Boys don’t cry. But dads do.

Recently, after reading (and then, I have to assume, burning) one of my books, a female reader wrote to tell me that I was an insensitive and politically unenlightened man. She then hinted that she might have to tattle on me by (this is absolutely true) sharing the offending book with Oprah Winfrey.
Well, this reader might be right about me. I might have the sensitivity of a sock puppet. But my male friends? They are responsive, evolved, politically enlightened …
… crybabies.
OK, they’re not crybabies. But they are all, shall we say, in touch with their inner tear ducts. At least when it comes to their children.
Today is Father’s Day, and so I asked some of my friends who are fathers to share with me a moment when they realized they were dads. And almost all of them responded with a story that ended with them crying. Sobbing. Bawling. This was true even of the lawyers!
To wit, Jeff Kilgore is an attorney in Waterbury. The moment for him occurred 20 years ago this July, at the hospital after his wife had given birth to their daughter, Alex. The nurse handed him the swaddled little bundle that was his newborn daughter and the tears just started to stream down his face.
Then there was Dana Yeaton, a playwright in Middlebury. About a month before his son, James, was born 24 years ago, he was ripping a sheet of plywood in two. Abruptly his back muscles started to spasm, and he ended up on the concrete floor, unable to move. A few days later he went to get a massage, and when the therapist touched his feet, he burst into tears.
“Hmmm,” the therapist asked, “Anything going on these days — you know, emotionally?”
“Turns out,” Yeaton recalls, “I was feeling a little pressure. It was no longer OK to mess up. It was time to be a grown-up.” Happily, he has since outgrown that quaint notion, and by his own admission has been messing up consistently ever since.
But there were those tears. And the same was true for Patrick Clow, a technical support manager for an electronics firm when he isn’t helping to raise his almost 2-year-old son, Elliott. Elliott went to day care for the first time two months after he was born, and Clow was responsible for bringing the boy there. Only problem? Clow couldn’t bring himself to leave.
“I said to the caregiver, ‘I’ll just sit out here for a minute, in case he cries,'” he recalls. And the baby did cry. A little. “But even when he was perfectly calm,” Clow says, “I was still there. I’d stand up and walk toward the door, but a haze obscured my vision and I couldn’t actually see the door anymore. This went on for about an hour. When I finally got enough courage to leave, I sat in my car and bawled for 15 minutes.”
I don’t think my own daughter has ever seen me cry because (don’t forget) I’m an insensitive mop wringer of a dad. Once my daughter saw me get a little teary during a poignant father-daughter moment in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and she was extremely weirded out by the very idea that I might have tear ducts.
But Clow, Yeaton and Kilgore were on to something. Clow referred to “the strength of the umbilical connection” that first time he dropped Elliott off at day care. I still recall vividly the relief I felt the first time I picked my daughter up at day care and saw she was fine. I remember the pride I experienced when I watched her reassure her sobbing mother she would be OK as she climbed onto the school bus for the first day of kindergarten. And I know well the wistfulness I felt as I watched her say good-bye to her elementary school teachers just about a year ago now.
Therapist and writer Thomas Moore once wrote that bringing “new life into existence” might be as close as we come to divinity in this world. I think he’s right. But I also believe that one of the great joys of fatherhood is the chance it gives a man to be mortal.
Happy Father’s Day.
((This column originally appeared in the Burlington Free Press on June 18, 2006.)

Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian is the author of nineteen books, including his forthcoming novel, The Sleepwalker. His other novels include the New York Times bestsellers Midwives, The Sandcastle Girls, The Guest Room, and The Double Bind.