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Boys Don’t Cry – But Men Do

Boys Don’t Cry – But Men Do
Boys Don’t Cry – But Men Do
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What’s crying all about? I use to ask myself that a lot growing up. You see I grew up with four sisters and they occasionally cried. Always, I hasten to add, under perfectly understandable situations. And I never saw their crying as a sign of weakness, far from it, it was an emotional release that really seemed to help them. Of course it was an emotional release that men, real mean, just didn’t need. At least that was the story of the day and I bought it, totally. This was the era of Gary Cooper and the Duke, John Wayne, riding tall in the saddle in permanent reruns on TV. “A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do,” was the mantra of the day and crying was never part of the “do.” Then in the 70’s, Clint Eastwood emerged as the man with no name and few words. Copies of Mr. Eastwood’s dialogue, the joke went, was written on the top of a pin. Yep, Coop, Wayne and Eastwood, all real men who didn’t even flinch, forget crying, if gut shot – so what’s a boy to do but not cry?

Not long ago I saw a patient, a boy, aged 6, with a fractured wrist. There he was, sitting tall on the exam couch but obviously in pain. Tears a mere gulp away. Broken bones will do that to you. But, he was desperately trying to hold it together. When I suggested he was in a safe place, meaning he could fire away, let it out – cry – “I have to hold it in” was his comeback. Since Coop, the Duke and Eastwood are practically unknowns to most under thirty let alone under ten, I used my many years of clinical training to deduce there was another powerhouse influencer. And there was: “My mom says boys don’t cry,” was his rationale. Ah, myths die hard.

Then a couple of weeks later I read an op-ed piece in the NY Times by Julie Holland, a psychiatrist, claiming we’re medicating women’s real emotions out of existence. ”Women are moody,” is her opening line. I agree; they are. Of course, men are too. Dr. Holland goes on to say women aren’t allowed to be their real emotional selves. Big Pharma and “bad” doctors are out to make them feel good all the time. When they have shorter fuses premenstrually, it’s not their fault and has to be put into perspective. The rest of the time they put up with such ridiculous provocations, who can blame them flying off the handle for a portion of the month? Not me. This of course begs the question: What about men and their emotions? Are we medicating them out of existence too?

Not to the same degree it’s happening to women, but over the centuries in many ways we’ve done worse. We made men feel emotions were unmasculine, even stupid and not something real men have. Real men are doers, not feelers. But all men feel, including the warriors amongst us. And if we are to do, and to do well, we men need to understand our emotional needs and satisfy them. Even our military now accepts this. Modern commanders understand to be combat ready warriors must be psychologically and spiritually whole. And like physical fitness, it’s an ongoing, never-ending need that must be constantly nourished.

And what happened to the boy in my office with the broken wrist? He never did cry. He kept it in. Hopefully, it won’t take him to adulthood to learn what took me decades: Crying is masculine and a sign of strength, not weakness. It’s a great emotional release without any nasty side effects, so go ahead. Make your day. Let it out. Have a cry. It’s doctor-recommended spiritual nourishment.

 

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