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Big Boys Don’t Cry

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Maybe it’s a guy thing. Big boys don’t cry. Only girls cry. You can’t be macho and cry.

There are so many stupid sayings drilled into males while still boys. The result? Tears held in. Emotions held in check. Friends, relatives, lovers, always wondering what guys are really feeling. Or maybe it’s a Butki thing. Dad never really showed much emotion. No tears, no hugs. Handshakes at church, but that was just a playful way of saying “peace be with you.”

Mom cried. Mom hugged. Mom even occasionally kissed me. But that was Mom. I was supposed to be like Dad, right? Right? So now here I sit, far from that home – in geography anyway – and now I want to be emotionally more like Mom and less like Dad. Sometimes now I will be watching some dumb movie and feel my heart being tugged by a plot device about love or dads and I will feel a tear duct being moved. “Come on, cry, damn it!” part of me says, the part that knows it feels better to cry than not to cry sometimes. The part of my brain that wants me to let out my emotions rather than to just have that tear duct tease me week after week. But that fricking macho brain tissue screams “No, no, no, you can’t cry,” and the sensation goes away.

And so it goes. I see a sad, sappy movie and feel close to tears, can see and hear women on both sides of me bawling, and I feel almost apologetic for not crying myself. Sometimes the result is a form of sympathy tears – I can cry because they are crying. A weird thing, that.

Then there are days like when I watched the television coverage of Princess Diana’s funeral, feeling like crying but the tears not coming. For more than an hour I would hear something particularly sad and the tear ducts would go jerk, jerk, jerk, but nothing happened. Then a camera pans and shows Diana’s boys walking, oh so silently, and with faces turned toward their feet, and the jerks of the tear ducts come still stronger. The camera goes into montage mode and shows people crying outside: a woman crying, a man singing and… wait, what’s this? A man crying. And another one. And still another one. My God! Is this allowed? I feel a tear starting to come. But only one. And then they stop, like a spigot has been turned off. But for some odd reason, I’m happy. I’ve cried, however briefly.

Men will scoff at this, I imagine. But I feel I’ve accomplished something, shown I’m human. Shown I have emotions. I have shown, perhaps, that I’m not as emotionless as some men are.

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About Scott Butki

Scott Butki was a newspaper reporter for more than 10 years before making a career change into education... then into special education. He has been doing special education work for about five years He lives in Austin. He reads at least 50 books a year and has about 15 author interviews each year and, yes, unlike tv hosts he actually reads each one. He is an in-house media critic, a recovering Tetris addict and a proud uncle. He has written articles on practically all topics from zoos to apples and almost everything in between.
  • Scott, I hope you’re not dismayed by the invasion of the trollbots. Their attacks prove you are correct, that our culture is driving males toward a mindless viciousness that will do no good for anyone over the long term. I’m hoping an editor deletes most of the these worthless comments soon, but my responsibility as a man and as a human being is to send you a message of support in the meantime.

  • ‘with hold’ is a banned word?

    Damn. Let me try this again.

    It’s a proven fact that teaching men to ‘refrain from’ emotion has caused all sorts of problems in later years from going ballistic with a pistol, to domestic violence, to alcoholism, the list is endless.

    Being able to express your emotions is better on your psyche and you live longer, and women are more likely to be drawn to you when your personality isn’t as rough as stone. Good post.

  • Wendy R

    There are so many mean people in this world, judging from the comments posted about Scott’s article. I, very much an attractive female, was moved by Scott’s incredible courage and sensitivity. Too bad there aren’t MORE “real men” like HIM!!!
    I’m sorry, Scott, that you can’t be more open and vulnerable about your feelings – and not get bashed for it, by both men and women. A very depressing sign of the legacy we inherit as a culture when we teach men not to emote. I personally only fall for men who WANT to emote – they’re the BEST!!!

    Hang in there, Scott, other women will see emotional vulnerability as extremely attractive!

  • I hear ya brother. Often I’ll be watching a sad movie or whatever and the tear ducts will open, prepareing for a good cry, but then some weird manly part of my brain will shut them down because that’s not what I’m supposed to do.

