Real Men: A Story

“Real Men”

Why are you crying?

It should have been a simple question to answer.

A real man wouldn’t cry. He’d have self control.

When he was ten years old, his parents never listened to him. Never asked him for his opinions or asked what he wanted. Looking back, it might seem silly, the things a child yearned for. But they were important to him.

“My son doesn’t cry. He’s not a baby,” his father said.

He didn’t get to pick the movie they went to see, nor the restaurant they went to for dinner. He didn’t like mustard on his burgers or jelly on his sandwich. He had to eat them anyway. “Just eat it,” his father said. “The only reason you don’t want it like that is because your sister likes it.”

He learned not to complain. He learned not to cry. Even when his parents divorced, he kept his feelings to himself.

A real man suffers in silence. He hides his pain.

He learned to keep quiet, and to keep his opinions to himself. He kept a journal, and hid his pain inside it, since there was no one else to share it with. No one taught him how to cope with his problems, because they didn’t even know what his problems were.

“What’s wrong?” his teacher asked, as he struggled to fight the tears. “Did something happen?”

He was a teenager, and he hadn’t cried in front of another human being in years. He tried to open his mouth and explain what happened, but no words came out.

I just lost my book, he wanted to say. The one my sister loaned me. She’ll be mad… It was nothing worth crying over. It was just a book. Real men didn’t cry. Even though he knew his sister would be mad.

“Can you tell me what happened?” his teacher asked. He couldn’t find his voice. “Okay, I’m getting the guidance counselor.”

No, he tried to say. It was just a book. It wasn’t a big thing. It wasn’t something worth crying over. It wasn’t something people needed to make a big deal out of. But they saw him fighting his tears, and assumed something was wrong. The guidance counselor came, then the vice principal. The more people who got involved, the worse it became. They all saw him crying, and the embarrassment became worse than losing the book. Real men didn’t cry, especially in front of others. They called his father to pick him up from school, and that just made it worse. He couldn’t tell his father why he was crying.

“You’re crying over a god damn book?” He knew that was what his father would say. “That’s nothing to cry about. Grow up. No son of mine is a crybaby.”

When his father got there, what he actually asked was, “What happened?” But the fear of confessing the foolishness that had started it stole his voice.

“You’re my son. I love you.”

He said nothing.

A man would be strong. You’re not strong. You’re not a man.

The first time his heart was broken by a selfish, cheating girl, he hid his pain. He didn’t tell a single person what was going on. No one knew why it was all spiraling out of control. He quit his job. He dropped out of school. Not for her, no. It wasn’t her who ruined his life.

It was having no one to talk to.

“I don’t understand what’s going on with you,” his mother said. “But I’m not going to support you while you sleep in and sit around the house all day. You either need to get back into school, or you need to start paying me rent.”

He moved out. He’d rather pay rent to a landlord than his mother. A landlord wasn’t supposed to care. A landlord wasn’t supposed to comfort you. A landlord wasn’t supposed to hold you while you cry.

Why are you crying?

A lifetime of keeping it all inside. A lifetime of being told “Men don’t cry.” Through breakups, hardships, and death, he never cried in front of another human being again. Except with her.

He tried to hold it in. He went to work, putting on a brave face. He wore sunglasses when he went out, to hide the redness in his eyes. He didn’t tell anyone what he had lost, or how much it tore him to pieces, because real men didn’t do that. He smiled and made jokes, and let people think what they wanted. None of them knew the sacrifices he had made. None of them knew the depth of his pain.

He stayed silent. He stayed strong. He made sure everyone saw only what it was appropriate for them to see. Because that is what real men do.

Why are you crying?

Because I thought that with you, I finally could…

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