It’s Okay for Men to Cry

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Even as I write that title, something within me questions its truth. Is it really acceptable for men to cry?

American culture has told me and countless other boys and young men that crying is not manly. Men are supposed to be tough. Crying is for wimps who can’t take the pain. Caring enough to cry — whether out of sadness, joy, or pain — is associated with femininity, weakness.

I think back on my role models growing up and what it meant for each to be a man. I don’t remember seeing my dad or any of the other men in my family cry, unless they were tears from laughing.

Pastors and youth leaders never spoke on crying, emotions, or vulnerability.  The message was always: God will meet you and strengthen you. Stay strong. Pray and praise, even in tough times.

But what about crying? What about my hyper-awareness of my brokenness and the need to connect emotionally with others?

Look at how strong our “heroes” are portrayed. Society often pushes men to be tough — resilient, powerful, and even violent, if needed. Any sign of weakness may mean less respect or credibility as a “real man.”

But I think there’s a way to show authenticity, vulnerability, and strength — strength as different from “toughness,” allowing for sturdiness amidst emotions.

Whether it’s acceptable for men to cry has been on my mind, because I recently volunteered at a camp for foster teens. The first week I was a counselor for some middle school boys. Aside from some thick walls and a few outbursts, I often forgot about their broken pasts or presents.

At staff dinner after camp, adults shared stories from the week. As I heard snippets of the stories, my heart broke. But no tears came. I listened and watched as the college “jock” and the 6’4″ father of two shared their week’s stories with the kids through tears.

These manly men were openly crying.

I gladly volunteered for a second week of foster camp, high school co-ed, and I was in charge of taking photos. While I didn’t interact much with these teens, I saw the change in their faces: the way they related to each other and staff at meals and large group times.

As I read these students’ dreams, I felt tears forming in my eyes. At the staff dinner, the camp director cried. As staff shared even deeper stories from their lives and the teens’ lives, a few tears emerged from my own eyes.

With such openness around me, why was I still struggling to cry?  With such emotional, authentic experiences, why wouldn’t the tears flow?

I don’t know the answer.

It likely has to do with years of trying to hold back tears. Fighting my emotions in order to appear strong.

I don’t know the medical or psychological jargon, but I have to believe that crying is healthy. The times I have cried, I’ve seen a strong connection to healing as well.

Having seen “real men” cry and strong men caring deeply, maybe I’ll be able to move forward more boldly and authentically with my emotions.

How often do you cry publicly? Have you ever seen other men cry in your presence? Were you ever taught — explicitly or implicitly — that it’s not okay for men to cry?

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  • Jeff Brady

    It’s about self control in the face of a hysterical situation. There is a time and a place for tears. Knowing when is what separates the men from the little boys.

    • Kevin Zimmerman

      Yeah Jeff, I think I’m in the place of learning how to better express my emotions. There are definitely times when tears may not be appropriate, but also… what happens when/if I become completely overwhelmed? Maybe that is an opportunity for people to connect, support, cry alongside? (thinking as I type…..)

      • Jeff Brady

        If you’re crying due to stress or pressure, then grow up. If you’re crying because someone just came to Christ, you read John 13 or watched “Old Yeller” or “Shane”, all is good

        • Jeff. Seriously? I wept when I lost my car. And when I left my job of the last year and a half. Am I a little boy? Please don’t paint masculinity with such broad strokes.

          • Jeff Brady

            It’s not about being masculine. It’s about being grown up
            Grief and joy are times for weeping. Stress and pressure are not. Suck it up buttercup, especially when you make the decisions that cause the problem. Imho

          • Ouch. I’m glad you’re not my friend. Surely there’s room on this planet for sensitive guys like me to cry over cars and sunsets.

          • Jeff Brady

            Sorry I’m late in responding. You made me cry. Seriously though, I don’t think you are understanding what I am saying and maybe I’m not saying it correctly. There is room on the planet for those that weep for joy at a sunset and those that weep because they are saying goodbye to friends at a job they just quit. Losing the car? I don’t know how one loses a car, but that’s what insurance is for and weeping won’t change the facts of that situation.

            Tom, I used to be a very sensitive person, but I killed most of that in my battle with SSA. I would have been in a mental hospital if I allowed myself to break down everytime I got depressed or tempted with desire or when I lost my battle for eighteen months in late 1970’s.

            I took care of my Dad who had Alzheimer’s. I did it for 5 years and 8 months, knowing he was never going to get better and that the disease would kill him if old age did not. I did it because there was no one else to do it and while I did not particularly like him, I did love him…he was my Dad after all. Doing that was the most frustrating thing I have ever experienced. I wanted to cry, I wanted to scream sometimes, I just wanted to be free of it. But you know what? I had a job to do and crying about it was not going to help me, Dad or anyone else.

