Brave Daddy

“Boys don’t cry”, or so we’re taught. Why isn’t crying an equal opportunity response? There are men who don’t allow themselves to cry, or feel unable to because those emotions were discouraged when they were small. But where do those unexpressed feelings go? Heck, it’s challenging for all of us when we become parents to tolerate the helplessness, irritation, heartache (and sometimes, embarrassment) we feel when our children are crying, but I imagine cultural norms make it even harder for dads and their sons.

Sometimes, I observe exchanges that defy my expectations.

Truman, who is almost two years old, usually comes to the RIE parenting class with his mom and occasionally his dad joins them. But last week Mom was busy, so he came with just his dad.

A bit tentative the first few weeks he attended the class, these days Truman can barely contain his joy from the moment he enters the playroom. Busy, bright and verbal, he plays well by himself and has recently begun working on being more assertive socially, drumming up the courage to say “No, I’m using that” to peers when they try to take something he’s holding. (According to his mom, he has absolutely no problem saying those words to her at home.)

Last week Truman, jolly and fully engaged as always, was intent on investigating one of the objects on the floor in the doorway — I’m not sure which one. Skittering in from the deck, he collided head-on with Claire. She recovered quickly, but he had gotten the worst of it. He fell and remained frozen for a few moments before the saddest look imaginable came over him. He dissolved into tears.

Truman didn’t move, but his dad went and knelt beside him, gently reached for him, and they embraced.

“Mommy… Mommy… Mommy…” Truman said, sobbing.

After a moment, Truman’s dad responded softly, “Mommy’s home. We’re going to see her after class.  …But I’m here.” 

Hearing his dad’s reassuring words, safe to cry as long as he needed to in his arms, Truman’s tension seemed to ease. He cried lustily for half a minute more and was done, then off he went exploring again…exuberant…while the rest of us caught our breath.


Please share your comments and questions. I read them all and respond to as many as time will allow.

  1. LittleRiverSchool says:

    Oh, my goodness…tears are in my eyes…this is a gift…to all of us…what a profound gift this father has given to his son. Allowing him to be who he is at the moment…authenticity…it takes so much courage for people to express genuine gentleness in front of others. This father has given this boy a memory that will be forever with him. It is a gift this boy will pass on to his sons. THe Dad’s words will stay with me for some time to come…”Mommy’s at home..We will see her after class, but I’m here.” This is classic…this is every son’s dream…
    Once again I thank you Janet for this lovely piece!

  2. I teared up too. This is what I wish for all children to have! I love how RIE can help neutralize gender stereotypes. Boys can cry, and girls can be more than “cute”!

  3. Ah this post blew me off completely too. Most often crying is associated with girls. Very often at the centre I have heard teachers say ” you are a boy, stop crying like a girl”. What’s wrong with boys crying? Shouldn’t they be allowed to express their feelings by crying too? Is this a norm thats passed down from generation to generation or should we start saying to our children ” it is ok to cry sometimes” if you feel the need to, regardless the gender.

    “Mommy’s at home.. we will see her after class, but I am here.” These words are absolutely touching. I read and re read this line so many times and I still cant get over it. Thank you Janet for sharing.

    1. I would love to hear from some men on this subject. Crying is healthy. We should all be encouraged, from infancy onward, to cry when we feel pain, frustration, sadness, etc., but what about boys who are teased, or even rejected by other boys for crying?

  4. It is truly a gift to be able to cry, and to cry with someone. Not just because of the expression of the feeling, but because the feeling represents a deep aspect of our sense of self being seen. I think boys have a difficult dilemma around tears when mom is the only one who makes room for vulnerability. If we love our dad’s too, and identify with their version of masculinity, we’ll usually choose to feel that identification and closeness at the expense of parts of our emotional world. So a dad that can make some room for those feelings, in boys and girls, sets up the expectation that we can then feel them in ourselves, that they aren’t shameful, dangerous, or weak.

    And for any dads out there. . . I’ll be exploring these topics and others in a new drop in group in Silverlake. Every Thursday at 730pm at Wallaby. $15 a session. For more info, give them or me a call
    David Hayes, MFT

    1. David, thank you for sharing these valuable insights. I especially appreciate your statement: ” the feeling represents a deep aspect of our sense of self being seen.” Feeling accepted and encouraged to express the full range of our emotions is deeply affirming for all of us.

      As a parent, I try to remember to encourage all my children’s feelings — no matter how uncomfortable their outbursts might make me — and only give limits and boundaries for behaviors, never for feelings.

      Sounds like a great dads group!

  5. my eyes are full of tears and tenderness upon reading this post, Janet. I feel you are just cracking the surface of a very important and unfortunately an avoided subject matter. One of the best gifts the RIE approach has given me and my family (husband and 15 month old son), are parenting guidelines that make it OK to express the full range of human emotion- from the most socially accepted (mainly happiness & joy) to the most dreaded or eschewed (anger, sadness, grief, shame, fear). As someone who gives herself permission for the experience and expression of all affect, I found a home and community in RIE that mirrors this value. While it does seem to take longer for Dad’s to employ RIE based responses despite the fact that they whole heartedly agree, I think it can be tremendously healing to fathers- as they give children the permission to cry, they give that to themselves. So bravo to all the brave daddies! (and mommies!) While so simple and intuitive at its core, I truly believe the more parents that learn to “see with new eyes”, the healthier a society we can and ARE becoming.

    Lilly Bright

    Oh- and thanks David for the info on the dad’s sharing group! I will pass the info along to my husband.

  6. This is beautiful. I wish all dads were like that, my father and my husband included.
    Whenever my 2 yo son cries, my husband tries to distract him with physical games or something else. It works, but I do wish he just offered a shoulder to cry sometimes.
    I would be grateful for any tips on how to explain that to him!


  7. I’m sorry, but as a father of an 8yr old boy and 5yr old girl I personally find this a little insulting.

    You make it sound as though all dads are like drill sergeants who yell at their 2 year olds when they fall down and hurt themselves and that the gentleman in your story did something extraordinary by comforting his son when he was hurt.

    While what he did is great and all…all he did was what 95% of all dads would do in the same situation. I don’t know anyone that would tell their 2yr old that boys don’t cry.

    Please stop painting all fathers with the same brush like everyone else does in every other article that is written about fathers.

    1. Jim – I appreciate your feedback, but I think you’ve misunderstood. I guarantee you that I don’t believe most dads yell at their kids or act like drill sargeants. I do believe that like all of us, dads find it difficult to remain patient when their children cry and simply acknowledge their feelings for as long as they continue. I do believe that this can be even harder for most men than it is for women. I’m sorry if you took offense…and I’m thrilled that this sounds to you like typical response!

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