The Last Time I Cried

See also Big Boys Don’t Cry

The last time I cried was at the sheer beauty of the love welling up inside of me, in the deep release of meditation. I’ve also cried in gratitude at my guru’s feet, on more than one occasion. He’s the one who has helped me more than anyone with my life, my mother and father included.

Before I met him it was difficult to cry. I cried once when I was lost in the Tasmanian wilderness, separated in the middle of a rainy night from a group of protestors who had set up camp on the shores of Lake Pedder. There on the crystal white shores of the lake, in the middle of the night, the man who came to my rescue said, ‘Don’t do that, there are women here.’

Maybe he was trained in the same school as my father, whom I never saw cry. I cried with my mother when her mother died. She was the kind of grandmother you dreamed of having: American, champion baker, apple pie, lemon pie and sweet potato pies. But better than baking, she was good at hugging. From her, and from my mother, I knew what it was to be accepted.

My father found that harder. I was a sissy boy, after all, and nothing in his tough upbringing had prepared him for vulnerability in a boy. It was denial all the way. From him, I read masculinity as a tough carapace grown to shield all feeling, and knew from an early age I wouldn’t qualify. My older brother, who was the apple of my father’s eye, was very good at sports, a real tough guy, who used to tease me, pin me to the ground with his knees against my shoulders, until I cried. 

One time he pushed me, unsuspecting, to the point of rage and was shocked to discover that I could accurately fling a piece of firewood across the yard and strike him right on the bloody nose. My father cursed me, biblically, thundering ominously of Cain and Abel, but I wasn’t sure who was the good guy and who the bad one in that old story.

One night my mother refused to sleep with him. Perhaps he was drunk. She took to my bed and asked me to take her place in the parents’ bedroom. I was asleep before he came in. She had no inkling of what might transpire there, in her absence, but in the night a dark dream disturbed me and, in the morning, I found my pyjama pants down around my ankles. Rubbing sleep from my eyes, I wandered into the day. 

In the kitchen my father and a mate were laying a new floor — rubber tiles, très moderne — and pots of glue, some Stanley knives and piles of tiles lay here and there.

The men were puzzling out how to cut a curve into the squares of tiles — a section of the cupboards was curved instead of straight. ‘Aaargh, that’s a problem,’ my father said; and his mate, the one with the strong arms and the leather belt for work tools, agreed, ‘Aaargh, that’s a problem, alright.’

I sidled up, ready to try on manliness and parroted, ‘Yeah, that’s a real problem.’ But my diffident rehearsal was instantly rebuffed — I got a backhander that sent me spinning. ‘You get OUTTA here,’ he shouted, and I reeled off to my bedroom to wonder what was happening to me. The brutal rejection felt so different from the embrace the night before.

Some things are just too painful to cry about. Sitting on my bed, mute, with the world spinning round my head, I didn’t know how to cope. But I knew that one day, when I had better resources, I would need to come back and fix up whatever survival strategy I settled on in my intense confusion. I don’t know how long I sat there alone in my room, but when I emerged, I had decided to shut this unpredictable man out of my life, as much as childishly possible (the exigencies of living alone far beyond my abilities as an 11-year-old) and I followed through on my secret plan to the very best of my ability.

‘I don’t see crying as a sign of weakness’

I cry about emotional stuff, like an argument with my brother. I don’t feel bad crying in front of other people. I’ve cried in front of my dad. We spend a lot of time together. He comforts me. It depends who you are with.
When you are hanging out with a group you don’t talk about emotional stuff so much — it’s not what happens. It all depends if you’ve got problems and stuff. And if someone wants to talk to you.
I don’t feel ashamed about crying. I don’t see crying as a sign of weakness — it is a sign of strength. I saw my dad cry on the Pathways Camp. We had a hug and stuff and like….a moment.
People cry because they need to. If it happens it happens, if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. But it’s better to let it out than keep it bottled up inside.
At school it’s not a safe situation to cry. It would be like showing another person they have won.
I’ve grown up in an environment with a psychologist as a mum and of being able to sit with your emotions, and go through them rather than block them out.
Jet, 19 years old, student

‘I don’t think crying helps’

I only cried once this year. I can’t remember why.
I’ve seen a friend cry when he hit a metal pedal and scraped his skin to the bone and I had to carry him home.
I don’t feel comfortable crying in front of anyone — or crying at all, unless I’ve got something in my eye. (Laughs)
I don’t cry in movies — they’re sad but they aren’t real.
When I am upset I sometimes go to my mates and have fun and pretend it didn’t happen, just talk about it in passing and trivialise it. I don’t think crying helps.
It would upset me a little to see my dad cry — your parents are supposed to be strong and stuff.
High School student, 16 years

It took me decades to come back to that man and, instead of trying to get him to admit he was wrong about me, recognise his own difficulties, I learned to acknowledge his pain and — more than that — find a way to love him as a fellow human being.

He was an illegitimate child, born in 1910, on the goldfields of Western Australia. Perhaps he had tried to pass on to me his own father’s impenetrable lesson. Was it rejection he learned, or how to ‘stand on your own two feet’  — which must have stood him in good stead during the Depression era.

Perhaps detachment is a harder lesson than love can be and I’ve only recently learned to let it help me find an even keel. I’m still untangling the other mystery — the ‘I’ll hug you to me in the middle of the night and push you away in the daytime’ — but the tight knot closed against the father in me is slowly opening as my inner life deepens.

I didn’t get help from a church (they have trouble with my kind); nor from a therapist, nor in the claustrophobic confines of a ghetto gay ‘community’.

I cry for others’ suffering now and hope they too find the way back to full acceptance in the inner embrace of the love that speaks us into being, every breath. If I have found a strength in that, outlaw that I am, you have to ask how kind is the force that supports all life that way, unconditionally. We look to each other for what can only be found there, within, and make each other cry unnecessarily.

Published in byronchild/Kindred, Issue 13

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