    Oddly enough though, my brain will get confused at the oddest times and let loose with tears in moments I normally wouldn’t think of as tear worthy, like a particularly sappy moment on Mama’s Family

  • I think you’re right, Scott: a lot of this is social pressure going back to the caves. Men weren’t supposed to cry; they were supposed to slay the beast and bring back supper. Even if they were afraid.

    Recently someone I loved passed away, and I broke down and cried on and off for weeks. It was better than holding it in, but one male family member (who was probably annoyed after witnessing my behavior) told me, “Suck it up and get your act together.”

    My daughter still cries on and off about this lost loved one, and I hold her and tell her “It’s okay to cry.” And you know what? It is.

  • Scott Butki

    I wrote the bulk of this piece a few years ago and then rewrote Sunday and Monday after a suicide hit close to home.

    In recent years I’ve become much more emotionally expressive. Heck, I’ve read the rough version of this piece aloud to a coffee house during open mike poetry nite. Doing that shows something.

    But the fact so many men can’t express themselves and the societal pressures against it…. those are still on my mind.

    Thanks for the comments and compliments.

    I didn’t see the comments by trollbots so I don’t know what they said.

  • Wendy R

    Thank God, those other people were banned. What a sad, sad culture we live in. I was SO moved and enthusiastic about Scott’s courageous comments that I emailed them to my best woman friend and SHE loved what he said, too! (I posted her comments below which she emailed to me this morning.)

    We women WANT emotions from a man – what do you think women’s magazines are ALL ABOUT??!! How to get your man to open up! We are left with the legacy of parents who told their men to shut down their feelings – and, ultimately, it’s NOT FUN for us women, either. We are stuck with the responsibility of DRAGGING feelings out of our men.

    Personally, I’ve been fortunate enough to meet a few men who were, amazingly, NOT edited by their parents. One guy I was madly in love with actually cried more than I did – but it was his VULNERABILITY that attracted me SO enormously! It was NOT his emotions that broke us up eventually after years of togetherness – in fact, his vulnerability was the GLUE that held us together. It was the number ONE characteristic about him that I LOVED. But there were too many other incompatibilities between us. But I STAYED as long as I did, partly, because I could NOT easily find another man who EMOTED as much as HE did!!!

    My friend’s comment: “Think this guy is married? One of us ought to look him up!”

    I would LOVE to continue this conversation with you, Scott. I am working on a project about emotions – and I LOVE the fact that you have had the courage to come forward with what you FEEL. Let me know if we can converse – I am a former news reporter – really! Would love to hear your perspective.

    P.S. I am pretty enough I’ve had my choice of men throughout my life and I have ALWAYS chosen men who EMOTE the most!!!

  • Scott Butki

    Well, I am single. One ex-girlfriend used to complain that I was not emotionally expressive enough. Now I wonder if I’ve gone too far to the other extreme, or if that extreme even exists.

    You can email me via my fotolog.
    Thanks for the kind words.

  • Men are trained to repress most emotions, but not all. Angry, aggressive, and hateful outbursts have been allowed and often even encouraged as manly. So the extreme of being too emotionally expressive definitely exists, at least with some emotions.

    As for the emotions I see you talking about in this piece, there’s little need to worry about being too expressive. Adolescent boys (of any age) may scoff at you for it, but men will understand.

    And as we’ve seen here, women will understand even better.

  • Nancy

    REAL MEN aren’t afraid to like flowers – and say so.

    Ironically, I can’t cry easily, either. I was told, “Big GIRLS don’t cry” – like the song, y’know. So now I can only cry if I’m either so mad I can’t sputter any more, or I’ve forgotten to take my Zoloft for an extended period of time 😉 When I’m operating on ‘normal’ I’m dry.

