On the flight home from Perth yesterday I found myself choking up while watching the movie The Sapphires. The part that really got to me was the removal of one of the characters, an aboriginal with light skin colour, from her family. I’d like to say it was my finely tuned empathy for victims of injustice that was at play, but I also found tears forming when another of the lead characters found love.
I never used to cry, but something changed when I had children. From the day our first child was born I became a bit of a weeper. Sometimes I find myself crying over deep injustice. At the end of the movie The Rabbit Proof Fence I was a heaving mess. Sometimes I well up at the most soppy, saccharine piece of romance, hoping desperately that I can wipe away the tears before the lights come on. At a friends wedding on Saturday I found myself choking up at different points in the speeches.
There was a time when it was not considered manly to cry. I remember the ridicule heaped upon Bob Hawke after he broke down when describing the drug addiction of one of his children. These were the days when men were supposed to be in control, masters of their fate, not vulnerable to anything. But it seems that we are moving past this. These days it is far more acceptable for men to cry.
I suspect that having children awakened in me a deeper sense of the vulnerability in the world and in myself. Here were these wonderfully formed little human beings, such a marvellous gift, yet so dependent on Sandy and I and the goodwill of others. But how frail and imperfect we are that they should depend on us. Maybe this awakened me to the fact that we are all vulnerable in one way or another and somehow this resonated deeply in my emotions.
Ever since then I have felt much greater empathy for people at their points of vulnerability – the child who doesn’t get picked for the team, the spouse who is rejected by her partner, the young adult nervously declaring his interest in another, the child whose parents cannot afford medicines, the woman caught in a war zone. Of course, these vary dramatically in their seriousness and impact, but they each are an expression of vulnerability.
And I think that in the midst of that I have a much greater appreciation of joy. We are in many ways so vulnerable that it is all the more wonderful when we experience joy. Watching the sunset, finding love requited, accomplishing a task, seeing my children succeed at something, all these things seem much richer to me than they once did.
I am thankful that I have learned to cry, even if it is a little embarrassing at times. Compared to some others I know, who ooze empathy, I can still be a bit of an unfeeling bastard, but those tears I cry do, I hope, signal the abandonment of a manhood that is about control and mastery and the embrace of a manhood that is about compassion, empathy and celebration in a world of vulnerability and joy.