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Big boys don't cry.

IN NEIL SIMON'S PLAY, Brighton Beach Memoirs, Eugene reflects on his transition to manhood. He says every boy experiences an event that thrusts him from the safety of childhood to adulthood. On that day he becomes a man.

I remember "my day" very clearly my grandmother's funeral. I stood at her grave, put my arm around my mother's shoulder and comforted her as she cried. Many women cried, but I noticed not one man shed a tear; they were generally calm, cool and collected. Later, my father said he was very proud of the way I behaved. I did not cry that afternoon but waited until I was alone that night and cried under my covers.

And life went on. However, no event up until then had a more profound effect on me. I guess that was the day I became a man. From childhood, boys are encouraged to be strong and hide their emotions. To express them is generally perceived as a sign of weakness. Degrees of Pain

I've realized since my son, Johnny, was born with Down syndrome over four years ago that there are various degrees of pain. the pain I refer to is much worse than that which is felt when stubbing a toe on a bedpost or the pain of a toothache.

You know the examples of the pain I mean: knowing your child will never be normal; knowing you can never conceive children; knowing a loved one is dying of cancer. The pain is especially intense because you have little control over the events and no way to meaningfully change the situation. 1, for one, enjoy having control over things that affect me. What concerns me is how men conceal so much of their emotions and pain behind a facade of strength.

When Johnny was born, we thought that everything was fine. It wasn't until several hours later when I saw one of the doctors examining him that I knew something was wrong. The doctor left the nursery, introduced himself to me, and asked to speak to me privately. We walked to a supply room behind the nurses' station where he informed me they had strong reason to believe that Johnny had Down syndrome. (By the way, he was very compassionate and supportive. We did not have a "bad experience.")

I felt faint for a second, the first time since being cross-checked in a college hockey game, and put my hand against the wall to keep my balance. It only took me a second to regain my composure. Then, the traditional male virtues took over.

I kept saying to myself, "I have to be strong and hold it together. Sue needs me to be stronger than ever. My family and others will look to me to be strong."

So, right out of a scene from General Hospital, I gave the doctor a confident nod, asked him to follow me to my wife's room and explain the situation to her. I opened the door, sat next to her on the bed, and told her the doctor had something to tell us. Another dose of manhood took over, and I held her hand and said, "No matter what, we will get through this. Nothing is going to stop us. You can count on me." Denying Grief

The doctor repeated the same words he spoke to me, and Sue began to cry. I held back every emotion in my heart because I felt by being strong she would be comforted. Isn't that the way men are supposed to be? I have reflected on that day for some time now, and the memory has begun to anger me. Not because it was the day I found out my son has a disability but, rather, because I was denied the right to grieve, to express the pain and sorrow I was feeling. Some say that I should have let it all out. However, I wonder how many other men responded the same way I did.

I get a kick out of the television show thirty something. The story revolves around several couples who are the closest of friends. They confide in each other, let down their defenses and share their feelings of fear, doubt and confusion about day-today life. The men, especially, talk about their feelings and show their emotions. But, alas, this is television, not the "real" world.

Many remember the late Senator Hubert Humphrey whose political career was destroyed because he cried on national television. Regardless of whether or not Mr. Humphrey would have made a good president, it was unfair that his political career was tarnished because he expressed his emotions. Why are men often looked down upon for expressing sorrow and grief? I am pretty sure most men experience these emotions. I know I do.

Sue and I are members of a Parent to Parent Network through which we provide information and support to new parents of children with disabilities. I cannot recall one instance when the father made the initial contact; it is always the mother.

Often, I speak to the mother and ask if the father wants another guy" to talk to about "things." The answer is usually the same: He is fine. I'll let him know you offered, but I don't think he will be interested. Thank you."

My response is usually, "I'm glad to hear he is taking it so well. Let him know he can contact me at any time if he wants to talk." What I am really thinking is "Fantastic, another Knight inducted into the John Wayne Hall of Fame." Permission To Express

Johnny's birth has aroused many emotions in me. On the one hand, I have learned a lot about compassion and understanding. I can empathize with the disappointment my friend feels knowing he can never have children of his own or another's regrets in knowing he did irreparable damage to his marriage by having an affair. I sincerely feel that men desire a break - to let their emotions flow without the fear of persecution and embarrassment.

As we move through the 1990's, my resolution i to be selfish and treat myself to a good cry or two every once in a while; also, to be more compassionate toward my male friends when they are going through periods of crisis.

Sue and I have three sons now. What I hope to instill in them is compassion for others and the permission to express and share their emotions. Holding it all back does little or no good. I am a good example to them. Who ever said big boys don't cry?
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Title Annotation:father of Down syndrome son
Author:Primsly, John
Publication:The Exceptional Parent
Date:Apr 1, 1991
Previous Article:Meeting legislative challenges; educating our neighbors.
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