All Men Cry
I’m a bit of a crier. Always have been. I cried just the other week.
I was watching the finale of the latest season of Last Chance U (spoiler alert).
I’d spent eight episodes getting to know the troubled, sometimes traumatized, but infinitely likeable young East Los Angeles College athletes. Having witnessed them suffer the trials and tribulations of making it to the state championship, only for the pandemic to take away their shot at the final?
Cue the waterworks.
I’m not talking a single tear gracefully streaking down my cheek as if I were Scipio Aemilianus, the Roman general who oversaw the sack of Carthage — I had a proper cry.
Why was I crying? Because of the inequality such young men face, all but forced into a life of disadvantage by a historically racist society. Coach Mosely spent the entire season trying to make this point: basketball is the only way out for most of these guys. Even if they do make it, their athletic talent is frequently exploited. As the star of the show, Joe Hampton can attest, the uncaring capitalist machine of pro sports can spit you out fast as it chews you up.
Once my tears had dried, I texted my good friend Will and told him about my reaction to the finale.
I’ve known Will for a long time. We’ve been good friends since Secondary School. He was the one who put me onto the show, which is why I texted him.
Depending on how rad you are, it may or may not surprise you that I would speak so openly with another man about my emotions—someone who would probably be surprised, though, is my second-grade Primary School teacher.
You see, he was a man's man.
The type of guy I imagine it’d be quite fun to watch the football with, sinking a pint (or twelve) down the pub.
So why would my interaction with Will have surprised him? Well, if you recall, I began this article by saying I’ve always been a bit of a crier.
Primary School was no exception.
During one parent-teacher conference, this teacher sat down with my mum. He told her:
“Aston? He’s a great kid, but you have to get him to stop crying — the other boys at Secondary School will eat him alive if you don’t.”
Now, don’t get me wrong. The social stigma around crying as an act in itself does have merit. Kids cry all the time, and they need to learn that it’s not always an appropriate response. But it is my teacher’s decision to bring gender into the discussion that, I think, is quite telling.
To her credit, my Mum never told me about this interaction until I was much older. But now it makes me wonder — what if?
What if she’d passed along this advice and it was something I internalized? What if I began to compartmentalize my emotions, never letting them bubble to the surface?
What if, after having been made a thrall of depression (as I was during my time at university), these suppressed emotions would have pushed me into making a choice I wouldn't have lived to regret?
The greatest gift my parents ever gave me (and they’ve given me plenty) is the capacity to express myself emotionally.
It’s been an ethos I’ve carried with me my entire life.
I’ve never felt much shame when I’ve cried. Sometimes life can get a bit much, and I find great solace in being able to ‘let it all out’ so to speak. This isn’t to say I regularly allow my emotions to overwhelm me. But when they do, each tear is a learning opportunity — one that helps me draw a new baseline from which to build myself back up, better for the experience. It makes me feel alive, attuned to my own humanity.
The real catharsis, though, has always been my ability to open up about these emotions. Not just with my family, but with my mates too. Whether it was during my first break up or the aforementioned university dark days when I had my only foray into anti-depressants, ‘the boys’ have always been there. I never hid how I was feeling. And wouldn’t you know it — none of them cared.
It pains me to say it, but there are plenty of men who view this kind of emotional expression as weakness — as something to be derided. For every group of mates like mine, there are the lads who pointed and laughed at me when I cried during an argument with my ex-girlfriend on holiday. For every Will, there is my old colleague who consoled me when I was upset on a work night out, only to go behind my back and warn some mutual friends I was about to visit not to take me out because of ‘how I might react’.
A lot of men struggle deeply with opening up to anyone, let alone other men. Our culture beats into us the understanding that ‘being a man’ means not showing any vulnerability. We fear being judged as feeble by other men, unattractive by those we desire, and unfit by society. It’s this fear which drives some men to ridicule one another when these emotions surface.
On multiple occasions, I’ve been approached by male friends who are themselves struggling. They’re aware of my battle with depression and have sought a judgment-free voice to discuss their own, as well as to enquire about my experience with anti-depressants.
At first, these conversations always have an air of cloak and dagger, of being something discreetly engaged in. Inevitably, they end in a long-form discussion about the issues I’m outlining right here.
Some of these friends are now doing great; others are still struggling.
I’d like to think that I helped in some small way. I’d like for them to feel better. But depression is a very lonely, all-consuming experience — one that’s hard to shake.
