casket, stared numbly down at her clasped hands, trying to shake myself out of this torpor. But I couldn't will the tears to come. Whatever internal mechanism that used to ignite my emotional core as a child had broken down completely and I had no idea how I was supposed to repair it."
Ryan Berg, restaurant manager and writer
"I cry often, almost every day, or at least I well up or choke back tears. Occasionally it is from despair, but mostly it is from the mere thought of my daughter or the awe and appreciation of something remarkable someone has done by sheer power of brilliance and will."
John C. Abell, journalist
"I don't cry as much as I used to, and it upsets me. I think that, maybe, one of the things about manhood is you're so damn busy trying to either avoid, you know, the subway in New York or the mastodon 30,000 years ago, that there's no time left to feel like that. But when I wrote The Murder Room, there were parts of the book where I cried. I think our mind--the intellect--can only go so far, and the greatest understanding of other people, and any kind of art, comes from your heart."
Michael Capuzzo, journalist and author
"I don't cry. I'm not a girl."
Justin Thompson, middle school student
"I cried last weekend. I was doing a seven-mile run on Fire Island from the Pines through Cherry Grove past Sailor's Haven and into the Sunken Forest. For most of the run I was running either on paved sidewalk through dunes, where it was desolate, or on boardwalks through Sunken Forest. On the way back I came up to a point that I could see across the bay between Fire Island and Long Island, and I said 'thank you' out loud. I said 'thank you' to the universe, and I cried. I felt so moved, grateful and lucky to be alive and present."
Corey Johnson, political consultant
"The week before my husband and I got married, I said to myself, 'No one understands how I'm suffering. I have to take care of everybody else, but no one knows how I feel.' And the minute I said that, the minute that was in my head, I saw the face of the suffering Christ and I heard, in my imagination, and I felt held. It was very much God saying, 'I love you. I know how you suffer. I have suffered as you have, and I love you and I'm with you.' And I felt euphoric. Dried my eyes. I'm like, 'Screw it! What's the worst that's going to happen to me? And when I have this love in my life, what do I care?'" Well, I care, it hurts, but it wasn't the same."
Rev. John Finley IV, founder of the Epiphany School
"My son had a serious nerve injury last Christmas, and he was in such extreme pain that I found myself crying almost every day until his pain was successfully treated and he was cured. Nothing hurts so much as watching your child suffer."
Jim Moret, television anchor
"Watching Marian Anderson sing 'My Country Tis of Thee' in front of the Lincoln Memorial in the late 1930s as the closing scene in one of Ken Burns' PBS shows on our National Parks."
Jim Matlack, my dad
"I cried just the other day while watching an episode of THE CHOIR on BBC-America. The 100 boys in the school choir that Gareth (the choirmaster) had just started went on a field trip to Cambridge to hear the King's College Choir. When I was a child, I used to sing in church choirs. When I was 50, my 80-year-old father and I went to England and France for two weeks and spent a wonderful day in Cambridge, where we went to the famous chapel where the all-male choir performs. When I saw the beautiful place on my TV screen, I thought, "I've been there, I was there with my father," and just burst into tears. I'm 63 now, and I wanted my father back. It's not the only time I've cried since he died in 2006. All my life I had longed for a closer relationship with him, and I found it on that trip to Europe in 1997. I miss him enormously."
Michael Lassell, writer
"I remember it like it was just last Sunday. Okay, so it was last Sunday. I was packing up and getting ready to leave one of my favorite places in the world. For each of the past twelve years, I have spent the last week of August at a summer camp for gay and lesbian adults in Maine. The camp's tag line is, "Remember when summer was the best time ever? It still is!", and you know what, it's true! Invariably, year after year, at the end of having another 'best time ever!' with so many old and new friends, I cry. It's not the intense chest-pounding cry I might have when a loved one dies or when a relationship abruptly ends. It's a mix of tears of happiness for the experience, tears born of the noticed connections and friendships, and tears of sadness as the realization that it will be another fifty-one weeks before I'm in the warm embrace of this place, these people, this community. Interestingly, it seems that most of us cry at least once in the last day. I've certainly been in situations where I have welled up with potential tears that I didn't let myself shed, due to pride, discomfort, embarrassment, or social stigma. The funny thing is, I never feel better for having held it in. In fact, I often feel worse. The times I let myself cry, I almost always felt better."
Phillip Clawson, corporate responsibility consultant
"A few weeks ago watching my 6-year-old son, Connor, graduate from kindergarten. Sitting on the floor of my son's classroom with other parents, we all watched a video of our kids saying what they loved about their families and when my son said, 'I love my family because my dad takes me to Giants games.' I laughed and cried with pride and love."
Steve Cadigan, human resources executive
"Yesterday, while I was in the shower. Israel Kamakawiwoole's version of 'Somewhere over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World' came on the stereo, and I tried singing along with it (again) and ended up crying (again). I never get past the line 'I hear babies cry, and I watch them grow.' There's a sweetness and a yearning in Brudda Iz's voice that just wrecks me."
Todd Mauldin, bluesman
"I started to cry this morning--thinking about words to describe my father got me smiling and tearful. He has been gone four years, and I miss him."
Andrew Seibert, magazine executive
"I last cried when my wife showed me the plus sign on her pregnancy test eight months ago. Outwardly, they were tears of joy. Inwardly, they were tears of elation and trepidation. I'm 47 years old. The prospects of having a teenage daughter beginning to seek her own way in the world when I am ready to retire and finish off my bucket list is daunting at this point."
Randy Strauss, emergency medical technician
"It is getting very cold. I spend every workday in the South End [of Boston] with Peter, surveying apartments. We go into the top-floor apartment thinking there's structural failure. While I try to imagine how we're going to fix this building, Peter stands still in the middle of the room, then flings open the door of the living room closet. Cowering inside are two little boys. The older one--he's maybe five--is clamping his hand over the younger one's mouth, trying to silence his crying. They are both filthy, with snotty, crusted noses. Peter gently takes the little boy into his arms, fishes out a handkerchief, and wipes his face. 'Call social services,' Peter says. A woman tells me someone will be there in half an hour. We sit down on a battered couch with the kids, the baby in my lap, the five-year-old in Peter's. Both the children fall asleep, exhausted from crying. It feels so familiar to have a warm child in my arms, sleeping peacefully.
In the apartment, the baby's face is pushed into my chest, soaking it with drool. When the social services woman arrives, the baby wakes with a start and looks up at me. His eyes are big; he's afraid. I feel as though I'm handing over my own son.
The woman departs, the children crying all the way down the stairs. I'm still sitting on the couch, looking at the wet spot on my shirt where the baby's head had just been. 'What is happening to this world?' Peter says. 'These little babies left alone. And you can't blame the woman. Her husband's gone, left her alone. She's got to get a job, feed those hungry mouths.'
I close my eyes tight. My breath comes in ragged gasps.
'Hey, you okay, man?' Peter walks over and touches my shoulder. 'These things happen. You gotta let it go.' When I open my eyes, they are filled with tears.
I remember the first morning in the hospital after my son was born. Cradling him, I looked out at the city and whispered, 'Baby, I'm your father, and I will always take care of you.'"
Amin Ahmad, architect and author. (Quoted in "Structural Failure," The Good Men Project book.)
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