  • Josh

    From the adolescent boy point of view, I’d have to say that it is good to cry — as long as you can still function. Immediately after a death, I can understand. At a break in a valuable relationship, I can understand. I can understand crying even at a cutting word from a friend (in private, you pansy. . . :P). What I cannot understand, however, is to cry at a movie. I can understand being moved and on the verge, but for God’s sake don’t waste your tears on something so absolutely trivial and PRETEND!

  • Josh

    By the way, Nancy, I love flowers.

  • Scott Butki

    I agree about crying at the movies – of all the times I could cry it’s the least important.

    My guess is it’s because people can’t see me crying in the dark.

  • Duane

    Interesting and potentially difficult subject. There are a few kinds of crying that a man might find himself subject to:

    (1) frustration crying

    Example: Car breaks down on the way to work. Tire iron slips and you get whacked. One of the damned lugnuts just won’t come off. You start crying in frustration. No. Not manly. Haven’t done this since I was kid.

    (2) sadness or grief crying

    Example: A death in the immediate family. Perfectly acceptable to cry. I have yet to cry at a funeral.

    (3) failed relationship crying

    Example: You lose an excellent girlfriend because you screwed up. Two weeks later, you feel lonely as hell, empty, pessimistic. You sit down and start tearing up. Borderline case. Done in private for the most part, anyway. I’ve done this. The more manly behavior is to buck up, say the “plenty of fish” thing, or rationalize it away.

    (4) making up crying

    Example: Three weeks after the breakup, you bump into your girlfriend down at the supermarket. Eye contact. Talking. Coffee. Admissions. Hugging. Tearing up. Been there. She was totally impressed by the display of (unfaked) emotion.

    (5) happiness crying

    Example: You’re in debt up to your eyes. You win $15,000. You cry tears of joy. Borderline. Whooping and yelling would be a more appropriate manly response.

    (6) aesthetic crying

    Example: You’re at a concert. Your favorite band plays their most beautiful and powerful piece, which they pull off with great aplomb. You’re hanging on every note. The final chord sequence just finishes you off. You wipe your eyes. Done this once. Tough call. Sissy? Josh would think so, evidently. I don’t know. I’m impressed by people who are moved this deeply by anything artistic. It shows a kind of depth, I think.

    I tend to be indifferent to flowers. But I’m not afraid of them. Bring ’em on!

  • To anonymous

    Anonymous i know exactly what you mean. I was adopted and raised by two loving mother cuntelopes (partners). IMO we should all meet up and cry together.

  • Duane

    They’re crass, rude, and immature. But you gotta admit. They’re funny as all hell. Keep it cummin boys.

  • Josh

    Tyler, you’re a beast.

    Duane, out of your list, I agree with one through five. The aesthetic crying is stupid unless you are truly and absolutely moved, beyond choice. To cry just so you can go, “Hey, I’m artsy” is annoying and pretentious (not saying that you do this).

    Also, to clarify, a tear of emotion isn’t what I was talking about. I was talking about flat out bawling. So, if a tear comes to your eye because of a beautiful melody (yes, it’s happened to me), then fine. But if you flat out bawl — it’s probably not the music. You’ve got a chemical imbalance.

    As to cinema, it’s not real. At least with music it is actually real, not make-believe like a movie.

  • Music is more “real” than a movie? That’s an artificial distinction. To the human brain, a movie is as real as music. On some intellectual level we may know it’s fiction, but the brain centers where our emotional responses occur will accept the events depicted as real, suffering pain or experiencing joy right along with the characters on the screen, even when we repress our awareness of this happening.

  • Josh

    Perhaps you are right, and I did make an overstatement by saying it “wasn’t real”. But that still doesn’t change the stupidity of crying for a nonexistent person. Shouldn’t our compassion be saved for someone who actually needs it?

  • Duane

    Actually, Josh, you make a valid point. How can someone waste emotional energy on a movie when in the real world there is disease and suffering on a huge scale? Shouldn’t we get choked up when we hear about some kid getting rescued after a tsunami, but not so choked up when John Cusack re-unites with his girlfriend in some silly romantic comedy? Yeah, you would think so. Shouldn’t we break down when we see TV images of real world starving people, but watch The Miracle Worker (Bancroft, Duke) with cool and distant regard? I think so.

