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They try not to, but men do cry

goyos (157x199)Greg Castilla, View from an Expatriate – When I was seven years old, someone stole my  toy sword that I patiently carved out of a four-foot bamboo pole.  The night before, I hid the sword behind the bushes fronting our house. When it was time for me to play with it the following morning, the sword was gone. I felt so bad that I started to cry.

When two neighborhood bullies saw me crying, they started to tease me and mockingly told me to be a real man and to stop crying.  Since I did not want to be known in our small town as a cry baby and be the object of ridicule, I stopped crying. Thus began my early initiation into the Filipino world of machismo. From that day onward, I was socialized to believe that, as part of masculine pride, men do not cry; only girls do.

As a teen-ager trying to define my identity, I began to admire young adults who were physically tough. They were the ones who played tough basketball. They were the ones who never ran away from fights.

They showed their toughness under the most difficult conditions. They never complained. They never displayed their emotions. They never cried. The town bullies were probably right in avowing that holding one’s tears was a sign of masculine identity.

I really never saw men in our town cry in public. I would see men drown themselves drinking gin, as they poured out their emotions, but they never cried. Perhaps these men were raised by their parents not to cry, I said to myself.

The Filipino culture sends a message that men who cry are “softies.” There is also the belief that associates crying with weakness, an allusion to the feudal legacy that only women cry because they are by nature physically and emotionally weak. Thus for men to cry is not culturally acceptable. It is to affirm their weakness.

Although our neighborhood bullies probably succeeded in “programming” me at an early age to accept this false sense of machismo, experience has taught me that there is nothing unmanly about men crying.

The first man I saw cry was my father. This was during the burial of my paternal grandfather. I was ten years old then. It took a few more years before I saw another man cry in a newspaper picture – the great pugilist Gabriel Flash Elorde. He had just knocked out American Harold Gomes at the Araneta Coliseum to win the world super featherweight title. This was in 1960.

My father and Flash Elorde cried for different reasons.

My father cried because he was sad. He just lost his father and he wanted to express his emotions.

Flash Elorde cried because he was happy. He just became a world champion, ending the Philippines’ 20-year drought. Crying, when one is happy, can be a rewarding experience. It was also Elorde’s way of expressing his emotions.

During his recent visit to the Philippines, Pope Francis reminded the Filipinos not to be frightened of crying. He said, “Certain realities in life we only see through the eyes that are cleansed with tears. Be courageous. Please don’t be frightened of crying.”

I don’t know how our current town bullies would interpret the pope’s statement.

I interpret the pope’s statement to mean that when we cry we realize there is always something to discover. By crying during the funeral of my paternal grandfather, my father finally accepted the painful reality that his father was gone. Denying his loss would just exacerbate his pain.

In the same manner, Flash Elorde had finally realized that crying, when one is happy, could be a rewarding experience.

When a TV camera man showed Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina breaking down during a congressional hearing, as he poignantly described how the 44 Special Action Force (SAF) commandos were killed by Muslim rebels in Mamasapano last January 25, I saw a man feeling the pain of the police commandos as they were dying as well as the pain of the loved ones they had left behind. I did not see a weak general. I saw instead a strong man who could not accept the brutality of war.

What a sight to behold especially when relieved SAF Commander Director Getulio Napenas approached Espina, hugged him and also cried.

You have two generals, both battle-tested, crying.

Crying then has nothing to do with being unmanly or a weakling.  My father was none of the above; neither were the late Flash Elorde nor General Espina and General Napenas.

To cry then is simply to be human. It is a natural reaction to what we feel. Not to cry when we want to cry is to deny ourselves our awareness of life and everything that it entails. Now I understand why my father cried at the funeral of my grandfather, why Flash Eorde cried in his stunning victory over Gomes, and why General Espina and General Napenas cried over the deaths of their men.

Now I understand why, as a  seven-year-old, I cried when my play sword was stolen. Greg Castilla March 2015