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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