It's No Surprise: Crying Can Be A Dad Strength
By Allan Shedlin
Grampsy and Founder, DADvocacy Consulting Group
During one of our phone conversations between his college room and my home, my oldest grandson asked me how I managed to remain upbeat during these covidious times. I responded, "I laugh and cry almost every day."
With some surprise, he asked, "You cry, Gramps?!"
I reminded him, as I had years earlier when he first heard me cry, that sometimes, when a moment of selfless generosity or when sadness and pride collide, my emotions are triggered. And then tears flow just as they had when he shaved his head in solidarity with his closest friend, who had experienced hair loss while undergoing chemo for brain cancer.
For me, crying is a sign of strength.
Of course, I realize this in opposition to the generally accepted view of "manliness," against the stereotype we perpetuate when our culture tells our sons, "boys don’t cry." I also realize that I would have responded with similar consternation if my grandfather had responded that way when I was a college student, a time when the armor males wear is approaching its thickest.
Although I see many signs that gender expectations, roles, and behaviors have been in intense flux since the dawn of the women’s movement, we’ve still got a long way to go for boys and men not to feel that crying is a sign of weakness. I believe the "manly" gender armor with which we tend to saddle our boys from their earliest days, shields them from the opportunity to develop more compassionate responses.
As a student of child development, an educator, a dad, and granddad for many years, I have observed that girls and boys come into this world with their emotional suitcases filled with a similar array of emotional clothes to dress themselves in. But long-established social mores tell both genders to unpack different emotional clothes, so they’ll look “right” and conform to prevailing expectations. Boys are more apt to be encouraged to unpack those items that cover-up what are considered “softer” feelings.
Although not steady or dramatic, there are signs that a shift has been occurring in men’s willingness to shed some of their emotional armor. We have seen male sports stars shed tears during both sad (Kobe) and happy times. And we now have a President who has cried publicly on a variety of occasions.
Quantitative/clinical research on the biology of fatherhood and my own qualitative research interviews with dads and granddads from 20 countries during the last quarter-century, have taught me that the instant of the birth of one’s first child often provides the chink that breaks through the masculine armor that has formed throughout a boy’s life that leads up to the moment he becomes a father. Once that emotional armor is pierced, it tends to fall away from men. For some, it shatters and comes crashing down, with accompanying tears, with such unexpected force that it may be disorienting. For others it is more subtle – but the emotion is always present.
Some embrace emotional emancipation, and some are so surprised that they just don’t know how to handle it. Regardless of how it manifests, with armor down, there is room for vulnerability, empathy, and compassion to enter freeing up a direct route to a more open heart – a place where tears may flow unencumbered.
During 192 individual, in-depth daddy interviews with fathers and grandfathers 16 to 104 years old, 100 percent of the men have shared that becoming a dad has enriched their lives – some indicating that it has brought them a kind of love they have never experienced before. For all the men, a tenderness is revealed that has a humanizing impact that, unbeknownst to most, was there from the very beginning, if only they had been encouraged to unpack it from the emotional suitcase they arrived with as infants.
For Further Reference:
Do Fathers Matter? What Science Is Telling Us About the Parent We’ve Overlooked by Paul Raeburn, 2014
The Mask You Live In a film from The Representation Project
Allan Shedlin has devoted his life’s work to improving the odds for children and families. He has three daughters, a “bonus” son, five grandchildren, and three “bonus” grandchildren. Trained as an educator, Allan has alternated between classroom service, policy development, and advising. After eight years as an elementary school principal, Allan founded and headed the National Elementary School Center for 10 years. In the 1980s, he began writing about education and parenting for major news outlets and education trade publications, as well as appearing on radio and TV. In 2008, he was honored as a "Living Treasure" by Mothering Magazine and founded REEL Fathers in Santa Fe, NM, where he now serves as president emeritus. In 2017, he founded the DADvocacy Consulting Group. In 2018, he launched the DADDY Wishes Fund and Daddy Appleseed Fund. In 2019 he co-created and began co-facilitating the Armor Down/Daddy Up! and Mommy Up! programs. He earned his elementary and high school diplomas from NYC’s Ethical Culture Schools, BA at Colgate University, MA at Columbia University’s Teachers College, and an ABD at Fordham University. But he considers his D-A-D the most important “degree” of all.