My father cries. He cries at movies, speeches, and even television commercials. It’s not a choked-up, guttural wail. It’s more focused around the face. A red pigment spreads around his face and his eyes become reflective against the television light. It’s almost silent. His cheeks blow up like a pufferfish, and he lets out only a sniffle, but all the meaning is there. He doesn’t need to wail to show his emotions, rather he displays his emotion on his face. My dad cries when I sing. He cried when my brother graduated high school. He cried when Trump won the 2016 presidential election. He cried when he told me how much he loves my mom. My father cries.
Since moving to Boston and being away from family, I have noticed a trend. A common characteristic of the archetypal man I see is that men who cry are viewed as unattractive or undesirable. In my experience, I have to argue for the opposite. When someone—man, woman or otherwise—cries to another, he, she, or they lets a barrier down. They are vulnerable in that moment, and vulnerability is sexy. Especially seeing a man who is so in tune with his emotions that he can display and communicate his emotions healthily is very attractive because he is completely himself.
You can probably tell from the first paragraph that my father is kind of a softie, but he wasn’t always like that. In fact, I did not see my father cry until I was well into my teens. I was very young—maybe five or six—when his mother passed away, but I do not remember him crying. When his brother passed away two years later, I do not remember him crying. When my mother’s father passed away, I remember him crying. It was not because he saw a father figure in my mother’s father, but more that he felt my mother’s emotions for her.
“Empathy” is a complex and often misunderstood word that means to understand and share the feelings of another. Empathy is something that my father expresses effortlessly, which I feel—sadly—is something that a lot of men are unable to do. Expressing emotions of sadness can be hard enough for men, due to the “masculine” archetype of having to not care and conduct yourself without emotion. People who are feminine are supposed to be more sensitive and emotional, and that’s nonsense. My father is the most masculine man I have ever met. He grew up with seven brothers and no sisters, he played football and basketball, and he cries.
My father moved from our home in New Jersey to Colorado at the beginning of the school year for his work, so he does not see my mother as much. Recently, I called him on the phone, and I always knew this, but hearing my father say it affirmed my thought: “I hate being away from your mother.” His sharp breath right before the statement indicates that his voice will break any second. Mother. That’s the word he broke on. As I have grown, my father and my’s relationship has become more emotional. We laugh, we yell, we cry, we love. He does everything out of love. My father taught me love. We are allowed to be upset and communicate that to each other. I am thankful to have a role model like that, who taught me that crying is okay.
My grandfather was authentically himself. To be specific, this is my mother’s father who I saw far more than my father’s parents. That is what my grandfather taught me, discipline and a respect for women. A Vietnam War U.S. Army vet, my grandfather was extremely regimented in his day-to-day life with waking up at 5 a.m. every morning to make my grandmother coffee, going to work, doing the yard work well into his 70s and being there as much as he can for his children. That disciplined life is something I strived for and still continue to strive for in my day-to-day life. You do not have to be masculine or even a man to have a disciplined life, but, for me, I feel masculine when I am taking care of my family.
Respecting women is also paramount to masculinity. Throughout my life, I have been surrounded by strong women. My mother’s mother was the strongest of them. My grandparents had the most balanced relationship I ever saw. My grandfather would put on the coffee so early because my grandmother always woke up around 5:15 a.m., and then both of them would prepare the breakfast and clean together. There was no “woman in the kitchen” complex in that family.
Even in my current family, both my parents cook and clean. My mother would even correct my father on how to clean because of what her father taught her. Everyone should respect women, but there is something to be said about men respecting women. It’s about coexisting and living a balanced life with one another. You are not being “masculine” if you make money and then your wife makes the food, cleans the house, and raises the kids; you’re just negligent.
What I take away from these two people is that being your authentic self is being masculine. Masculinity is not one thing. For me, it’s being empathetic and caring for your family. Those are the two most important traits I hold close to my heart.