    But that’s not the way I am. I don’t think I know anyone like that. How did this happen? I’m almost completely emotionally immune to real-world disasters and problems. What’s the deal? It must be some kind of evolutionary adaptation. It’s like somehow we are “built” so that we can deal with bad shit in the real world. Maybe sad/happy movies provide some kind of release, kind of in the same way that sports activities can provide a release for pent up hostility. I dunno….

  • There’s nothing wrong with crying, but let’s keep our perspective here: too much of anything is bad for you. There’s nothing attractive about people who just boo-hoo at the drop of a hat, and I’m thankful not to know many who do.

    I unashamedly shed tears during movies all the time — shit, I cry during trailers for movies, Eight Below being the latest. (Those poor dogs!) To my mind, this does not make me more or less of a man; like Joe Jackson once sang, it’s hard to tell what a real man is anymore, and the older I get it’s harder to give much of a shit.

    All that crying of any kind, especially at a movie, reflects is a physiological reaction to emotional stimuli. The fact that it’s “pretend” is utterly meaningless; that’s like refusing to laugh at a joke because it didn’t really happen, or not getting excited by an action sequence because it is staged, or turned on by a sex scene for the same reason. Art is all about willful suspension of disbelief, and movies — more than any other art form — can manipulate emotions very easily, if only because images appeal to a more primitive part of the brain.

  • MCH

    I got no problem crying. The older I get, the more I cry. The most common occassions being funerals, movies and whenever my two adult kids are experiencing life’s difficulties.

  • I was raised mostly by my mom, so it seemed totally normal to me to watch Dirty Dancing and 13 Going On 30 alongside Rambo and The Terminator. It yields a much more balanced personality and set of emotions, as well as how to get in touch with them and discuss them openly (alcohol optional). I admit I lost it when the casting call appeared at the end of Titanic. I felt equally moved by Saving Private Ryan, though. These feelings aren’t insular or only applicable to certain things. Heck, the end of T2 made me feel something akin to how I felt at the end of A Walk To Remember. I’m just glad I grew up in an environment that helped me see the value of both aggressive and passive emotions.

    Denis Leary did a bit about this gender biasing of emotional output in “No Cure for Cancer,” referring to his generation struggling to be sensitive growing up in the shadow of guys like John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, and Steve McQueen. They set the precedent, and no man wants to be labeled a “pansy,” regardless of how the ladies look upon it. It’s always the guy who wins the fight that gets the girl, not the guy who stays out of the fray for fear of breaking a nail. That’s the kind of thing we fight against growing up, ladies.

    There was an article I read some time ago suggesting that male aggression could come from a genetic gender identity crisis that we’re not even aware of. We all start out as female, embryonically speaking, but towards the last trimester, we guys get a shot of testosterone from that Y-chromo that changes us (why do you think guys have non-functional nipples?). But even then, we’re still surrounded by female parts and hormones. The article points out this early smothering by the opposite sex as part of why men develop with insecurities about ACTING feminine, like it would be treason to who we are at our core, tipping our hats to the womb we fought to break free of.

    This lends something to guys being insecure with anything that implies underlying femininity. Guys can be homophobic for no particular reason other than touching another man is something females are supposed to do. We love it when women act feminine, not so much when guys do it. Women don’t seem to struggle with relations and contact with the same sex nearly as much. They always were female. We started out female and spend the rest of our natural lives trying to establish our manhood, despite our embryonic roots.

    I’m not saying it’s right or wrong. Just an interesting idea.

    Anyway, I got comfy with my gender identity a long time ago and can cry if need be, like when my last gf told me she was about to get on a plane to Ecuador and may not be back. Long story, but it made for a rough night for me. Let’s just say I was keeping Kleenex in business.

    Now if you don’t mind, I have to go buy some dish soap and dryer sheets and Febreze on my way to rent Murderball. I hear First Blood is on AMC tonight, too. 🙂

  • God of Virility

    Yesterday I walked by this woman, the mere sight of my awesome virility made her explode into a mushroom cloud.

