Revisiting: Real Depressed Men Don’t Cry

chrome-plated motorcycle engine with painting of girl

This is an edited version of one of the first posts I wrote for Storied Mind.


I’m not sure where the following came from, but it turned up on my cyber doorstep recently. I guess some men have trouble living up to their fantasies:

Ok, everybody knows depressed people have these outbursts of grief and crying for no apparent reason. At least some people break down like that. But not me. I’m not going to start springing leaks in my well-caulked hull of a head for no reason. Real depressed men don’t do that.

I never do that, not ever. Well, hardly ever. But should an accident like that happen, with a dribble of mental incontinence when least expected, it’s not going to happen in public. No way.

So what hit me the other day was totally out of line. I was driving to work, having picked just the right time to miss all the jams and fly down the freeway, when I started listening to the radio. Not just any pop tune bouncing beat kind of thing but the stealth ego breakers of NPR. Serves me right.

There was a feature story about concentration camp survivors. A group of them had been contacted by a dying veteran who had a shoebox full of snapshots of them all. He’d taken the pictures the day their camp had been liberated. Late in his life, he searched out the identities of all those skeletal inmates in the pictures. Then he sent the photos to each one of the survivors.

The group got together for a celebration to honor the vet after his death. They were telling each other incredible stories of how they had managed to stay alive, talking through half-grieving, half-happy tears, and somebody made a movie of the whole thing. Somehow, it really got to me.

I tried to shake it off. OK, very moving, very ennobling, but I don’t know these people. What’s it to me? But there I am exiting the freeway onto the downtown street a few blocks from my office when these lurchy guttural swellings start rising up in my throat. What the hell is this?

Am I about to lose it right when I’m pulling into the parking lot? I was working hard to keep this under control. I felt like I had a sub-machine gun in my chest choking my breath and pushing wet stuff out of my eyes.

I get my car into a tight space in the lot behind our building, needing a couple of minutes to get myself together – in private. But the place is filling up fast. A couple of ten-foot high SUV’s pull in on either side of my car.

Those drivers can look straight down inside my flat sedan as I sit there, leaning on the steering wheel and trying to be invisible. I am struggling to stifle this shakey lung box of mine and hold onto any stray moisture trying to escape, but I am on the verge of losing it.

Will I be able to get inside the building, down the long halls to my office, and stay in control of this mess? Or am I going to have to start up this engine again and go right home? What do I do?

The answer was simple. Think of what real depressed men do in situations like this. Real guys, like Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon. There he is, when you first see him, depressed as hell because his beautiful wife is dead, and what does he do? Sit around sobbing and blubbering? No way.

He does the manly thing. He gets dead drunk. Then he gets full of suicidal rage and goes out to beat up a lot of bad guys, blast them limb from limb with his endlessly repeating automatic nine millimeter recoilless cannon. That’s what he does. But you don’t have to be in the movies to do real guy stuff.

You can leather up, go dump your cash into a shining chrome beast and roar out onto the open road of American male dreams. Sure, you’re a little old for this sort of thing. You might lose the gravity battle with that hefty beauty as you tear around a sharp corner and slide across the pavement, leaving half the skin of your leg behind. But what the hell.

You get up, dust off, bleed your injuries away and roar back. And I remember what a friend of mine told me years ago: Don’t let anybody tell you different about why guys love to ride: It’s the vibrations.

Is anybody bawling and crying after all that? No! I was inspired. I rubbed my brain briskly, got out of the car and strode into that office. And no one was any the wiser. Accidents may happen, but real depressed men don’t cry.

– Jack X

Photo Credit: Kenn Kiser at MorgueFile

11 Responses to “Revisiting: Real Depressed Men Don’t Cry”

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  1. R Coker says:

    I really like a lot of stuff you write, but as a lifelong cryer, I can’t help but feel as though your title minimizes the condition of men who do cry when upset.

    My feelings on this lead me to thing either your illness or problem is much more deep-seated than others’, or you were conditioned very early in life that crying is not something men should do.

    I don’t mean any offense by this, it’s just an observation.


    • John Folk-Williams says:

      Hi, R Coker –

      I guess one of the problems with a title of Real Men is that the tongue-in-cheek tone might not come through. The fact is that I cry a lot and, when depressed, often for no reason that I can identify. But many men are raised to stifle tears and feelings of sadness and grief. This sort of behavior is thought to be shameful and weak – it’s purely social conditioning. So I contrast me crying in the car with the fictional Mel Gibson character in Lethal Weapon who rages in violence and drinks his grief away rather than shed a tear. Sorry if I sound like I’m minimizing the experience of male crying. Not my intention at all.


      • R Coker says:

        Good to hear from you. I actually think I might have misread your post. Thanks for the reply.

        The time I’ve spent crying both as an adult and in my youth might accumulate to an entire day, week, or somewhere in between. Maybe longer.

        Sometimes spending too much time crying can ultimately get out of hand, but it’s definitely a good way to vent sad and angry feelings.


  2. Noch Noch says:

    engaging ‘story’, i love how you describe things. i could visualize it happening when i was reading it
    Noch Noch

  3. Evan says:

    I do think that the behaviour of the genders is largely shaped by their own gender. A big topic I know.

  4. Wendy Love says:

    I love your writing, sometimes enjoying the words so much I forget to even analyse the ideas, I am so busy admiring the use of words! Anyways, this is a good old topic. I suppose that men feel that real men don’t cry but ask most women and they will say that is a sign of a ‘real man’, that he can and will cry.

    Maybe what men believe is that real men don’t show their feelings and a lot of men don’t, which makes them appear as if they have no feelings, but of course they do! So crying is just another way of saying ‘I have feelings’.

    Crying can also mean that maybe you have been touched somewhere deep down, as you obviously were the day you couldn’t stop crying after hearing about that war story.

    Recently I watched a documentary on ‘The Great Escape’ and I could not stop crying. Grief took over me, grief over those young young men in that war in that prison, grief over lives lost, grief over the terrible things the Germans did…. just grief.

    The bible says ‘blessed are they that mourn for they will be comforted’. If that is true, then God blesses those who show their feels especially mournful feelings for the losses of others. So if we don’t express our feelings then how can God, or another person, know that we have those feelings and how can they help us?

    I admire a man who is willing to show his feeling side. Keep it up!

    • John Folk-Williams says:

      Hi, Wendy –

      Thank you. I’m glad you like the writing – and men who show their feelings. I guess this piece captures the deep conflict about letting feelings out. There’s such a strong tendency in me to hold back that came both from social models growing up but also from deeper responses to family struggles.


  5. Evan says:

    It’s a great piece of writing John.


  1. Storied Mind says:

    Revisiting: Real Depressed Men Don’t Cry…

    Revisiting: Real Depressed Men Don’t Cry This is an edited version of one of the first posts I…

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