One attribute that defines American manliness is a lack of crying. Real men can take on significant emotional distress or happiness with complete control over their tear ducts. Our movies and culture have developed a knee jerk response to crying that can be seen on every t-ball field across this great land as fathers inform their unstable Nancy-boy sons, “There’s no crying in baseball!”
If this is the measure by which a man is defined…I clearly miss the mark.
It was the evening of December 27, 1997; the day of my wedding. I had spent the morning entertaining my friends and family with some of my best material. This was a thinly masked attempt at acting like I was not been completely shaken to the core with nervous emotions. Based on the fact that I am the most romantic person is the world (and a considerable lack of funds) we decided that a very simple candle lit wedding would be perfect. This necessitated an evening wedding and placed everyone in a bit of time crunch for what might be done after the ceremony. It made sense to abandon tradition and get the photographs completed before the vows. I was positioned up front and told that they were going to bring Suzy into the room. Wow, just being told that changed my heart rate. She rounded the corner with a flurry of women around her keeping her vale, dress, and once in a life time hair and makeup in order as she navigated the pews. When I saw her face, I could hear the glass shell of my manly soul begin to crack. My bottom lip shot out and began to announce that an ugly cry was on its way. Suddenly, like a linebacker, my mother lurched at me, grabbed me by the shoulders and spun me around. With laser-like precision she looked through my pre-wetted eyeballs into the logic core of my brain and said with the veracity of a military captain on the field of battle, “You pull yourself together! If you cry, she will cry and you will mess up her makeup! Get a hold of your self, right now.” As the preverbal pee drained off my knobby knees (that approach was a little less tender than expected and shocked me just a bit), I knew that she was right. Somehow, as I stood with the most wonderful person I had every imagined in my arms, I did not cry during the photo shoot. She was whisked out of the room and I was free to go back to being myself. After some choice Jerry Lee Lewis poses at the piano and awkward moments with friends and family I hadn’t seen since my kindergarten graduation, I was told to go back and wait to be paged for my entry. There we were, sitting in the back room, my brother, a couple of my buddies, and the pastor. I was cool, like James Bond cool, in my long tailed tux chillin’ like it didn’t matter. Then someone stuck their head in the room and said, “it’s time.” In an instant, an emotional shock wave ravaged every pore of my body, and like the involuntary heave of a stomach flu, I began to sob uncontrollably. This goes down in history as the ugliest snot-bubble-chin drool-cry I have ever manufactured. Evidently, my love for this woman was deep…so deep that it completely neutered any semblance of my inner Chuck Norris, relegating me to Spanish daytime soap opera status. Thankfully, VHS has been nearly, complexly phased out of existence. Because, there is a candlelit video out there that is extremely painful to watch as I continued to cry through my entire wedding, offering slight respites when I tried to talk, with the high pitched whine and crack of a thirteen-year-old boy hoping to be noticed at the high school dance. For some reason, I was not able to bring this emotional downturn under control, and rode this entire race with tears running down my face.
This day, this moment, surgically modified my emotional response to just about everything. Last Christmas, there was a commercial for Folgers coffee that simply shows a dad sleepily walking down the stairs to find his college age daughter had made it home for the holidays and was making coffee. There is a look between the two…. OK, as I am writing this, I am getting goose bumps and beginning to well up. That is EXACTLY what I am referring to. Something has happened where I cannot let a special moment like that pass without squirting out some salty eye sweat from the emotional exercise that is happening inside of my constantly broken heart. I have cried at every single wedding I have attended for the last 14 years. It has become impossible for me to not replace the bride up front with my own kid. I am actually a little worried about their big day. I have this horrific image of everyone sitting in the church, looking toward the pastor and waiting for the cue to look backwards and stand up…when they begin to hear me wailing in the back somewhere… clearly unable to handle what is happening. My daughter will have to use up her emergency tissue to mop off my face so that we can walk down the isle.
My wife put her full heart into training for a century bike ride. She has worked so incredibly hard and fought all of the voices inside of us that scream we should give up…and she won. Yesterday, she rolled away at 6 am and began the longest ride of her life. Just a little after 2pm, she rolled across the finish line to cheers from her riding club, the kids, and even random strangers. What did I do while she slayed this dragon? I spent all day, thinking about her… and then crying. She would send me update texts about how it was going, I would tearfully text back GREAT!! Thankfully, she wasn’t able to see my wet eyes and quivering bottom lip. All day long people would tell me how proud they were of her, and it would emotional ravage me. I would try to say something in response, and that goofy crack would appear in my voice. In fact, there was one person that wasn’t cheering when she crossed the finish line, me. I started to, and I could feel Johnny Ugly Cry, who had been lurking in the shadows all week, begin to sneak into the forefront. I really needed to shut that guy down. So, I just stood there and held the camera and let the tears well up behind my sunglasses. There was a moment where I put my arms around her and set my forehead against hers to let her know that I could not even express how proud I was. This one crushed my resistance; I had to let out a little sob.
While I know that neither John Wayne nor Johnny Cash let people see them cry, I’m not certain it really makes you more of a man. I’ve become convinced, there is tremendous value in having a love for someone that is powerful enough to crush your defenses and undo all of the rigid manly training you’ve received from childhood through shameful taunting and countless examples of “real” men. My high school sweetheart found a way to weasel into the middle of my soul and then crushed the shell of it; leaving me weak and emotionally broken when I think about her or our kids.
If I’m being honest, I’ll take my lumps from the chumps on the sidelines, because this girl makes it worth every tear.