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Boys Don't Cry?

30/03/2016 14:34 | Updated 30 March 2016

To weep or not to weep? That, my middle-aged male friends, is the question. Because while real men are far more likely to cry than their fathers, they are ashamed to do so and will blame the tears on a range of inventive factors including chilli, tiredness, contact lenses and, in my case, a permanently blocked tear duct.

According to new research 'modern man' is far more likely to turn on the waterworks than previous generations. He admits to crying in public 14 times in his adult life, which to my mind is a conservative estimate, given that I can get to double figures in the space of a single episode of Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway (I can't help myself my someone 'wins the ads').

Refreshing as this emotional emancipation is, we are still beset by deep feelings of shame when we blub. Half us make excuses. We are a generation in emotional denial, caught between our stoney-faced fathers with their stiff upper lips that only ever wobble when a close family member dies and our emotionally intelligent sons who sob along to Sam Smith ballads, hug their male friends and kiss them on both cheeks like continental dandies. We truly do not know whether to laugh or cry.

We have been called the buffer generation, situated between two opposing ideals of masculinity with a foot in both camps but not wholly belonging to either.

As Joe Ferns, Samaritans executive director of policy, research and development explained: "Behind them they have fathers who are stoic and silent, and in front of them they have progressive, expressive sons. They are caught in a world where they are neither one nor the other and they have lived through a huge level of social change."

It is enough to make a grown man cry and a position many will identify with.

Personally, for example, I've not been privy to my own father's tears. I've seen him get worked into advance states of exuberance and dejection at West Ham football matches but I've never seen him have a proper sob. I'm not sure I'd want to. The awkwardness would hang in the air and embarrass us both.

My children on the other hand are frequently privy to my outbursts. Just the other week they had to comfort me during a particularly climatic scene in the PG-rated animated movie The Good Dinosaur. The young hero of the piece had just lost his own father to a prehistoric tempest fierce enough to dislodge an adult male brontosaurus from a cliff. For me, with my growing children at my side and the dark clouds of advanced age brewing in the distance, it was allegorical. I couldn't help myself and even the 3D glasses did not mask the tears.
"Are you crying again, Dad?" frowned my 13-year-old daughter.

Some days later I was emotionally coshed again during a particularly moving episode of DIY SOS. I sobbed as the family of a disabled ex-servicemen were shown around their newly adapted home. My partner succumbed too but I was too upset to comfort her and we sat there afterwards dewy-eyed; me ashamed, like a puppy which had just soiled the sofa.

In my defence, I am not alone. Nearly eight in ten British men admit that they have been reduced to tears by an emotional television drama, according to the research. I particularly dread television charity appeals such as Sport Relief and Children in Need, structured as they are with sequences of light entertainment and comedy punctuated by heart-wrenching footage of dying children. For an emotional man they are nights of bi-polarity.

Thankfully, according to psychologist and behaviour expert Stephanie Davies, I have nothing to be ashamed of.

She explains: "It is more acceptable for men to cry. We get our emotional and behaviour cues from those around us and from the media we consume. It is more common to see emotional men nowadays than it was in previous generations. Men are more open to talking about their emotions. However, there still remains an unconscious bias among men and women that men should be the stronger sex and that crying is a sign of weakness, which isn't actually the case at all. Men who talk about their emotions and are not afraid to show them are more resilient than men who keep them bottled up."

As an enlightened father I know this is the case and encourage my nine-year-old son to be emotionally open. However, in a Larkin-esque contradiction I'm also guilty of passing on some of my faults and still feel the need to tell him to toughen up and stop crying on occasions. Not that it will make much difference in the long run. In a generation's time no one will need to cry anymore. For the text and tablet generation, emotions will become as redundant as Betamax and vinyl are to my generation and instead of emotions, tomorrow's children will have emoticons (sad face).

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