            I finally became free of it on January 30th, 2017. I preached the funeral on February 4th.

            If you’re still not understanding me, all I can say is that you probably will in 30 years.

            BTW…’suck it up buttercup’ is a common expression around these parts. It basically means that just because life is a bit tough now and then, it still has to be lived and wallowing in a pool of emotion will not make it any easier. I know that’s true from 1st hand experience.

            I love you Tom. Take care.

          • Thanks for sharing your story and sentiments, Jeff; we must have vastly opposing personalities. You say that sensitivity is something to be killed? I couldn’t disagree more. It’s not about constantly “breaking down” — it’s about connection and release. My sensitivity makes me who I am, draws me to other people and our shared emotions. Crying has often allowed me to move on from something, not wallow deeper in it. My car finally broke down after ten years of life from coast to coast and all over the road, my home on wheels and truly one of the most faithful companions I’ve ever had. I wept in the junkyard letting her go, and looking back, I’m so glad I did. My violent tears showed that that car meant something, that it was more than “just a car” to me. I don’t care if anyone else understands (though I know many who do). Hearing you tell me to “suck it up” is akin to someone telling me to “quit being gay” or “just date a woman already.” But you can’t turn off who you are, and I’d never want to lose my sensitive side anyway. Again, please don’t paint masculinity with such broad strokes. It’s okay to cry. It’s okay to cry a lot if you’re more wired that way. I’d take a friend who lets me cry with him about my car over someone telling me to “suck it up.” I’m glad to have those kinds of manly friends in my life.

          • mike

            I find that in the times of my tears Jesus is the closest. Because, because only He understands me then. No other human can feel my hurt in those times when I can only live until I’m alive again!

          • Jeff Brady

            You’re right about our personality types. I am an INTJ , enneagram type 1. I do not know if that helps you understand me better, but it’s how I test. It’s probably accurate. If you read up on type 1’s, I think our discussion will fall into place for you. It is not easy being me and crying about it does not help.

          • mike

            Are not personality types fluid and not fixed? It is not easy being any of us! Me in the flesh you would not like. Before I met Jesus my hero was Mr. Spock of Star Trek fame. Mr. Spock for sure did not cry and nor did I. Yet, here I am today changed by the Spirit and I cry. But not without self control nor do I cry over spilled milk. Yet, there is a “time to weep” which no doubt is different for each of us as surely as we are all still unique.
            So, brothers be of one mind and come together.

          • Jeff Brady

            There is a time to weep. I said as much, but I have been mischaracterized by someone that would prefer to be offended
            So be it. And, no, the enneagram is pretty much set in stone. I am a type one. I do not belong here with the special snowflakes. They melt in my presence

          • mike

            Personality is a combination of character and temperament. The former is nurture and the latter innate. Yet, personality is changeable especially so by the Spirit. For there is no such thing as a grumpy old man (talking about generic ones), but it’s a fact that we mellow with age. We become more sensitive, more tolerant of others, and as followers of Christ much more!
            I’ve offended Tom (a number of times) and had to back up. Do email him privately and clear this up. You do belong here, but no ‘snowflakes’. It’s summer :).

          • Jeff Brady

            there is nothing to clear up. he needs to grow up. he will see what i am talking about in time. maybe when he is 40, he will grock what i am saying, maybe not. if you want to talk, email me at staelred001.com. i will get to you when i can.

  • Dean Samuels

    I was taught that men shouldn’t cry but I was also taught I wasn’t a man, so… I cry often. And in public at times. And I’m not ashamed of it. Why should I be ashamed of feeling pain? It’s human. Even Jesus felt pain and cried. Why should I believe that I have to be “above” that? Thank you for this post, brother!

  • I hate the aspect of American culture, that a real man doesn’t cry. I even held most of my tears in for many years, not even allowing myself to grieve over the death of my best friend. It wasn’t ‘manly’. I recently watched the movie “Superman” (the one from 1978). One of the most poignant scenes was near the end when he found Lois Lane dead. He wept over her death; this from the strongest, most powerful man in the world. This should be an example to us all. God gave us the full range of emotions, including crying and tears. We should use them, John Wayne be damned.

    • george

      Same is in almost every culture.

  • mike

    I love how Psalm 56:8 gives me permission for my crying: “You keep track of all my sorrows.You have collected all my tears in your bottle.You have recorded each one in your book.” He cares about my crying. That’s affirming!
    I lost it at a wedding last week. My best friend wasn’t there to see his son get married. Died of cancer a while ago. I lost it at the church ceremony and the reception. Crying at a wedding shouldn’t be. Yet, it wasn’t just tears of sadness but of joy also. Joy at seeing how well it turned out for the son. God looked after him…
    For years I didn’t cry. I decided I wasn’t going to hurt anymore. Now I cry often. Mostly, in church! But it’s tears of joy there as the Spirit reminds of God’s Presence, comfort, and care.
    Yeh, real men cry, you bet like Jesus did. Thanks for this reminder.

