Boys Can Cry, Too

Here's the thing, society: Real men do cry. Real men do feel. Real men talk and grieve and walk with vulnerable hearts instead of clenched-tight ones.
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Dear Society,

Let's settle something once and for all: Boys are allowed to have feelings, too.

I know you are uncomfortable with a boy who cries. I know you cringe to see a sad boy walking. I know you can't stand to see a man barely able to crawl from his bed because of the darkness hanging in his head.

I watched my brother shake beneath your hand, society, but I didn't fully understand it until I had six boys of my own.

These boys in my home are full of emotions, and those feelings leak out their eyes when they're told they can't bring a book to the lunch table, because they'd rather bury themselves in a book than talk with friends about video games they don't play; and they climb out their mouths when that playing time passes way too fast and they're not ready, not at all, for the clean-up time; and they hide behind frustration when they just can't execute that flip as perfectly as they want.

I know what you would tell them, society.

Forget about it.

It's not that bad.

We'll give you something to cry about.

Man up.

Man up, because men don't cry.

And there they go, walking around with their emotions trapped by your dam, so they're ticking time bombs, and you shake your heads in disgust when you read of those young men walking out on their families because disengagement is easier than feeling the sorrow of alienation or the frustration of a crying child or the disappointment of a rocky family that points to a rocky marriage.

There they go, turning from their inner lives toward stoic silence and solitude and cynicism.

There they go, straightjacketed by the rules of manhood, so they don't even know who they are anymore.

You are stealing life from these boys, society.

You whisper it behind your hands: Wow. He's really sensitive. Dramatic. Easily upset about so little.

And you shout it in their faces: Be someone different.

And you tell them a thousand other ways that men don't feel because they're men, dammit.

But here's the thing, society: Real men do cry. Real men do feel. Real men talk and grieve and walk with vulnerable hearts instead of clenched-tight ones.

You are not a man if all you ever do is hide behind a straw house of strength. You are not strong if you never show us weak.

When do our boys just get to be who they are, without being called names or being labeled or put into a box or dismissed as something they're not, society?

What if all that negativity poisoning a life leaks from a clenched-tight heart in those tears that make you so uncomfortable?

What if letting a boy walk away sad means we save him from not just a physical heart disease, but an emotional one, too, because he feels understood and supported and highly esteemed?

What if naming the darkness following that man who can barely climb from his bed means, for him, a release from the shame and fear and anxiety heaping his shoulders for the possibility of being found out?

What if they all walk lighter for it?

Maybe we see a brave new world, a world where boys stand with an emotional vocabulary and aren't afraid to use it, where boys honor and value their emotional lives as rich windows to their souls, where boys unclench those precious, magnificent hearts.

Where men can be real men.

And that, society, is worth letting my boy weep over losing a toy, because it meant a whole lot to him. It's worth letting him cry when it's time to leave a house, because he genuinely, wholeheartedly enjoyed this visit with people he loves. It's worth watching those tears stain cheeks when he caused a little trouble at school, because he really, really regrets it.

After all, "teardrops are healers as they begin to arrive," Rumi says.

A version of this article originally appeared on Rachel Toalson's blog. Find Rachel on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.