Letting boys be the voice of love (or why crying is cool) – Luke Reynolds
By Luke Reynolds
True story: when I was just out of college, in my first year of teaching, my four brothers and I all had heard that the movie The Wedding Planner was coming to theaters. The Wedding Planner! So we did what any five brothers would do: we carved out a night to all meet up and see the film. Ranging in age from 32 to 13, we watched the movie and some of us (okay, me) cried; some of us (okay, me) thought deeply about the so-called “chick flick” applies to our lives; some of us (okay, me) felt full and excited and like parts of us were activated, reached, seen.♥
As a teacher for 11 years, I have seen so many of my male students feel all kinds of emotions in all kinds of ways. They yearn to talk about their feelings; they yearn to share the weird, confusing, exciting, painful stuff that circles their souls and heats up their hearts. But growing up in a culture that often tells boys and men they are supposed to be “tough,” my 7th grade students learn all too fast that it just isn’t cool to be emotional.
Watch any typical movie marketed towards men and we see a very narrow notion of what it means to be a boy or a man. We see a lack of feeling, an absence of fear, and the ability to squint at various things for prolonged period of times without ever (seemingly) blinking. So in my middle school, I try to talk with all my students about how often I cry.
And if you couldn’t tell from the opening story: I cry a lot. I cried when my first son gave some coins he had just earned to a homeless man. I cried when my wife finished her first novel. I cried when my second son first understood the word “hug” and then proceeded to carry out the meaning of that beautiful word. I cried — and cry — often. Because (as I try to teach my boys), not only is it okay to cry. It’s cool.
Are you still here? Still reading? Not totally turned off by the looney guy writing about crying relentlessly? Thank you! I feel deeply fulfilled, almost like I could—
See, the thing about crying is that it allows us human to activate parts of ourselves that we all possess. What courage does it take to deny that we possess the emotional range that constitutes being human? What courage does it take to feign bravery in the face of fear?
In my first middle grade novel, The Looney Experiment, I created a character named Atticus Hobart who is an 8th grader that is the exact foil of so much of what we see as typical boyhood or masculinity. He’s the opposite of traditional notions of “tough”. He doesn’t waltz in and grab the girl or win the battle or feel no fear. Instead, Atticus Hobart feels everything deeply. And he talks about it! He writes about it! He thinks and writes about the girl he loves — Audrey Higgins — and he is honest and hopeful and sappy and emotional. (Just like, ahem, somebody else felt in 8th grade a long time ago.) But since this isn’t exactly the coolest way to be in middle school, Atticus hides all of this and instead imagines what his life would be like if he could be above all of it, If he could just be free of all these EMOTIONS!
But he cannot, and with the help of a zany long-term substitute teacher, Atticus learns…
Yup. You guessed it. Crying is cool. Courage is exactly all about getting in touch with our deepest emotions, and then working through them. Processing them. Facing them. Courage for girls and boys and for men and women) is about recognizing our emotions, inviting them out on the dance floor, having a go or two, and then realizing that we can’t remain there all night. We have other partners to meet, we have other venues to explore. Courage is about learning how to deal with our emotions with help and support, and then make decisions that may feel terrifying — but we make them nonetheless.
Growing up in a family of five boys, I feel lucky that my older brothers were not models of male toughness. Instead, with one who is deaf and one who is gay, they became for me models of authenticity. They taught me that courage is about learning how to speak your own truth — quietly and confidently — even in the face of fear. Especially in the face of fear.
This is what I tried to teach my two younger brothers.
This is what I try to teach my 7th graders.
This is what I want to teach my own sons.
After all, love is about learning how to deal with all of our emotions — the good, the bad, the beautiful, the ugly — and see that we are worthwhile people because of — not in spite of — those emotions. And when we show our boys and girls this truth, in our lives and in our writing, we not only honor them, but we honor ourselves.
We walk through our emotions together, with support and with humor and with authenticity. It’s part of what learning to really love others and ourselves is all about.
Luke Reynolds teaches 7th grade English in the public school system in Harvard, Massachusetts. He and his wife, Jennifer, have two young boys and a young dog who is intent on waking up those young boys as often as possible. Luke is a lover of writing, running, pancakes, hiking, and all things goofy.