Can you remember seeing your dad cry (or any sad men for that matter?)
It wouldn’t be that strange if you said ‘no’ or if you really had to dig deep to remember. Maybe it was at a funeral. Was it hidden? Did he try to leave the room or fool you into thinking it was something else other than tears? (I once heard a guy tell his daughter, “Daddy’s sweating.”)
For all the progress we’ve made in the world, it remains the traditional job of the man to remain strong and, somewhere along the way, remaining strong meant not shedding tears.
Crying can be a great release, but it’s not everything. We can cry for so many reasons. My reason for starting this piece off with tears is how it’s such a very outward sign of a feeling for sad men or women. Of a feeling that’s a pretty vulnerable one.
Men are given the message that they don’t do vulnerable.
- “There’s no crying in baseball!”
- “Run it off!”
- “Get back on the horse!”
There are few messages that say, “Feel that.”
- “Know deeply what it feels like to experience loss, to grieve, to have your heart broken, to feel pain.”
That’s just crazy talk, right?
Teaching Kids to Be Sad
The problem is, these feelings are going to come up, they are going to happen to us. What most of our dads taught us is that those feelings aren’t supposed to happen. If you never observe your father really sad, or hurt, or scared, you get the message that YOU should never be—especially if you’re a boy. Boys should not grow up to be sad men and this message can stick with you.
You learn how to have feelings by watching your parents feel. Not by what they teach you with words, but by their actions. And sometimes that action could be sitting in a chair and sobbing, deeply, because a good friend just died.
Many men “get” anger. Many of us have seen Dad get angry. Whether it’s a physical rage or a controlled fury, we’ve experienced that from our father.
But are you really going to try to convince me that your dad was never scared for all the years that you knew him? I’m not sure that’s actually possible. Maybe it was about his job, maybe it has to do with his relationship, but at some point he was scared just like a lot of other scared or sad men.
He just didn’t show you.
Sadness Underneath the Anger
Or maybe he showed you the anger that was a better costume for the fear. That was more acceptable. Maybe the other people around knew he was expressing that fear in the way he felt was acceptable.
But they were adults, you weren’t. You didn’t see the fear. You didn’t know that was his fear.
So how did you feel when you felt fear and you wanted to curl up in a ball and shiver? Did you think it was unmanly? Did you think it meant you were being a ‘sissy’ or any of the other emasculating words you were deathly afraid of being called? Were sad men just not allowed?
We need to do a better job in teaching our children—certainly our sons—about these other emotions. We need to show them that men experience a wide, wide range of feelings. All the feelings, really, and none of them are to be ashamed of.
Can you do that?
Do you even believe it?
I regularly work with men who are struggling with these issues even guys that are outwardly strong, but are sad men on the inside. Some who were told they needed to seek out counseling from a partner or even a boss. If you’d like to talk, please contact me here. If you’d like to answer a few anonymous questions to see if men’s counseling would be a good fit for you, please click here: Answer these questions to see if therapy could help you
Justin Lioi, LCSW is a men’s mental health and relationship expert based in Brooklyn, NY (and online throughout New York State and internationally.) He received his degree from New York University and has been working in family and men’s counseling for over 10 years. Justin is on the Board of the National Association of Social Workers and writes a weekly column for the Good Men Project called Unmasking Masculinity. He can be found on local and national podcasts talking about assertiveness, anger, self-compassion, all with the goal of becoming the man you want to be.