The attacks on “toxic masculinity” often revolve around the assumption that it is unhealthy to not vent your spleen whenever you feel like it.
“Not showing emotion is weak, actually.”
Real men cry. In public. And then they post on social media about how they cried in public.
But this is foolishness.
Masculine men do not have the privilege of showing their emotions whenever it feels convenient. That is the realm of children and immature adults. Your life is not about your own personal emotional fulfillment.
A man who is trying to be masculine will have taken responsibility for other people and their actions must take those people into account. Showing emotion is never simply “showing emotion.”
Let’s talk about the story of David and Absolom, and the absolute reaming that Joab gives David for an inappropriate display of emotion.
The story takes place in 2 Samuel 18, but let’s set the stage.
David’s son, Absolom, has rebelled and is in the process of taking over the kingship from his father. David has fled the capital city of Jerusalem and is on the run. Things don’t look good.
Thanks to some well-placed help and the grace of God, Absolom waits to chase after David, so David has time to gather and organize his men. A decisive battle happens, Absolom’s army retreats, and Absolom himself gets caught in the branches of a tree.
Joab, David’s main thug, comes across Absolom and kills him.
This is a victory for David. The rebellion has been squashed. But David, upon hearing about the fate of his son, mourns for him. Over and over, in public, David wept and cried:
O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you—O Absalom, my son, my son!
Predictably, this demoralized all of the men who had just fought for him. The victorious army slunk into the city in low spirits, ashamed as if they had fled the battle.
Joab’s rebuke of his king is worth quoting in full.
You have today covered with shame the faces of all your servants, who have this day saved your life and the lives of your sons and your daughters and the lives of your wives and your concubines, because you love those who hate you and hate those who love you. For you have made it clear today that commanders and servants are nothing to you, for today I know that if Absalom were alive and all of us were dead today, then you would be pleased. Now therefore arise, go out and speak kindly to your servants, for I swear by the Lord, if you do not go, not a man will stay with you this night, and this will be worse for you than all the evil that has come upon you from your youth until now.2 Samuel 19:5-7
It was appropriate for David to feel sad about the death of his son, but such a public display of mourning was foolish. He needed to consider the feelings of the men who had served him. Weep in private and put on a bold face in public.
David was responsible for the lives and welfare of his men. Showing emotion in the way he did displayed contempt for those same men.
How does this relate to you, as a father? As a leader of your household?
If your kids are excited to see you when you get home, then you act excited to see them no matter what kind of day you had at work.
If your son just ruined one of your priceless collectibles on accident, you don’t explode or mope. If it was truly an accident, do not lay the weight of your disappointment on his shoulders. You can be sad later. Your relationship with your son is more important than your emotions.
If there is someone breaking into your house, you might feel afraid. But don’t show signs of that fright to your wife and kids, and above all, don’t show signs of that fright to the intruder.
A man who cries all the time at the drop of a hat is a man who is weak. He is unattractive to his wife and he demoralizes everyone around him. He is selfish. He is showing contempt for others when he indulges in this weakness.
Morale matters, in armies and in families. How and when you choose to show emotion will affect those under your care, whether you want it to or not. Like everything else, do it with intention.
A funeral, for example, is a perfectly appropriate place for a man to cry. Outward signs of excitement, anger, and disappointment also have their proper times and places.
Feel your emotions. Recognize them. Use them. But don’t assume you have the privilege of displaying those emotions in large blinking letters on your forehead.
You are a man. You have more important things to worry about.