There is a curious gender standard that has been taught in my family for multiple generations. At a very young age the boys learned that crying was not an appropriate response to any situation. My sisters were taught at a very young age that crying was the only acceptable response to any situation.
This division of tearfulness had interesting long term consequences to support the unwritten rules of “the Crying Game”. Little boys were publicly scolded for being a sissy as a continual reminder that males would be rewarded only if they continually supressed this natural youthful expression. On the flip side, girls were heaped with praise when the tears flowed after their mean sister made fun the shape of their nose.
As mothers and daughters gracefully aged, crying sessions were part of the secret bond only woman could experience. As boys aged into adults, relationships would be tarnished with consistent evidence of a male’s inability to open up emotionally to deeper, rawer, real conversations. Cliches like “getting in touch with your feminine side”, began to define the soulless emotionally handicapped males who honoured the tearless family traditions.
Statistically I have observed that my family’s female population has a good cry about every 87 hours, while the men have a good cry abut every 2 decades, as long as the bathroom door is locked.
To address the retardation of male emotional expression, men came up with a brilliant solution. If they were ever overwhelmed with years of pent up, unexpressed feelings, they would run to the kitchen and vigorously start cutting onions. While the family was eating their breakfast at the kitchen table, the male, who was suddenly overcome with sadness or grief, would grab a cutting board, chop onions and ask the children is they would like a few onions with their Corn Flakes. As tears flowed down a bearded face, the male would celebrate the lesson on never crying, as he cursed the damn onions.
I only ever saw my father cry twice in his life. The first time was in the 1960s, when his lovely mother Bess, passed away. I was in the car with him as we left the house where my beautiful grand mother had passed. He looked at me and tearfully said “Fathers are sons of bitches. That is the way it is, but mothers are always the most wonderful woman you will ever know”. I am not sure what the lesson that was being taught here, however it was overwhelming to see the patriarch of my family talk and cry at the same time.
The second time I saw my father cry was when we had to place my Alzheimer’s infested mother in to an old age home as dad could no longer provide the care for the most beautiful lady I had ever known. Mom was forced to change her address. I resisted joining in, simply allowing dad to have his own private tearful session. I did rush home and cut some onions to contribute to the fruit salad my family was preparing.
The arts and entertainment industry contributed to this gender crying rule. “Chick Flicks” became a defining label for movies that men were not permitted to watch. These “female only” films did very well at the box office, and suspicious researchers suspected that males were sneaking into the theatres and sitting in the back row. A surprising spike in sales of onions increased every time a chick flick was released.
The movie industry saw this great inequity and provided a iron clad solution to the male population. Sports movies started being produced that had tear jerker potential. Men could sit at home or in a dark movie theatre and watch films like Brian’s Song, Field of Dreams and Bang the Drum Slowly that freely allowed a proper emotional response as long as they added appropriate amounts of freshly cut onions to their bag of popcorn.
My father currently lives on a morphine drip as he battles for dignity during his final days. He now inhabits a bed at a hospice in Oakville as the family struggles to cope with his final days. Father lied to me years ago, but lately I am in a very forgiving mood. He is not now nor has he ever been a son of a bitch. A wonderful man now has few moments left. Today after sitting with dad just holding his hand as he drifted in and out of consciousness, I did all I could to make him comfortable and eventually he just said he was tired and he wanted to sleep. I touched his forehead and walked out of his room and I drove home. I made an emergency stop at the grocery store and bought a ten pound bag of onions and put them beside me on the passenger seat. I quickly opened up the bag and stabbed the unpeeled onions with a pen from my shirt pocket. The onion aroma was necessary as I continued my drive back home, but now I can barely see the road. Damn onions.
Cue the Blong: Father
Dennis. Such a well written and heart wrenching story filled with love for your father. As I read it, I was trying to remember if I had used the last of the onions – because I desperately needed them. I remember so well getting into my car after spending an evening with my dying father, and crying unashamedly – alone – in my car. And not an onion in sight. Thanks for sharing your very personal experience Dennis. My heart goes out to you and your family.