Last week, I was driving my son Tate to school. I noticed he was a bit quieter than usual, so I asked if anything was on his mind.
“Daddy,” he said, “I was watching TV last night and The Notebook came on.”
I admit I was a little taken aback. The only movies I’d ever seen Tate watch involve hockey. He’s probably seen Miracle five hundred times, and I’m not exaggerating. In case you’ve never seen The Notebook, it’s a heartbreaking story about the enduring power of love starring Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams. If I made a list of movies I thought Tate would never watch, The Notebook probably would have been near the top.
“I love that movie,” I replied. “Did you cry at the end?”
Tate paused for a moment, then said: “Yeah, I did. I cried when the two old people died together in each other’s arms.”
Truth is, I haven’t seen Tate cry since he was a toddler. He’s been playing ice hockey at an elite level since he was five, and, to put it bluntly, it’s not a sport that encourages young boys to cry. Tate once broke his collarbone during a game, and his coach made him play through the pain. When he began tearing up, he was told: “Only babies cry.” At the time, I chalked that up to the culture of the game. When you get injured, you rub some ice on it and keep skating.
“Tate,” I asked, “if I had been watching the movie with you, would you have cried in front of me?”
“No,” he said. “I probably would have held it in. But it felt great to cry.”
It was beautiful to see my son open up. Most boys his age wouldn’t be caught dead crying to a romance movie, much less telling his dad about it. Society tells boys not to show emotion. To stay strong and rub some ice on it. They’re told that crying is somehow weak. Except, weak is probably the last word I’d use to describe Tate. He’s routinely bodychecked on the rink by boys twice his size, and he’s attending Shattuck-St. Mary’s next fall, which is the best hockey prep school in the country. He’s the toughest kid I know.
The funny part is that Tate comes from a long, proud line of criers. When I was growing up, my dad would cry at almost anything. He’d cry during happy movies. He’d cry during sad movies. He’d cry when he watched me bat during Little League games or when he got a Father’s Day card. We used to joke that he’d cry during Hallmark commercials. To this day, he tears up when he talks about his children and grandchildren. I’m a crier, too. I get emotional during my professional speeches, even when I’ve told the same story a thousand times. I love to cry because it makes me feel better. When I’m battling anxiety, when I’ve been working so hard that I’m exhausted, I open my iPad and play a movie I know will make me bawl my eyes out. My go-to cry movies these days are Lion, American Underdog, Green Book, Chasing Mavericks, and Warrior.
Truth is, we need to be encouraging men and boys to show their emotion instead of bottling it up. My mentor Bill Graebel is one of the most successful businessmen I know, and he’s not afraid to let it all out. He’s the CEO of Graebel Relocation, which is one of the largest logistics and relocation companies in the world. He’s got piercing blue eyes, and when Bill starts talking about his employees and the culture of his organization, they start welling up. Bill is not afraid to show emotion, and so much of his success is because he pours everything into his team and his customers. Another mentor, Jeff May, is the chairman and CEO of the largest mortgage company in Colorado, Cherry Creek Mortgage. He’s also a crier. Jeff is tough. Chews tobacco. Hunts. A real man’s man. But when you get him talking about serving his customers, Jeff lets it all out. I love that about him. And so do his thirteen hundred employees.
So, when Tate admitted that he cried during The Notebook, I was bursting with pride. I was proud that he will one day grow up to be a strong and compassionate leader like Bill Graebel and Jeff May. He will grow up to be a strong parent like his grandfather. He will grow up to be a strong man who isn’t afraid to share his emotions with the world.
As it turned out, I didn’t have to wait long to see the kind of leader and the kind of person Tate will be when he grows up. Just a few days ago, we were picking up food at Chipotle when we noticed an older man with cerebral palsy in a wheelchair eating alone. When we got back to the car, Tate started crying.
“That man is all by himself,” he sobbed. “No one is helping him. Can’t we do something for him?”
I dug through my wallet and found a $25 gift card to Chick-fil-A. “Do you want to give him this?”
Tate’s face brightened. “Yes!” He took the card, ran into the restaurant, and handed it to the man in the wheelchair. When he got back in the car, I said: “Tate, I’m so proud of you. Most fourteen-year-old kids would have walked right by that old man.”
As Charles Dickens wrote, “Heaven knows we need never be ashamed of our tears.” In fact, we could all use a few more tears in our lives. Remember that it’s good to cry. The best heart-led leaders I know aren’t afraid to let it all out. Crying means you are empathetic. It means you are kind. It means you care. And it means you are strong.