“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.