People are making fun of U.S. House Speaker John Boehner because of his penchant for crying. He did it yesterday during Pope Francis’ visit, and today when he announced plans to retire. But I think his public displays of emotion are courageous.
A lot of guys suck at crying. I’m no exception. I’ve always envied men who can do it in public.
I’ve never been the weepy type. To do so, in my mind, meant being weak. Tears meant embarrassment. Tears are for girls, I always told myself. I opted for the stiff upper lip during times of pain and trauma.
To this day I can be an emotionally closed-off person. I probably get it from my father. He was one of the most loving guys I knew, but he always had a tough time showing his emotion. I saw him cry once in the last 45 years: when my brother died.
When my brother died, I pretended to cry. Crying was expected in a situation like that. I made the crying noises. I made myself tremble. But it was an act. I felt the same degree of pain as everyone else over what happened, but the storm swirled deep inside me instead of on the surface.
It was the same when my best friend died. That one hit me like a bullet to the chest and fueled some of my most self-destructive, angry behavior in the years to come. But I never actually cried. That’s probably part of the reason I acted out in those other, uglier ways. The day he died, I remember going to his parents’ house, two doors down from where I grew up. I sat at their dining room table, wide eyed. I was trying to make myself cry. But it didn’t happen.
I have been able to let the tears loose a couple times. Both times, it was because I had done something to hurt my wife. Only she got to see it, though, and I walked around embarrassed for days after.
One year, I was on team for a men’s Cursillo weekend. I won’t tell you what was said there, but when people start exploring their faith and where they have been in life, a lot of sobbing results. I saw a lot of tough guys cry.
Twice that weekend I came close. But it didn’t come.
The idea of it still strikes me as too unmanly.
But I think the inability to cry has helped fuel some of my worst moments as a human being. I took my pain out on other people and I tried very hard to destroy myself.
Luckily, I had people around me who loved me enough to put up with it and, ultimately, give me the help I needed.
So one of the things on my to-do list is learning to let the tears out.
When I have a breakthrough, I’ll let you know.
Or, maybe I won’t.
Meantime, cut Mr. Speaker some slack.