    • Kevin Zimmerman

      Yes Mike! The Psalms have been a great place for me to understand that ALL emotions are worth it! For tears, my go to passages have been Psalm 42:3-4 “pouring out my soul” just makes me feel like I can say/feel anything and bring it to God. And then Psalm 51:17 – “the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart….” Yes, tears are good.

      • mike

        Thank the Lord for the Psalms :).
        Raw emotions expressed by real men of God! You too Kevin are such a one and God is pleased. That’s for sure!

  • george

    It is individual. Not only SSA people cry. There are osa men who have soft heart, they cry when they see emotional movie, or a struggling child, woman, or man. Crying is a part of us human beings. There are women , who never cry. I try to not show my tears when public.

  • Brandon Graves

    I cry, but I don’t like to do so in public because I am intensely private individual and prefer to deal with my emotions by myself. Growing up, the only people I saw cry in public were all men. It wasn’t until I graduated from college that I met a man who was unashamed to cry. Yet another interesting aspect of the struggles we face as SSA individuals, thank you for sharing.

  • Fred

    Maybe it’s where I live (suburban south) but I don’t think anyone around me cares if men cry or not, as long as what they’re crying about is serious and not a temper tantrum.

  • Luís Felipe

    When I was 15 years old or so, I’d often cry alone in my bedroom. Trying to mute any sound, I would put my face into the pillow and try not to make a sound. I kept thinking if no one could hear me, then no one would think I was a weak little boy. This went on for quite long, until my sessions with a therapist. When I was openly talking about my problems with someone, tears would often surface. I would let go of any prejudice and just cry. This made me learn a couple of things: holding back tears is sometimes more harmful than crying, and if you cry, you can give closure to the moment or feeling.
    I feel happy for the new generation. Cultural differences aside (I’m brazilian), I think kids are more and more acknowlegding that men DO cry, and it is totally fine. We’ve been taught a lot (implicitly) about what a real man is supposed (or in this case, not supposed) to do, but some barriers are finally breaking down.

    • I’m encouraged for the new generation, too, Luis. Hoping that boys today have a better shot at authenticity and empathy than boys from even a decade ago. Thanks for sharing your story!

  • D M

    Great story, thanks for sharing Kevin. There are times in my life where I wish I would cry but can’t seem to make myself do so. I feel the weight of something and I know that crying would be therapeutic, but my heart doesn’t seem tender enough to have the freedom to cry.

    There’s a very elderly man (turned 90 not too long ago) at my church whose mental state is sometimes quite good and other times seems to be not as good. But one thing that has struck me is that he now seems to cry easily, even when I don’t understand the reason. I don’t think it’s because he’s sad but I think it’s because he is a tender and grateful man.

    • Kevin Zimmerman

      Yeah. Those moments when I REALLY want to cry but it just doesn’t happen. And thinking on some of the times I’ve cried, they really have been therapeutic. Praying that we both would have softer? hearts and tearducts that flow a little more easily!

  • Joseph Tanel

    I hardly cry publicly, sadly, I want to be able to cry for some things but I learned that crying was weak and womanly and was told (in a sense) to avoid it because I am a man. But I realize now that crying isn’t womanly and weak, it shows affection, vulnerability, sometimes love, and I hold those things as important traits that a man should have. I believe that a man should be able to cry and that their is no shame in doing so.

    • C. Marque

      I know what you mean when you say that you want to cry for some things. And yet, things I don’t feel like I need to cry about… I just have no control over my tear ducts sometimes! 🙂

      • Joseph Tanel

        Exactly! I can’t control when I cry sometimes.

  • Alan Gingery

    Hi Kevin!

    I have been crying publically for a long time now without any shame. But I think when I was younger, I tried to suppress it for the obvious reasons that our culture (and many others) think crying is a sign of weakness: not manly.

    I also learned to stop hiding my emotions. All my emotions are God given. None of them are bad. How we handle our emotions can be good or bad, but that is our response to our emotions, not the emotions themselves.

    Scripture tells us Jesus was angry when men sinned against God or showed their hypocrisy, Jesus loved other men and He cried when his friend died. If showing your emotions is good enough for Jesus, I won’t try to stuff my emotions or hide them.

    I cry during private and public worship often. I cry when I am moved by something! It is my emotional response and I have no shame about it.

    • Kevin Zimmerman

      Yes Alan! This is what I am working towards….letting my emotions out in healthy ways.

      And man, a good cry can make me feel so much better.