Why Your Son Should See You Cry

This #BoyDad essay is one of six, from a collection of fathers who are raising sons in modern times. Click here to read the rest. And, while you’re at it, check out Cool Dad HQ for tips, gear, and strategy guides—all designed to help you raise great kids better.I’VE ALWAYS FOUND it interesting that of the handful of legends we have about the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, three of them involve him crying.(Yes, I realize this is an odd way into an essay about being a dad of boys, but stick with me here.)The first story is a sweet one. Marcus was just 17 when he found out the reigning emperor, Hadrian, had chosen him to be his successor, ruler of what would become one of the world’s most powerful empires. When he considered the enormity of all this responsibility, he cried.The next incident has Marcus still young. It was said that he wept so violently over the loss of a beloved tutor that the palace servants went to admonish him. Marcus’s stepfather intervened. “Let him be only a man for once,” he said, “for neither philosophy nor empire takes away natural feelings.” I love that. When my oldest, then five, was switching schools, I asked him, “Are you sad?”“No,” he said defiantly. “I hated Mrs. [Fake Name] anyway.” I happened to know this wasn’t true. Instead of feeling his emotions, he was stuffing them down. I thought, Oh, this is where it starts. The Daily Dad: 366 Meditations on Parenting, Love, and Raising Great KidsThe Daily Dad: 366 Meditations on Parenting, Love, and Raising Great KidsIt is still strange to me, in 2023, that we consider a man weak when he loses control of his feelings and cries but somehow the opposite is true when a man loses control of his temper and breaks something or hurts someone.A real man doesn’t give way to anger and discontent, Marcus wrote. The nearer a man comes to a calm mind, the closer he is to strength.I’ve tried to teach my own boys that shedding a few tears because you’re sad or scared won’t ever get you in trouble. Getting upset and hurting your brother is a different story.Which brings me to the third tale of Marcus. In this one, he’s now much older and more or less ruling the known world. While judging a court case, Marcus broke into tears after hearing one of the lawyers reference the human devastation of what has come to be called the Antonine Plague.Marcus wrote in his Meditations that people are arrogant, deceitful, and ungrateful but that we have to put up with them, love them, and take care of them. The pandemic was, at least in our family, an opportunity to practice that in front of our children. Sure, it was sad to miss out on some parties and events, and it’s not fun to get a shot, but this is our job. I talk to my boys so much about Marcus Aurelius and the power of emotional expression that they just eye-roll me. I don’t hide grief or sadness in front of them. I’m not a wreck, but I am a human. They can eye-roll me for that, too, but I think Marcus is starting to sink in.A version of this article originally appeared in the May/June 2023 issue of Men’s Health.play iconThe triangle icon that indicates to playRyan Holiday is a modern stoic philosopher and the author of The Obstacle Is the Way and, now, The Daily Dad. 

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