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How Higgins’ victory tears show that real men can cry

There are few things as instantly affecting as seeing a grown man spontaneously burst into tears, as snooker champion John Higgins reminded us in spectacular fashion this week.

I was half-watching the TV and flicking through a magazine when Higgins won the world title on Monday, a feat he followed with a rather procedural acceptance speech, generously praising the efforts of his opponent and thanking his supporters.

Then interviewer Hazel Irvine mentioned how proud his father, who died in February, would have been. And Higgins, the stoic working class Glaswegian known for his mental toughness, caved in. We’re not talking a couple of subtle tears to be manfully brushed aside here — Higgins’ face crumpled, he gulped and shuddered, his shoulders shook. He looked small and lost. Without waiting to be invited, his wife rushed to his side and held him, and he buried himself in her embrace and stood like a little boy being comforted by his mother. It was deeply moving, wholly unexpected, and completely changed the atmosphere in the auditorium.

Seeing a man cry — especially a stolid, undemonstrative (thus, usually heterosexual) man — has a particular power in the West. It makes us all feel oddly vulnerable, as if our psychological security has been breached. Some dislike this feeling of being exposed and disarmed, and look away. Others enjoy the sense of sweeping emotional release and let it flow through them, unlocking them the way a stirring piece of music or a climactic film finale can.

Personally, when I’ve been with a man who has cried, or even just seen it on TV, I’ve found it oddly euphoric. A door has been opened, a brick has come unloose, a mask has slipped — and I know I’ll see that man differently, with tenderness and interest, from then on.

There was another outstanding example of a man crying in BBC drama United last week, in which David Tennant played Jimmy Murphy, the Welsh Manchester United coach who dealt with the immediate aftermath of the Munich air crash. When Murphy, usually reliant on no-nonsense plain-speak and dry humour, curled into a ball on a lonely stairwell and howled, I saw my husband cross his arms and stiffen. I knew he wouldn’t speak for the next 10 minutes. The same thing happened when we saw Up! at the cinema, and happens every time he reads the last page of James Joyce’s The Dead (a lot).

There is of course a stigma around such a thing, particularly among working class British men, many of whom seem to regard evidence of feeling something as a sign of weakness, a capitulation to the dark, undermining forces within. As if perpetual self-control in the face of every damn thing is an achievement of great importance!

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When a man cries it means he hasn’t spent years obsessively cementing every crack in the airtight wall he’s built around himself, that he’s capable of being deeply moved and hasn’t buried his emotions so deeply that he’s almost forgotten what they’re for. It’s likely he’s also capable of being genuinely close to other people, and probably that he’s a better, more empathetic father.

Men are often scathing about things they’re afraid of, regularly employing derision as their defence against vulnerability — thus the ‘real men don’t cry’ myth. Rejecting that notion as ‘complete b****cks,’ to use a male-friendly term, is a welcome sign that your man is more enlightened than the average bear. Congratulations John Higgins — and nice one on the snooker win too.


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