  • Must make for many lonely nights.

  • Scott Butki

    Just when I was really happy about all the great comments the trolls come back.

  • Barb

    Yes, Scott, men are absolutely dangerously attractive when they emote. I just wish the guy who writes this sensitive stuff would accept a real hug when he so obviously needs one. And I don’t think that’s taking anything away from being a human, male or female.
    Excellent writing, Sir.

  • Apologies to the author and commenters for not getting The Cleaners in sooner. Please carry on your chat…

  • Scott

    I admit I have this problem too. I have no problem shedding a tear when I am alone. However when I am with my wife the tear rarely breaks the crest of my eyelid. This despite the fact that my wife doesn’t have a problem with men crying.

    A couple of victories for me have been won however in the ever present battle against gender stereotyoing. I have been a massage therapist for eleven years now. I have also entered the field of nursing. Both these are female dominated. Men are often stereotyped as homosexual. This is no more true than in the general population.

    I can proudly say I am part of these great professions. I am a straight male and believe in equality for gay people. Anyhow I am starting to get off topic here. I felt I should mention these other points as they relate o your article. I just wanted to show that males can overcome the conditioning they have been subjected too.

  • Barb

    I was reviewing Duane’s excellent list and was reminded of this report:
    I once heard a nurse talk about giving immunizations to two children from the Middle East. The parents of the two little ones encouraged the girl to go first (to show the slightly older boy it would be OK, they said). She was younger. When she started to cry, the parents discouraged her natural reaction to the needle pain. When the boy’s turn came, he also cried, but the parents just comforted him, and let him cry. Are the girls expected to hide their pain in antipation of a harder life?
    Do those of us in Western society encourage just the opposite in our boys? And why? Do we anticipate greater pain for them?
    Tears are natural healing for everyone, aren’t they?

  • Scott Butki

    Thanks for all the excellent comments.

  • TrollBot

    Thanks for cleaning this up mods I appreciate it. I hope we dont hear from those pesky trollbots ever again. Now lets hug and cry together.

  • Uh, can you hold off till next week, when I get back so I can cum (excuse me) come over with my video camera?

  • Comments Editor: I must have posted after you cleaned up, I was just joining in the fun.

    Feel free to clean.


  • Scott Butki

    I accept all hugs except when I think they are meant to mean something else like forgiveness for inappropriate actions… then I’ll pause and withhold judgement.

  • Scott Butki

    Any others have trouble crying?

  • I washed my eyes naver cry the love dead longe time the remainder of the gemes of play of the wounded man and the woman the spirit the brains the heart without fears I believe that the only door of all the disease a woman or a man play of a sick victim

  • advise are the thoery of the love but the practice and in general very very different I to follow cry I cry for all the children who to die in the war I cry for all the children who to die without living I cry for all the children who to die disease badly I cry until one day to tear off the light of my eyes for No see evil in this world

  • No cry baby my heart + you heart = the light of beautiful a proper star very power which gave with you happiness the happy for me and for you and all

  • I am I true deep adorable and the faithful one which really know the problem of the eyes cry cry cry cry cry for you washed the evil in you heart I know that the evil of the others which make you cry I am sorry baby No like you cry

  • on the door of my paradie on on any flesh granted on my own spirit on my faithful heart Iwrites I cry for for susana bautista

  • Tito1223

    I think it is so RIDICULOUS to say men shouldnt cry. Hell would you say that any person or animal, even, should not have the right, or, should feel less than a person if they cry? Society as a mass has a very big judging problem(including myself on certain issues) God made us all with tear ducts to use to for health of eyes and mind. Things made you sad in life sometimes, you need to release the emotions, as a young BOY I should not have a mother or father tell me toughen up with a punch to the chest or anything of the sort. Its really abuse and brainwashing. Then Women wonder why they have MEN who cheat on them, lie to them or beat, them with no emotion. See a pattern here anywhere…….