From a first baby scan to catching a blasted football in the crotch, Ben Isaacs counts down the real things that make manly lips tremble
The modern man is in touch with his feelings. Emotions are shown, hugs are dispensed, yet the stiff upper lip has remained. Social media would have you believe you can’t move for men in tears over something, but the fact is a man having a proper cry is a rare sight. However, there are some triggers that set us all off. You might want a fresh box of tissues, it’s going to get dusty in here.
1. The family dog being put down
It’s the call you dread from your parents. “It’s the dog. He’s... taken a turn.” The beloved pet you played with as a kid and now miss more than your parents is going to the dog park in the sky (incinerator at the vet’s). Unlike a human, he never lied to you or judged you. Even when you blamed him for a series of smells. Now it falls to you to help take him on his final car journey and you’d give anything to pick up his poo once more.
2. British athletes being very British
Everyone will have a moment that brought a glisten to their eye during London 2012. But nothing tops the usually mutable John Inverdale consoling Zac Purchase and Mark Hunter with a cracking voice as the lightweight men’s double sculls silver medallists try to apologise to “everyone we’ve let down”. “You’ve let nobody down,” said an emotional Inverdale and, for once, nor had he.
3. First sight of your bride at your wedding
This isn’t the 1800s, so obviously you and your betrothed have been shacked up for ages before tying the knot. Hell, you may’ve seen this woman on the toilet or expelling a child from her body. But there’s something about seeing her coming up the aisle in the dress you’ve heard her whispering about for months that feels like the first time you met. Except, this time, you’re allowed to well up without looking like a weirdo.
4. A football to the nose at close range
It’s a freezing January morning and you’re regretting agreeing to an 11-a-side outdoor match when, while distracted, a half volley rockets towards your face. The impact causes blood to erupt from your nostrils, bringing warm relief, while everyone smirks behind your back as your eyes water. With teammates like these, who needs enemies?
When five-year-old leukaemia survivor Miles Scott became Batkid, it wasn’t just his home city of San Francisco that stopped and watched. As the city’s streets were closed to stage Miles’s Make-A-Wish fantasy of becoming a superhero, men around the world were rapt and even wept. The world has former video-game developer Eric Johnston to thank. Ten years ago he helped create a popular computer game for children battling cancer (which he gave away for free) and followed this up by masterminding a series of elaborate events allowing Scott to save damsels in distress and foil heists. He has since encouraged men with particular technical skills to offer their service to Make-A-Wish. A whole lot of lumps in throats followed and temporarily distracted us from the fact that at the same moment estate agents were probably strapping bombs to puppies to blow up orphanages on prime land somewhere.
6. The end of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
Want to know if someone’s a Bond snob? Tell them that OHMSS is your favourite in the series and they’ll agree (everyone else will just moan about George Lazenby). We like to live vicariously through Bond – the guns, the women, the cars, the women, the gadgets and the women. So when we see 007 as a newlywed (with foxy Diana Rigg as Tracy di Vincenzo), we’re right there with him. Until Blofeld and Bunt have the marriage annulled by shooting her dead in a drive-by. Bond is devastated, the audience is stunned and the credits roll. Every man rubs away a tear before the lights come on.
7. The end of a marathon
Maybe it’s the pain, or the exhaustion, or the pride, or the relief or perhaps just the realisation your nipples are bleeding so profusely it’s as if you are lactating pure nightmare fuel, but there’s something about crossing the finish line and catching sight of your cheering family after 26.2 miles that makes grown men blub. And not a Hollywood tear or two, it’s the full on hard-breathing snotty one, because let’s face it, your body’s not going to take it easy on you after what you’ve just put it through.
8. REM’s Everybody Hurts
Officially the song most likely to make British men cry. You might tell yourself you’re too cool for REM and, the truth is, you’re probably right. But there’s something about this slow, depressing song that, if it catches you when your guard is down, forms a direct line to your tear ducts before you even know what’s going on. See also The Beatles’ In My Life, Johnny Cash’s Hurt, and The Thong Song.
9. Your team losing on penalties
You can set your watch by a dispiriting exit from a major tournament if you’re an England fan, but it still stings every time. There are distinct generations of Englishmen who are differentiated only by the miss that broke their hearts. The conversations go: “Waddle. You?” “Southgate.” “Gerrard for me.” Maybe it’s the booze consumed while watching it that helps the tears come, or the realisation that life will always be a series of predictable failures because some people are always going to be better. The World Cup 2014 knockout stages are just three months away. Enjoy.
10. A moment of unexpected bonding with your father
This is usually over something simple – perhaps fixing a shed door together – and instinctively you both know you are trying to fight back tears. He knows you’ve learned something from him and realises he’s done a good job preparing you for being the man of your own house. Meanwhile it occurs to you he’s been a teacher and role model to you your entire life and it’s all coming together. Sure, you feel like you’re from very different generations, but you are him. And then he can cure you of your teariness quickly by saying the local Ukip candidate has some good ideas.
11. Foolishly eating insanely spicy food
Want to look like a big man? Why not eat that needlessly spicy curry? Or just chew a whole habanero? At first it makes your eyes water, then brings on genuine tears due to the incendiary burning. Chilli added to salty tears also tastes of humiliation.
12. That first baby scan
A friend once told me his first reaction to his wife handing him her positive pregnancy test stick was “Wait, did you do a wee on this?” Emotions get heightened from this point on. Before the birth, first step or first “Daddy” is the scan. So monochrome and grainy it makes a still from the Zapruder film look like a 4K TV demo, this bean-shaped blob will make you feel like a man while crying like a newborn.
13. The slow death of a long romance
Sometimes the ‘blazing row’ break up is blessed relief, as the alternative is your girlfriend slowly removing her books and mournfully asking if this is her copy of A Confederacy Of Dunces or yours. Until you realise that her version has a sweet message written inside from when you bought it for her. Then you remember the troubled author killed himself before it was published.
14. Dawn kissing Tim in The Office
Warmth and romance were often overshadowed by David Brent’s antics in The Office, which is exactly why the ending to the final proper episode – the 2003 Christmas special – is so affecting. Everyman Tim had been an audience surrogate for the previous 13 episodes, but his path to romantic happiness with receptionist Dawn had long been blocked by her dickhead partner, Lee. Finally at a reunion Dawn leaves Lee and immediately plants one on Tim’s lips. When things went well for Tim they went well for all of us. But at least he wasn’t the one wiping away a tear – that was just the viewers.
15. Winning an award
We can’t all be Matthew McConaughey and have the stones to thank ourselves when handed a gong. Chances are you’ll be as humble as possible. It’s all going well a few sentences in unt il you clock that you’re being noble – setting you down an emotional rabbit hole. You’re just so proud of yourself for the way you’ve handled it all, you think as you wipe away tears. Warning: you will be remembered as that guy in the industry from now on.
Don’t think you’re too much of a man to ever see a therapist. If it was good enough for Tony Soprano, it’s good enough for you. When you think about it, it’s entrapment. See any therapist anywhere and you’ll find a big box of tissues plonked near your seat. It’s an open invitation, like aiming at the scented block in a urinal trough, that you instinctively accept. You’re in a safe place, you’re alone with a professional stranger and then next thing you know you’ve got your head in your hands, tears hitting the carpet. And yes, Tony cried in front of Dr Melfi, so you’re going to do the same.
(Images: PA, Kobal, Alamy, BBC)