I think the trouble with me and crying started when I was in drug treatment, at 16. There in the adolescent chemical dependency unit in St. Luke’s Medical Center in Cleveland, crying was a currency, the coin of the realm. Crying showed the counselors you were remorseful, you were facing consequences square.
So of course I wanted to cry, so I could get the hell out of there as soon as possible. Not to go back to drugs, but back to high school.
It was just that I couldn’t cry. I couldn’t during the seven-day evaluation, so they put me in the 28-day locked ward. I couldn’t in there—except one time in group therapy when I faked a crying fit to the extent that I bloodied my knuckles punching a corduroy “disease pillow..” (Really? Corduroy?) They saw through that, though, and packed me off to a 90-day program in Sioux City. There, the premium on crying wasn’t so high. I demonstrated authenticity by telling them I thought I might be gay.
I cried when my mom died, when I was in college—but not until the next day, when I called my girlfriend, and told her. And not again, that I can remember, until a few drunken evenings much later in my twenties when I got sentimental.
Most young men I know just don’t cry very much. I started crying frequently in my thirties, when I had a kid. Having a kid loosens Dad’s tear ducts just as sure as it loosens Mom’s urethra. So does age in general. I probably cried once a year in my twenties, then once a month in my thirties. Misted up near-daily in my forties, usually at some fucking Procter & Gamble video, about Christmas.
For a long time I was proud to be crying all the time. It felt like a rebuke to those crazy assholes at the hospital, who had made me doubt my own heart. Crying made me feel like a real boy.
Still, crying doesn’t come in life as reliably as in Hallmark movies. When I felt I needed to cry in the weeks after my dad died, I would watch this, which worked just like pornography.
I think I cry a little less frequently, now in my fifties. But more uncontrollably maybe. I watched A River Runs Through It a year or so ago for the first time in a long time. Oh, boy. It’s one thing to cry during a movie—I leak slowly and steadily throughout Father of the Bride, like a Triumph motorcycle engine—but it’s another thing to cry after a movie—for an hour.
Booze certainly makes me more likely to cry. But not in a bad way, not in that alcoholic, self-pitying way. In a loving way. I get drunk and tell my best friend how I love him. Wassamatter with that? (And luckily, he’s no one to talk. He cries at card tricks, and supermarket openings.)
[If I’m ever pulled over for suspicion of drunk driving, the coppers should not bother having me walk a straight line or blow into a machine. They need only to make me read aloud Charles Bukowski’s poem, “Bluebird.” If I am sober, I can read that poem straight. If I am buzzed, I choke up a little when it says, “I know that you’re in there, don’t be sad.” If I am drunk, I will break down into sobs upon reading the title, put my hands up against the patrol car and ask to be taken straight to jail.]
I’ll watch meaningless professional golf tournaments, rooting for the player most likely to cry during the interview at the end.
When I was a kid, it was a big deal to reward men for crying. Phil Donohue was a big advocate of men crying. But as I remember it, Phil Donohue didn’t cry very much on the show.
These days, I don’t know what crying means, for men or for women. I tell my daughter not to feel bad if she doesn’t cry when somebody dies, for example. I tell her that sometimes when somebody dies, it’s too big for crying (if the sun went out tomorrow afternoon, would you cry?). I tell her whatever she feels is okay, and that crying at a wake is not the only way to measure the depth of your feeling.
The most reliable way is, showing up to the wake in the first place.