Living Columns & Blogs

When is it OK for men to cry in public? After Kavanaugh hearing, debate continues.

Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 27, 2018.
Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 27, 2018. Win McNamee

Judge Brett Kavanaugh has finally been seated on the U.S. Supreme Court after perhaps the longest and most divisive confirmation debate in the high court’s history.

However, as someone observed, “He’s the only judge in history to have wept his way to the U.S Supreme Court.”

He did, indeed, cry on national TV, violating society’s unwritten rule, “Real men don’t cry!” At least not in public, except at funerals and a few other unusual occasions.

Meanwhile, it’s still O.K. for women to cry rivers of tears without rebuke or being regarded as weak or “unwomanly.”

How such a restrictive, discriminatory rule originated I have no idea. After all, the Bible tells us that Jesus wept publicly at least twice: once upon learning of the death of Lazarus and again over the impending destruction of Jerusalem.

One of the few occasions when it’s O.K. for a man to cry is at the death of his dog.

I was once guilty of tearing up during a speech before the Wake County SPCA. I had planned to bring our beloved poodle, Amazing Grace, to the function. Unfortunately, she had to be put to sleep a few days earlier.

As I explained her absence, I had to pause to wipe my eyes. I couldn’t have had a more sympathetic audience.

I remember that as we drove home from the veterinarian that day with my wife holding the still form in her arms, I pulled the car over by the side of the road and my wife and I vented our grief. We buried Gracie in the woods behind the house. A marble marker notes her grave.

Some years ago, my daughter, who now lives in Florida and works at the Tampa Bay Times, sent me a newspaper clipping describing one of the most poignant accounts of a man crying in public that I can remember.

The Ft. Lauderdale Red Sox were playing the Dunedin Blue Jays in a Class A baseball game. Dunedin pitcher Dennis Gray had a one-hitter going after six innings when a little boy with Down syndrome broke free of his mother and rushed to the pitcher’ s mound.

The ump called time-out as the little boy asked to pitch. Gray handed him the ball, and the little guy threw it twice in the direction of home plate. The crowd gave him a standing ovation.

By this time, the distressed mother had reached the pitcher’s mound. She apologized to the pitcher and was about to lead the child away. But he kept tugging at the pitcher’s shirt until Gray bent down so the boy could hug his neck.

The game resumed. But the pitcher had lost his cool. He began to cry. He walked the next batter with four pitches. The next batter hit a double. The pitcher kept crying and had to be replaced.

“We’re supposed to be tough and strong, maybe say, ‘Hey, kid, get out of my way!’ “ Gray said later, according to the clipping. “We had a great game going, but I wouldn’t have traded that experience for anything in the world!”

Some of Judge Kavanaugh’s critics say that his tears were merely crocodile tears, shed to garner sympathy from the Senate committee members. His supporters insist that they were authentic, born of anger and frustration from hours of questioning and accusations. Who can say either with certainty?

Meanwhile, Democrats can shed a few tears of their own over their loss of a crucial political battle.

Death of a bird

As I started out to check the mail, I paused to grieve over the body of a handsome cardinal that lay dead on the patio , apparently killed when he flew with some speed into the side of the screened porch.

My wife later conducted a quiet funeral for the beautiful bird under a tree at the edge of the back lawn.

My mind traveled back to several years ago when a Chapel Hill resident called to share an interesting anecdote.

When she called her young son in to lunch from playing with friends in the backyard, she asked what he and his buddies had been playing.

“We played funeral,” her son said, explaining that they had found a dead bird and had conduced a funeral service for it. He said that they had dug a grave, put the bird in it and covered it with a layer of leaves and dirt. They had then made a cross of some sticks, bowed their heads and had sung a song.

“And what did you sing, Honey?” the curious mother asked.

“We sang ‘We don’t give a d--n for Duke University’ because that was the only song all of us knew, “ the boy replied.