Men Who Cry
Men Who Cry
As a young boy, I was often told by my dad that, “It takes a man to cry.” I understood this to mean that it took courage, somehow achieved along the journey to adulthood, to show emotion freely.
Despite this well-intentioned advice, I was taught early on in my childhood relationships, that expressing my true emotion was not acceptable by any standards, especially when my emotions, my reality, did not conform to the expectations or beliefs of those around me.
At a young age, I began to suppress my emotions and build up a tough exterior, believing that I was showing the strength of a man by not showing any emotion. Even during times of profound grief, my emotions could not escape. In my early adult years, I recognized that it took a lot for me to feel any deep emotions, and I believed that I was showing strength. I avoided situations that would require me to show vulnerability, or any other expression of true emotion. I’d recall the words my dad had said, and at times, would wonder if I was not yet truly a man. This suppression of my true emotion, subconsciously, yet often very deliberately, had a ripple effect on most of my personal and professional relationships. I often surrounded myself with others who often carried the same false bravado that I did, or unfortunately, those who did not respect my true emotions when I expressed them.
My childhood desire to help and protect others, led me to a career that often exposed me to trauma. In the world of public safety, a tough exterior is not only admired, but a matter of survival at times. The false bravado that is carried by many first responders inhibits any display of public emotion. Although attitudes have begun to change, a display of emotion is often considered weakness, and immediately preyed upon by the unscrupulous, uninformed, or others who are also suffering and lack healthy outlets to express their own emotions. The emotional injuries of first responders are often the weapons that are used by others to injure them further. Borne out of necessity, I carried a false bravado, often refusing to acknowledge the depth of the trauma I was witnessing. Although I didn’t realize it, my figurative emotional cup was starting to fill up.
When my first child was born, I began to feel emotions more freely and believed that I now understood what my dad had told me many years earlier. For the first time in my life, I began to feel the full spectrum of emotions more deeply. Although I would joke that becoming a dad had made me soft, the love that a dad feels for his little girl was starting to break down the false exterior of toughness that had been instilled during my childhood.
Several years ago, I experienced a stress injury when my emotional cup inevitably began to overflow. On many occasions I was overcome with emotions that I could not control. My body had too many suppressed emotions and began to release them in any possible fashion, often in ways that were damaging to those around me. As emotional health had never been truly normalized in my life, and as any expression of my true emotions had often been punished, I began to feel that I was weak. At times I was convinced that I was broken. The earlier investments I had made in relationships paid off exactly as you would expect, and I suffered alone.
As I trudged along the arduous path to recovery and healing, I noticed that my feelings were always much closer to the surface. I initially believed that I had not fully recovered from my stress injury and there was still something wrong with me. Along the way, as I strove towards recovery, and then growth, I began to realize that I have an empathic nature. The recovery from my stress injury, which included a complete paradigm shift, had chipped away at the tough exterior I had started building up at a young age. I had never previously allowed myself the self compassion & love for the introspection required to make this discovery, I had simply believed everyone else’s opinions of me. Over time, as I continued to work on myself, I began to not only accept, but embrace my true nature. No longer do I see myself as broken, but as someone who feels emotions deeply. I consider myself lucky to be able to feel as deeply as I do. No, it is not always pleasant, but feelings are a part of life and the more animated our experience, the luckier we are.
Recently, while attending a mud bog event with my brother and our children, I had cause to revisit this topic. I was sitting beside my daughter, a true daddy’s little princess, as we watched jacked-up 4 by 4 vehicles, with raucously loud exhausts, race through deep mud. My daughter looked up at me and asked me if girls could race in a mud bog event. I immediately assured her that girls are just as capable of participating in the race as men and directed her attention to bright pink 4x4 truck waiting to enter the race. As I looked at her smiling face with excitement in her eyes, I suggested that maybe one day we could get a truck for her to drive in the race. As my 7 yr old princess bounced on the seat beside me with excitement, I began to feel emotions well up inside. Pride. Love. Excitement for her. Of all the places to feel those emotions, a small redneck town mud bog had not previously been on my list. In this moment, I realized that I was living my true emotion, my true life. I now live in the moment, no longer longing for some external fulfilment. This moment is all we have; the future is not guaranteed.
I feel like I only achieved understanding of this topic early this morning in my home gym. A dear friend recently gave me a book suggestion, which I was listening to as I tried to build up motivation. The author explained how children in some situations learn to suppress their emotions as a survival mechanism and described a scenario that resonated with my childhood experience. As I listened, I began to understand the process of how I became who I am today. As children, we may not have been provided with a safe environment to express our true emotions. As adults, if we are not taught differently, we re-create unsafe environments for ourselves. OUR SURVIVAL SHOULD NEVER REQUIRE US TO SUPPRESS EMOTIONS. I will forever be unapologetically me. I will provide a safe place for myself and my loved one to express their true selves.
During my journey of recovery and growth, I have made much better investments in my life. I have created a soul tribe of like-minded spirits, with whom I can be my true self. I have surrounded myself with other souls who are living their true lives, unaffected by the unhealthy norms of society.
I leave you with some excerpts from my daily affirmations.
I am loved, and I love.
I will forever be grateful for all the experiences along my journey, past, present, and future.
I will forever make decisions based on love, integrity, and a constant pursuit of achieving life’s purpose. (The last two I stole from the book Oola: Find balance in an unbalanced world)
Live your true life. Encourage others.