I’ve been thinking a lot lately about men crying. The subject almost brings a tear to my eye.
Yesterday was the 48th anniversary of one of the saddest days in recent American history, the assassination of the 36th President of the United States, John F. Kennedy. I was only 9 years old at the time, but I still can tell you what everyone else can, that I remember exactly where I was when I heard the news that he was pronounced dead in Dallas.
I found a book on my shelf, one of those cheapie bargain books at under $6.00 (with an audio CD yet!), called “President Kennedy Has Been Shot: The Inside Story of the Murder of a President.” I took a bag of sunflower seeds, plopped myself into my big red recliner, and got ready to immerse myself into what I seem to remember with vivid detail. I didn’t read every word of the book, but one theme presented itself again and again, having little to do with what actually happened, more to do with how professionals on the air reacted as they reported live and raw events on television and radio. Was it okay to cry on the air?
Several references in the book quoted various on-air personalities who invoked the accepted rule: never cry on the air. They were teetering on the edge during a live report, knowing they might lose it, and if they did, they report feeling guilty about crying in front of millions of people. Even worse, they were embarrassed to come across as unprofessional. Just about all of the quotes were from men.
What, I ask you, is wrong with a man crying on the air, especially at a time of such magnitude and emotion? Here was the youngest President ever elected in the United States – youthful, handsome, travelling with his wife Jackie who was an instant hit everywhere they went – murdered in the prime of his life. Every on-air personality that day was reporting about something so sudden, so vicious, so unbelievable in those days (this was before Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy)….it wasn’t like crying because a favorite team lost in the NCAA or the local city solicitor lost an election. This assassination was chilling, mind-numbing, terrifying, and emotionally unnerving for the viewer and listener, not to mention those who had to report on it live. Who could fault anyone for crying that day? Besides the shock of it all, our nation instantly became vulnerable on so many levels, and at the heart of it, our President, who spoke comfortably and amiably at a rally in Fort Worth the morning of that fateful motorcade, was now in a coffin.
And grown men were worried about crying on the air and displaying their emotions. They could have used lessons from biblical figures like Abraham and Joseph.
After Abraham’s wife Sarah passes away (Genesis 20:2), the Torah records that he goes to Chevron, where she died, “to eulogize her and to cry for her.” Abraham was not worried about “losing it.” Abraham’s great-grandson Joseph, who rose to power and became second in command to the Egyptian Pharaoh, cries no less than a dozen times when he is reunited with his brothers (Genesis 42-46).
This past week at the Iowa Forum, where GOP frontrunners in the upcoming American elections got together to talk about issues, there were times where the telling of personal stories became very emotional. This “Thanksgiving Family Forum” in Iowa quickly became a forum on family, values and faith, and when the male candidates spoke about seminal emotional times in their lives, they had to work hard to fight backs tears, or just openly cried.
But I ask, why the fight? Why do we think that crying openly about emotional things diminishes a man? Why is it that women’s crying is easily understood and often met with sympathy, while men’s crying is a sign of weakness and often deemed pathetic and judged unkindly?
In my rabbinic career spanning 25 years, it wasn’t just once when I saw grown children at the funeral of their deceased mother, telling their father that he should stop crying. “C’mon, dad, you need to stop,” I would hear. Why does dad need to stop? Did he lose a button or his car keys and he’s over-reacting? When else should he pour his heart out, even loudly wailing during the funeral, if not at the funeral of his wife? “C’mon, pop, it’s enough already,” I would hear faintly from my seat on the podium.
Let’s give men the emotional outlet they need, just like everyone else. Let’s give them room to vent their deepest feelings in the way we all do. Let them be human.
I say let ‘em weep, for crying out loud.