March 14, 2009


Deep down inside

Through the years I’ve held enough sweaty jobs and taken up enough interests to be considered a man’s man. From being paid for delivering mail and welding steel to acquiring basic knowledge of auto and home maintenance and taking four-night backpacking treks, you could say I’m comfortable in my masculinity. But I’m not averse to busting through the male “I am a rock” stereotype - there are at least a few things that can get me feeling a little fahrklempt.

The sure bets are probably quite common to most people, yea even the most grizzled boilermaker. Things for which I can regularly lose it include kids with cancer or a flag-draped casket, especially at the point when the honor guard hands the impeccably folded flag to the widow or mother. Lower on the emotional intensity list might be an animal in pain (dogs are a personal hook) or perhaps a homeless person walking into a howling January wind. The feeling of senselessness slams against the impulse to avoid tears, and whether I’ll end up drying an eye or not is a toss-up.

Being subject to these feelings that make for a welling up or a full sob does not usually trouble me, though I admit to suppressing it in public like most men do. This may not be so much to save face as it is to prevent embarrassing others. The poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti aptly described this in one of his poems, where bystanders viewed the victim of an auto accident with “throats as tight as tourniquets.”

These things put our emotional strength to the test, often transcending us from sorrow into anger when considerations about the possible circumstances are put in the mix. For those of spiritual inclination the question “why?” can crop up, with reactions and rationalizations as varied as the people who ask. A serious pursuit of any of those whys goes beyond the scope I’ve intended here.

So now consider the purpose of sorrow as a cleansing agent. I have to admit that a good cry really feels “good” in the sense that letting it all out is often a very necessary release to maintain sanity. I think of it along the lines of “I can see clearly now the rain is gone.”

Crying can also provide a preparation of sorts. In the loss of my sister to cancer the tears came but twice – at news of her diagnosis and again at her death. The six weeks from one to the other, while obviously not “enough,” still afforded a mental preparation that expedited me through the familiar seven stages of grief, ending with acceptance.

And while some may find it odd or inappropriate, the grief was even more intense at the passing of my dog of 17 years. I’m certain this was because I saw him frequently every single day leading up to the (long procrastinated) appointed time. Each of those days I would take time to lie next to him, and invariably I would sob.

With the likelihood that there are not many years left until my aging parents pass on, I wonder what the experience will bring. At this point I suppose if my folks pass peacefully I might feel emotionally unencumbered by sorrow, knowing they lived a full life. But there’s no guarantee of the absence of waterworks. And even in the simplicity of one’s final day, evoked by the words of one of my favorite blues songs, I can find reason to both smile and sob:

See here how everything lead up to this day
And it’s just like any other day that’s ever been
Sun going up and then
The sun it going down
Shine through my window
And my friends they come around

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Got no problem with crying, should the feeling arise, but it isn't often. I still get misty when I remember my old dog, head in my lap, confused by his final days. I wonder about my parents, though. They divorced when I was four and decided to let the other one parent, so I still carry an inappropriate anger at their neglect, sharpened I guess by the experience of not neglecting my own. So will I cry? Yeah, but I expect a certain relief, maybe even the lifting of a burden; a sort of joy that is still another emotion to suppress.
The older I get, the more I tear up at silly stuff like movies and music. I am usually alone when this happens, especially in the car.
When your parents die, it WILL be a defining moment i your life. Like the birth of your boy, it will create a line separating everything into "before" and "since".
Real men do cry when the situation calls for it. They don't have to prove they are men. That's for guys in their 20's who've seen too many Rambo movies.

Besides, chicks dig it...
Oh yeah, I forgot. When my yellow lab, Gus, died after 18 years I cried as much as when Dad passed away.
But I don't think of him as often as I do of Dad, which is everyday.
The older one gets, the easier the tears come. That's what I have noticed. When we put our Sunny cat down a couple years ago, my beloved wept as I had never seen him weep before. Boys do cry, thankfully.

Larry Ferlinghetti! You are speaking my lingo. Have been rereading Big Sur, and wondering whether the cabin still exists. Also, way to put "Pedro Negro" lyrics to good use. And... I am sending you a facebook request, if you dare!
As I read this post, I realized that I do the same thing with tears and sobs that I do when I need to throw up. I fight it. I try to hold it back. And it's just silly because after, I usually feel better, at least for a little while.
I cry more since becoming a parent, easily. I was on a week-long business trip recently and after Skyping with Sammy for a bit, we hung up and I sat in my hotel room and couldn't help but cry. Not sob, but valid tears. Certain reminders of my dad (who died 6-1/2 years ago) can still make me well up. And I agree, when it's over, I feel better. Cleansed.
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