currently writing from: Newport News, VA
When I was a baby, I cried a lot.
I cried so much that my parents had to take me out with them while my three brothers stayed home with a sitter. As I got older, I cried less. I cried less because people called me a "crybaby." If I was hurt by something, I felt it deeply. I intensely felt pain, rejection, and loneliness. But I got over it. In fact, I stopped crying altogether.
I am turning 30 years old this month. For the majority of my adolescent and adult life, I have existed behind a glass door, experiencing life only through my eyes and mind, observing everyone else from a safe distance, and rationalizing their behavior and emotions:
“There are always solutions to every problem, they just can’t see them. They let their emotions get in the way.”
I took a very militant approach to life, which meant, “Find the next objective or mission and execute the mission to standard.” Serving in the military has been a natural transition that fits my personality type.
But I wasn’t always this way. That’s not how things began.
I grew up playing instruments and singing with my three brothers. My earliest memories consist of long rehearsal hours and studio sessions, learning new songs, choreographing dance sequences, voice and guitar lessons, and performances somewhere in between all of that. There was no time to stop and feel, only time to focus or be productive. Our band was the mission, and everything else was considered a distraction. I did “well enough” in school so that I wouldn’t have to worry about failing getting in the way of our dreams of “making it big.”
Somewhere along the way, I lost all emotional connection to life. Things that hurt or affected other people didn’t have the same affect on me. I just figured I was meant to be different. Or maybe it was because I heard over and over again that:
Boys don’t cry. Men don’t cry.
I shut down the part of me that allowed me to feel pain. I didn’t want to be considered weak; in fact being called “soft” was part of my motivation to begin lifting weights.
Around the age of 11, our parents sat all four of us down in our living room to have a conversation, which never happened so we knew it was something serious. Anticipating the next words that were about to be spoken, I “girded up my loins,” in the most manly way possible at age 11 and braced myself for whatever was about to happen next.
“Your father and I are getting a divorce.”
I decided I wasn’t going to cry, no matter what.
I knew this was my time to be a man.
I sat there and listened to the explanation, but all of that sounded like muffled noise in the background of my mind racing, calculating all of the possible outcomes of the situation. "How am I going to respond? Am I going to say anything? What are my friends going to say? Does this mean I have to move? Is this really happening?" Cutting through the increasingly louder thoughts in my mind, someone asked, “Chris, who do you want to live with?”
I remember thinking, "I guess I am old enough to make this decision on my own," and being thankful that I was allowed to choose. I prided myself on not crying and making a rational decision…
...Like men do.
As the years passed, isolation increased. The distance from my family numbed the pain and I began to become more independent, believing that it truly was “every man for himself.” Looking back, I don’t regret my choice. I realize that it has shaped who I am today.
Choosing to live with my dad, I based on reason rather than acknowledging the hurt and betrayal I felt towards my mother.
"At the time it made the most sense, you know – rationally.."
In many ways, we are products of the environment we were raised in. We are also the sum of the choices we have made. This was the first choice I ever made that had tangible consequences. It was my choice, a man’s choice.
For the next few years or so, I got to experience more liberty, make mistakes, learn responsibility, and become the man I thought I wanted to be. I believed that living with my dad would give me the best chance for success: a carefully calculated decision. However, the consequences mattered a bit more than I was willing to acknowledge, and the emotional suppression began. I felt nothing. If someone were to ask me how I was, I would always say, “good” or “fine.” Words like excited, elated, joyful, angry, frustrated, or lonely would never come out. Every response was geared to mask any real emotion.
Somewhere in between trying to become successful in the music industry and propelling myself forward in academic areas, I was trying to figure out how to be a man.
And what I knew about being a man had everything to do with success, money, sex, muscles, dominance, and survival, and nothing to do with learning to be true to myself.
Part of manhood is going through certain rites of passage, accomplishing goals, getting degrees, or a professional status. I spent so much time trying to become what society said I should be, not who I wanted to be. I began checking off things on a preverbal list to gain a sense of accomplishment - to believe I was moving forward despite the disintegration of my family.
To me, life was a mission to complete... and failure was not an option.
Ironically, on a “missions trip” to New Orleans shortly after hurricane Katrina hit, I recall the night before my 21st birthday as a night I will never forget.
The night I became a man.
I was mopping a school cafeteria floor with one other member of the team, Danielle, who I did not know prior to the trip. In fact, her birthday was the day before mine, so we decided to hang out and mop together. As conversation progressed to help pass the time, she asked me about my family. I gave a shrug and responded, “Things are good, but we don’t really see each other a lot because we all live in different areas.” Intrigued by my vague response, she prodded a bit deeper and asked, “Why?”
Prior to this moment, this was an easy story to tell. My parents divorced, two brothers went with mom, my older brother and I stayed with dad… “We all are grown up, now living our separate lives. That is all.” I had told the story many times before, giving the same stoic answers. After a couple more questions, catching me a bit off guard she asked, “So why didn’t you choose to live with your mom?”
I was not expecting her question.
And strangely, I couldn’t shrug it away this time, realizing I had avoided the real answer all along. I couldn’t hold back what I was feeling any longer; tears began to well up, and water began filling my eyes. One by one, tear drops rolled down my cheeks and I couldn’t wipe them away fast enough to hide.
I was crying. After ten years, I was finally letting it out.
I will remember that day because it was a day that brought healing to a wound I had covered up for so long. It marked a new chapter in my relationship with both my mother and my father. It was the right time and the right place to be vulnerable with someone who cared enough to ask the right questions. It was the first time someone asked me how I felt, and didn’t accept my typical answers.
In that moment I did not feel like less of a man for crying. I felt liberated. Embarrassed still, but free to express my emotion without fear, without someone calling me “soft.”
I am a man, and I have emotions. I feel things intensely. To deny that is to deny who I am, and have been from my birth.
I realized that the strong bond I felt with my parents to the point where they could not leave me alone, was broken at the most critical point in my life.
I still feel things very deeply, that has not changed. What has changed is my willingness to express those feelings, putting aside my insecurities and realizing that emotions are a gift from God. They are benchmarks for growth, signs of danger, and rewards for achievement. They are evidence of life.
Yet, we are consistently told that men don’t cry.
From the playground, to the locker room, to the bar, and every place in between where men gather, we have somehow taught ourselves that in order to have significance and be a real man, we must rationalize everything, because, “women are emotional and men are rational.” That’s a bunch of: (insert expletive here.)
God gave men tears too, which were meant for our healing. Studies have shown that children, if allowed to cry, will cry on average seven minutes, and then they feel better.
Pain is a process we go through, not an objective we conquer. Yet we often shame boys for crying, and continue to do so through adolescence and adulthood.
Crying is not a sign of weakness; it simply means there is a wound that needs healing.
Many times in life I have felt emotionally reduced to ashes. Rather than crying it out or showing emotion, I sucked it up. Finally, I have realized how important it is to let feelings out, to be vulnerable, show emotion, and allow events to affect me. I have opened the glass door. Yes, it is more painful this way, but more rewarding to feel alive again.
- Chris Foreman.
“You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.” Psalm 56:8