WHEN A MAN CRIES
I have lived in four different cultures in my life. I spent my first six years in mainland China before the Communists took over. I lived in Hong Kong, a British colony, for eighteen years. I did my undergraduate schooling in Japan. Now here I am in the land of golden opportunities. I have lived in America for forty years.
I learned this Chinese idiom in elementary school: Men shed blood but not tears. In China boys played martial arts heroes and martyrs in the name of honor. In Japan, boys played samurais. In America, boys played cowboys and Indians. Not all battles a boy faces are pretend, however. I was a tough kid in the face of our poverty; I tried not to cry when there was no food for the day. But I do remember moments when I would just cry secretly. There were more of these moments than I’d like to admit.
My ex-father-in-law was a nice American man. One evening he held my hands and broke down in tears. He was saddened by loneliness and the lack of communication with his children. That was the first time I saw an American man’s tears.
Years later in Baltimore my racquetball partner rang my doorbell. His eyes were welled up with sad tears because he was having marital problems and had no one to turn to. Another American man’s broken heart expressed in tears!
John was a salesman who often came to see me on business. Once during lunch, I asked if he had any good friends in whom he could confide. I saw tears come to his eyes, lonely tears.
Pastor Sam was a friend of mine. I vividly remember the time I saw tears in his eyes as he expressed his spiritual struggles with God. For the first time I saw pastoral tears.
If not shedding tears is the defining criterion of manhood and strength, I must be made of some weaker substance. There have been many tears in my life—many were unwept, many were tears of sorrow. My beloved mother passed away when I first came to America; my divorce left me alone and lonely in a new country; my adopted father, the man I loved most, died in Taiwan; my oldest sister died in Hong Kong; my son broke up with girlfriends; my wife and I waved goodbyes to our children after short holiday visits; my lovely daughter walked down the aisle to the altar; and I watched my wife in sickness unable to do anything to alleviate her pain.
As I grow older I notice I am moved to tears even more readily. In spite of what four cultures tried to teach me, the best lesson I have learned in life is to live close to my heart and be real.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.