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Fathers Who Cry: A Defense of Holy Tears

6:00:00 AMAnne Foster

My mother said he never used to cry this much. Come to think of it, I don’t have many memories as a child seeing my father well up with emotion let alone find him sobbing. Save one: when cancer took his sister Anne. And I wept with him. For although I was only 7 at the time, I had adored my beautiful aunt whom I was named for.  

It wouldn’t be for quite some time that I would see my father cry again. The next occasion I distinctly remember was when his mother passed away, I was fifteen at the time. I think he thought no one saw him. 

But, it was from that moment on that, more and more, it became a common occurrence to see my father deeply moved and drawn to tears. Whether it be the birth of a child, the passing of a friend, a beautiful song or a touching story, you can bet my father is glassy eyed. 

Yet, the distinct moment when his newfound softness first truly struck me, was when he had to read aloud a poem he wrote about me at one of my Lacrosse father daughter ceremonies. My father, who is hands down the most confident and eloquent public speaker I know, could not even get the first word out. He choked up with tears and it took him a moment to compose himself to where he could speak again. I looked at him that day in awe. My tough masculine father was shedding more tears than my mother (and that is quite a feat)! 

It’s been two years since that day and now I’ve gotten used to the fact that my dad is a softy. And I respect him all the more for it. 

When reflecting upon womanly sensitivity and our proneness to tears I immediately thought of my manly father who, over the course of many years, had become prone to tears as well. I’d like to think that his sensitivity in the face of beautiful, sorrowful, and holy things, is not just a mere development in his personality. Rather, I would like to think that it was a combination of spiritual elements which caused this, even if this apparent “change” on his part was purely unintentional. 

For one, I think that my mother’s own softness and sensitivity naturally refines my father’s seemingly rough edges. Over the course of their marriage (at least the parts I have been able to witness) I have noticed again and again the occasions where my mother’s gentleness has attempted to keep in check my father’s brashness. Even Chesterton speaks of “feminine dignity against masculine rowdiness,” a comparison whose relevancy to my parent’s relationship is uncanny (1). 28 years later, it has become unmistakably apparent that their friendship and love has shaped them each for the better. However, I can not give my darling mother all the credit, no matter how influential she is in my father’s life. 

My father's deepened sensitivity speaks not only of his emotional life but of the objects which beget his tears. Being a wise man, he sheds no tears over kittens or even romantic comedies. His tears are reserved for objects of great importance and value, worthy of his display of emotions. 

For instance, if a person is crying over the death of a loved one, their tears speak to the inherent value of the person whom they are mourning. Sorrow, as well a joy, does not merely tell us about the person’s emotional state, it also speaks of the object which they are sorrowful about and joyful about. They tell us that this person is sensitive to objects and circumstances of great importance, in the words of Hildebrand, they are in tune with the world of values. Dietrich von Hildebrand names these emotions, “spiritual feelings” for they are feelings which are in a sense “baptized.” Our intellect, will, and heart express that these feelings are valid for they are in direct proportion to the object to which they are directed (2).

Although tears are usually associated with women and are often unwanted by most men, Hildebrand would claim, and the lives of many saints would attest, that “tears can be expressions of what is best and noblest in a man.”

For there are some things which call for tears.

Alice von Hildebrand writes, “Tears are the proper response to brutality, injustice, cruelty, blasphemy, hatred … we should cry over the daily offenses against God, cry over our sins, cry over the ingratitude of Man.”

When an event worthy of tears arises, tears are seen as a great gift, an exterior manifestation of an interior reality, a gift we are urged to pray for: 

“draw from our hardened hearts tears of compunction.”  

Tears of contrition, are particularly expressive of a man or woman’s awareness of their shortcomings, failings, and their desire to amend their ways and no longer offend God.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise then that tears, when connected to spiritual feelings, ought to be revered.

The most holy woman of all, Christ’s Mother, was given the title, mater dolorosa (sorrowful mother). 

“Is there one who would not weep, whelm’d in miseries so deep Christ’s dear Mother behold.”(3)

Weeping such as described here is an expression of emotion which is truly blessed, what Hildebrand would call holy tears. For it is an action which expresses the importance of the event and a deep love for God. 

Furthermore, I believe that on many of the occasions I’ve seen my Father cry, his tears were blessed and holy. Tears which spoke of the depths of his heart and soul. He, nor any man or woman, should ever be ashamed to express with tears that they are truly moved by something: whether that be parents who choke up sending their son or daughter off to college for the first time, or the groom who sees his bride walking towards him down the aisle. 

There is such a thing as holy tears. And there’s no need to hold them back.  

1.   Chesterton, What is Wrong With the World, p. 163.
2.  Hildebrand, The Privilege of Being a Woman, p. 69.
3.  Hildebrand, The Privilege of Being a Woman, p. 45.
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