I’m at the zoo with my son, and it’s the end of a long week because my three-year-old can’t keep his hands to himself in junior kindergarten. Every day, I drop him off and pick him up and hear from his teachers about how he threw a toy dinosaur or pushed a little girl off a slide. Matthew is not a bad kid. He’s a lover. He’s tiny and happy and cuddles with his big sister like a puppy. Still, when I heard about a kids cub run at the Toronto Zoo, out of my two kids, Matthew was not the child I thought I’d run with. Truth is, he can be a giant pain in the ass.
Nevertheless, here we stand at the starting line, both wearing our race shirts. We are ready. When the starting gun goes off, Matthew is paying attention. He jumps out quickly, not holding my hand, and races around the bends on the course as if he doesn’t need me—as if he were the biggest boy in the world.
My man crosses the finish line, and the feeling is huge. He’s beaming.
Like in a life insurance ad, I can suddenly see his potential. His path to success. I see the race director (the guy who hooked me up with our race shirts) and attempt to explain how thankful I am—and then I start to cry. In public. Not gigantic This Is Us whale sobs but the difficult-to-speak-with, choked-up guy version in which conversation is thwarted, and I can feel the tidal wave mounting behind my eyes. I wipe my face, say “You understand” and walk away. What the fuck? I never used to cry so easily. I could say goodbye to a girl at summer camp or visit my grandma at her old-age home and, right afterwards, get a cheeseburger and listen to Mötley Crüe. But ever since I’ve had kids, this is happening more and more.
And I’m not alone. When I look out into the world, I see men weeping everywhere: Obama, “feeler in chief,” addressing the nation after the Sandy Hook shooting, Gord Downie bawling onstage (and Trudeau tearing up after Downie died), Jimmy Kimmel shedding tears on late-night TV while recounting his newborn son’s brush with death. And while these are all pretty intense examples, I can’t imagine men in my father’s generation reacting the same way. Why are men falling apart? Or, more specifically, why do we start falling apart?
“Crying is power. It’s powerful. It shows ‘I don’t give a fuck what you think about me—I’m not going to hide how I feel,’” says Claudio Aprile in the back room of Copetin, a new restaurant he opened in Toronto. Aprile, 48, is a judge on MasterChef Canada and the father of two children. And while he was raised by women and didn’t know his dad, he believes public displays of male emotion are just one factor of softer masculine times. At chef school, Aprile was called a pussy when he wanted to take a break after a pot of boiling water scalded his hand. Later, after soaking up Europe, he returned to Toronto and ordered champagne around his Canadian friends. They called him a fag. It was a different time. “The old school way was very rigid for men—you needed to endure pain, be quiet and be macho. [There was] all of this conformity shit,” says Aprile. “I think that’s bullshit. It means you care what other people think, which isn’t masculine at all.”
In popular culture, masculinity has been veering toward sensitivity for some time: in sports (Kevin Durant’s MVP speech), in music (the not-braggy half of Drake’s oeuvre), and in public discourse (Jesse Wente talking cultural appropriation with Matt Galloway on CBC). Still, men have higher rates of suicide and more substance abuse issues than women, and, according to Dr. Robert Whitley, McGill University psychiatry professor and the principal investigator of the social psychiatry research group at Montreal’s Douglas Mental Health University Institute, crying could be doing men a disservice. “Some scholars argue that men in previous times were more resilient,” he says. “My father lived through a time when his life was under threat, and some would say that that generation—the so-called ‘greatest generation’—had better tools to adapt and survive, which the present generation lacks.”
Of course, plenty of men around the world live in conditions that rival the battlefields, and there’s no need to list the atrocities they face, from Mexico City to Syria to Myanmar to the Attawapiskat First Nation. In reference to my case, Dr. Whitley would likely suggest that without having my mettle tested, I’m less emotionally resilient than worldwide tough guys throughout history, fighting for their lives. At least some part of me, however, doesn’t want to be emotionally resilient and is even proud of being openly emotional. Maybe it helps me serve my family better. In fact, the trend toward losing it during Fruitvale Station or hearing Hayden cover The National is something I’ve witnessed first-hand in three generations of my family.
I was 12 years old the first time I saw a man cry. Riding in the back of a Lincoln to my grandfather’s funeral, I watched my dad unable to choke back his tears. In my memory, I can’t see anyone else in that car except my father and me. I remember him recounting his father’s final hours, swallowing short gasps, tears moistening his white beard.
“I never saw my father cry, not once,” my dad told me when, later, I asked him about how he was raised. My dad likes to say that he tries to be a better man than his father and that I’m a better man than him. I’m not sure if that has anything to do with crying—but maybe. Are sensitive men “better”? What are the criteria? How we raise our kids, treat our employees, treat our wives?
It’s hard to find comparative statistics on male violent behaviour in the past 100 years, but, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, between 1993 and 2005 there was a 19 per cent decrease in the total number of maltreated children and 68 per cent of maltreated children suffered at the hands of a female. It’s impossible to compare these numbers to figures from the 1950s or the 1920s, when the statistics weren’t collected and people were much less likely to speak out.
Still, on a global scale, since my grandfather’s and father’s times, we’ve had less war, more innovation, better environmental awareness, a black American president and LGBT elected government officials in every province but Nunavut. And, in October, Jagmeet Singh became the first member of a visible minority to lead a major federal political party in this country, wearing a bright pink turban when he was elected leader of the NDP.
Guys may cry more, but we seem to suck less.
Robert Henry teaches at the University of Calgary and works with Aboriginal gangs. To him, masculinity is a performance. Henry is a Métis from Prince Albert, Sask., and thinks Donald Trump and Alex Jones, Conor McGregor and Don Cherry are cartoon characters—performance artists succumbing to an outdated model of what used to appear as masculine strength.
“Stereotypical masculinity is about being afraid of not being in control,” Henry says. Crying is losing control, and being able to move past guilt, shame and anger toward acceptance, repentance and responsibility is a priority for improving men’s inner lives. “Rush Limbaugh says that men are under attack by feminism, but the truth is that men have always been under attack—we’re under attack from ourselves,” says Henry.
Six years ago my daughter was born, and I remember, when she was two weeks old, crying for the first time in front of my wife, Julie. I had no experience with children, knew nothing about kids or marriage or home ownership—life. We were in my daughter’s bedroom, and I was configuring a onesie around her little arms. Julie was correcting me, and I was so pensive, so tentative, so repressed—so afraid of doing something wrong—that I lost it. My emotions were a surprise to me—crying because I didn’t have the words to say I was scared. Tears fell, and Julie was taken aback. I hadn’t told her I was drowning. But then, when I couldn’t hide anymore, she understood and we hugged for a long time in front of my little girl.
Crying as a man—especially in public—is bizarre. It still gets attention: less now than in my father’s day and much less than in the time of his dad. But the rush of endorphins is still not quite something I can wrap my head around.
Matthew and I walked to school with Esme, my six-year-old, the day after our zoo run. He played with his sister’s friends before her bell rang, and then he and I walked to his side of the school. The boys were jumping off a ledge and trying to twist. My man got in line with the other roughnecks and waited for his turn. I smiled. No tears.
How do we brace ourselves for the future? I want to be honest. And, like my dad, I want my son to be a better man than I am. That probably means letting go of some fears.
It’s Matthew’s turn at the ledge. I watch him jump out like a king in the air.