Regardless, I hope they know that mine is always a shoulder to cry on.
The real question is: why are these kinds of interactions so rare?
I’m a middle-class white male.
Each part of that sentence is a separate line on a winning lottery ticket. One I was able to cash the moment I was born.
I’ve never known true hunger. I’ve never been subjugated to racial hatred. I’ve never been sexually harassed. I am incredibly lucky.
So it can feel quite socially repugnant to address feelings of inadequacy when, in contrast, you’re surrounded by such strife. Even when men are victims of these circumstances, we’re conditioned to view such struggles as the natural burden of manhood.
To even acknowledge their weight is akin to failing your masculine responsibility.
So we internalize our sorrow. We feel isolated, unable to properly verbalize our pain. Too often, this can drive men towards taking their own life (men are 3.5x more likely to commit suicide than women in the USA).
The worst-case scenario is that these feelings can fester into a rage response. It becomes about the male ego —the archvillain of almost every global conflict.
Sad, lonely men will see a BLM protest or the response to Sarah Evard’s death, and they say, “but what about my pain? Why is no one acknowledging it?”
And so begins the lashing out.
They attempt to rid themselves of their feelings of isolation, rallying behind strawman arguments like #AllLivesMatter or #NotAllMen, scoffing at the very thought that they should #BelieveAllWomen. They become narcissistic in their pain, unwilling or unable to acknowledge the immense social trauma that is heaped upon anyone but themselves.
There is, of course, no excuse for this kind of behavior — it’s emotional ignorance at its worst. But that doesn’t mean the hurt which causes it shouldn’t be addressed. Men need to accept their own pain as valid, and the only viable place for this process to begin is with other men.
When a boy of ancient Rome was said to have reached adulthood, he discarded his toga bulla — the garb of a child — and assumed the mantle of a toga virilis. This ceremony signified becoming a man and a full Roman citizen. Roman citizenship was a privilege but with it came the responsibility of defending the eternal city and its empire.
Indeed, the Romans believed a combination of spiritual rituals mixed with martial doctrine was key to integrating a mature man into society.
The study of the great Greek philosophers also played a major part in developing their guiding principles, right up until Constantine spread Christianity across the empire. Monotheism began to subsume philosophy’s primary place as an ethical guide.
Times have now changed. Religious moral doctrine has been eroded by secularism. Spirituality is widely mocked in an age of hyper-information. Philosophical study is siloed in the realm of academics.
The ancient Romans had their moments, but they were also the kind of people who kept hunchbacks as pets, so I wouldn’t necessarily idolize them as masters of the mature masculine. Equally, I’m not sure organized religion or imperial conquest are the right vehicles to rally behind in the pursuit of such ends.
But I think the case can be made that it’s the lack of spiritual and moral guidance that sends humanity into a sociological spiral.
Now that it seems our only goal is to make money with a capital fuck you, who do men have to look up to?
An Ultra-rich, ultra-white capitalist who, in-between pumping shitcoins and posting hate-tweets, wants to take us to Mars — but could perhaps better spend his wealth addressing the very real issues here on earth.
The idolization of such men functions to perpetuate immature masculinity. You either mold your behavior to fit in or risk isolating yourself from the men who do. Unfortunately, the zeitgeist is in no state to reject such false idols whilst our collective pursuit of hedonistic wealth is in the driving seat.
In such a highly individualized society, the solution is thus two-fold.
Firstly, from a doctrine perspective, men need to educate themselves emotionally. Not motivated by some self-serving, ego-driven notion of attaining token ‘woke’ status— but to the end of building as broad a range as possible of authentic, deeply human empathy for all. This helps create a validated definition of what it means to be a man in a very personal sense.
Secondly, we need to start being more open with each other—fathers with sons, bros with the boys. The modern tribe performs its rituals in the lad's group chat; this is where mature conversations need to begin.
To be open here is to be vulnerable. We expose ourselves and feel weak in doing so. We put our male ego on the line, which can cause us a great deal of anxiety.
But the ultimate irony of this fear is that only through acknowledging our vulnerability and learning from the experience do we become stronger.
Having your voice heard, being seen, and feeling understood — these are the best teachers when learning to cope with fear.
Pound a few quad-vodkas; we’re all quick on the draw when it comes to telling the lads we love them.
Now let’s try doing it without the inevitable hangover.
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