My Turn: Real Men Shed Tears—Why It's All Right to Cry

There is a story in Herodotus about Xerxes. The Persian king is on a plateau proudly scanning his million-man army as it marches toward Greece. Suddenly, the emperor bursts into tears and exclaims, "They will all be gone in 100 years." I wonder if he wasn't a little embarrassed in front of his generals. I also wonder if the lugubrious emperor wasn't a man in his 50s.

I crossed the 50-yard line myself recently, and as though I were going though a kind of "maleopause," I sometimes find myself choking up at peculiar moments.

I was recently writing a piece about Joe Frazier and his monumental first fight with Muhammad Ali, and, the next thing I knew, my keyboard was awash in tears. I have the utmost respect for Mr. Frazier's courage in the ring, but it seemed odd to be weeping over Smokin' Joe.

I was a fanatical sport parent and pushed one of my sons very hard in football. He had some significant success, but in the end was too small to succeed at the Division I level. My son is thriving and is now at peace with his football past, but all I need to do is recall the hours we spent practicing together for my face to steam up and the floodgates to open.

Though men don't talk about it much, I don't think I'm alone in my middle-age crying jags. An Army colonel acquaintance who was also a professor needed only to start talking about his former students to get a catch in his throat.

Another friend, a college administrator, would find himself in the middle of a meeting and suddenly his eyes would be seeping—about what, it was hard for him to say. Stoically, he would go on, but some people were unnerved by his display of raw emotion.

Though he is well past the half-century mark, former president Bush began sobbing inconsolably in an address to the Florida House to mark the end of his son Jeb's tenure as governor. He did the same when he was on "Larry King Live" with his daughter.

Then, this past winter, there was the fiftysomething John Kerry choking up as he hit the words "home" and "Vietnam" in his speech to the Senate.

In truth, we men don't know what to say or do about these emotional squalls. When tears started visiting me at awkward times, I would try to hide them, even from my wife. There was a part of me that wanted to laugh as I wept, which in itself was something to cry about.

The philosopher Soren Kierkegaard wrote "there is nothing worse in life than to begin to think of your own emotions as drivel." Crying over a feeling that does not seem all that serious or sad is certainly an invitation to think of your emotions as a form of silly intoxication—or drivel. But recently I had a weepy episode that made me think that these psychological cloudbursts were not just random hormonal storms.

Not long ago my wife and I moved south from Minnesota to accept teaching positions for a year in Florida. Our sons, who are both in their mid-20s and off on their own, stayed up north.

To me, it felt like the beginning of the end of intimacy with our children. The first few months we spent in Florida I was drowning in a muddle of emotions that I could not seem to make sense of.

Then a few weeks back, I awoke in the middle of the night, feeling as though I were in a canoe heading toward Niagara Falls and, of all things, weeping for my mother, who had passed away five years earlier.

Hearing my moans, my wife sat up. "What's the matter, hon? What is it?" I was blubbering like a 6-year-old.

"Nothing—everything—I miss my mom," I choked out. "Ah," my wife sighed, putting her hand on my neck, but her palm seemed only to massage in the idea that some time in the not-too-distant future, one of us would disappear and whichever one of us was left would probably feel like a ghost. It was nothing to laugh about. It seemed to me that there really was a monster under the bed of life.

Women might know this better than men who were raised on John Wayne and then Clint Eastwood movies, but a good cry can make for a sounder sleep. My sobbing episode was a sentimental education. It helped to make clear that the move had opened the deep sluices of grief, that my tears for my boyhood idol Joe Frazier and my football past with my son were tears over the passing of time, over the fact that my life was running through my hands like water.

My Turn: Real Men Shed Tears—Why It's All Right to Cry | Culture