On Sunday, when Tiger Woods won the British Open for the second time in a row and the third time overall, he celebrated his win by sobbing on his caddy’s shoulder. That was Tiger’s first win after the death of his father Earl in May and, as Tiger told the world later, he was crying because he missed his father so much.

When Boys Cry

After the last putt, I realized my dad’s never going to see this again, and I wish he could have seen this one last time. He was out there today keeping me calm. I had a very calm feeling the entire week, especially today.

Tiger’s crying like a broken-hearted child was touching as the wounded boy in him came shattered out of the empirical man. Tiger was comfortable with his public display of emotion and he did not later shrink from the catcalls of crybabyism and being a “Daddy’s Boy” in media commentary and in blogged responses after his tearful win.

In that standing up for the full feelings of a man who misses his father, and who still isn’t able to overcome the pain of longing for him, Tiger Woods, at 30, became bigger than his legend: He grew more human in the landscape of his gifted talents from the Gods. Tiger’s crying has resonance beyond his beating heart.

By showing emotion and by demonstrating it is okay to miss your father in the midst of your glory, he is sending an invisible, yet vibrant, message to young boys all over the world that there is no shame in crying and that sometimes to win is to lose because the father you lost will never see you win again.

Tiger’s fine lesson for a generation of boys hearkens back to 1972 and the debut of the history-making book and album coordinated by Marlo Thomas called “Free to Be You and Me.” When Boys Cry

There is a song on that album sung by professional football star Rosey Grier called “It’s Alright to Cry” and, like Tiger’s open weeping, that song
— sung by a gigantic and tough football hero who played for the New York Giants and the Los Angeles Rams — was a startlingly bright signpost in its time for young boys like me lost in the pit of emotion and the pendulum of wondering.

You can purchase songs from “Free to Be You and Me” on iTunes, but I still remember the simple tune and plain lyric of “It’s Alright to Cry” 34 years later:

It’s alright to cry Crying gets the sad out of you. It’s alright to cry It might make you feel better. Raindrops from your eyes Washing all the mad right out of you. Raindrops from your eyes It’s gonna make you feel better. It’s alright to feel pain Though the feelings may be strange. Feelings are such real things And they change and change and change.

Those were daring words for Rosey Grier to sing in 1972 because, in America at that time, boys were not supposed to cry or be emotional or show their feelings. Boys were born to be tough and unassuaging and determined.

When Boys Cry

Having Rosey Grier sing to us — telling everyone at the end of the song “It’s alright to cry little boy; I know some big boys that cry, too” — put the world on notice that boys and men were human and vulnerable and if you cried you weren’t less of a man, you were a greater human being.

When Boys Cry

One can’t help wonder if Rosey Grier’s song somehow found its way into the mash of Tiger Woods’ upbringing because Tiger certainly reaffirmed — in the most public possible way — that what Rosey taught us all 34 years ago still has value and resonance today.

19 Comments

  1. I agree Tiger Woods has done well in all aspects of his life. I also think he is a great person. It’s easy to be rich and distant and it is harder to be successful and available.
    He also hasn’t allowed himself to get tagged by outside racial or cultural interests that yearn to tie him down or trip him up. He’s unique. He’s his own man. He’s a little lonelier today without his father. That loneliness may be the one thing in his life he will not be able to beat with perseverance and willpower because those are the two unteachable qualities he learned from his father.
    Sports heroes are supposed to be icons and build empires. It is sticky, some believe, when their humanity bubbled to the surface.
    When baseball stars Mark McGwire and Wade Boggs and Tug McGraw and Mike Schmidt all wept at their retirement announcements they were mocked and vilified for their outbursts.
    I suppose one could make the case they were all wallowing in the self-pity of losing their careers while Tiger’s pain was different in that his breakdown was not directly related to the game but to the great man behind his game and that means more to people in the longer view.

  2. David!
    Excellent! Brilliant!!!
    I am an avid tennis and cricket watcher, I still remember the ‘supposed to be stoic’ Pete Sampras breaking into tears…forgot which match it was…
    I am at work, will come back!

  3. It’s good to cry — more people should be told that.
    I don’t cry a lot, but I remember after watching hours of 9/11 coverage just sitting on my stairs and crying.
    After I was done, I felt better and was able to go on with my daily routine.
    It’s interesting that men were told not to cry to make them more productive, according to a Third Age article:

    “Until the Industrial Revolution, crying in public was pretty normal, even for men,” says Tom Lutz, Ph.D., an associate professor of English at the University of Iowa and author of Crying: The Natural and Cultural History of Tears.
    “Heroic epics from Greek times through the Middle Ages are soggy with weeping of all sorts,” Dr. Lutz says. “Through most of history, tearlessness has not been the standard of manliness.” …
    The industrial age needed diligent, not emotional, workers.
    Crying was then delegated to privacy, behind closed doors. Children learned that weeping itself was the problem and not the result of a problem. People everywhere became more uncomfortable with public tears.

  4. Hi Chris —
    Yes, 9/11 was certainly a tearful national moment. Many are still crying because there’s been no real resolution to that problem.
    The history of crying is interesting! I’ll have to re-read my heroic Greek epics to find the men crying!

  5. Yes! I absolutely agree. Of course, I still have copies of “Free To Be You And Me” (as well as the Carole King/Maurice Sendak collaboration “Really Rosey”) on vinyl.
    Rosie was a gender breaker all around, also being fond, if I’m recally correctly, needlepoint.

  6. Loquacious!
    It’s super to hear from you again!
    I am not familiar with “Really Rosey” — I will have to look for it!
    “Free to Be You and Me” was groundbreaking in many ways beyond just making it okay for boys to cry.
    That album/book may seem quaint and outdated today, but in its time, it broke the gender restrictions that boys had to be tough and girls had to stay home and tend a house.
    The book and album “went all the way” in showing strong anti-stereotypical gender role playing possibilities that shattered traditional ideas.
    Some may find those dramatic choices offensive today, but in the context of history in 1972, it was the first public mass sharing of an idea that a young girl can one day have her own life, go her own way and make her own decisions as a strong and independent woman.
    Rosey also was big on macramé! He was named after FDR and not many people remember this:

    Grier was serving as a bodyguard for his friend Robert Kennedy when Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles in 1968. Grier and Olympic gold medalist Rafer Johnson subdued Sirhan Sirhan, with Grier jamming his thumb behind the trigger of the gun to prevent further shots from being fired.

    Rosey was a big star and a bigger man to be admired.

  7. I read the following quote somewhere (forgot where…sorry..!) –
    “You learn to like someone when you find out what makes them laugh, but you can never truly love someone until you find out what makes them cry.”
    It was in US Open Championship’96 where Pete Sampras was sick to his stomach, vomited twice in the court but finally won the match and broke down in tears. It was known as one of his epic ordeal as well as a heroic triumph.
    I used to love watching Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi playing against each other. One was the height of detachment/aloofness and the other was equally expressive – almost used to compliment each other!
    Writing about cricket? Sure! Probably soccer too! That’s another favorite game of mine!
    Talking about cricket, you had to see Steve Waugh, one of the most successful yet pokerfaced Aussie captains I had ever seen in my life. I bet you couldn’t tell at any point time seeing him whether his team is leading or losing without seeing the score!

  8. Speaking of tennis, does anyone remember Roger Federer crying when he won the final of the Australian Open at the start of this year? I think a man able to show his true feelings in public and show genuine emotion about his success is more admirable, for the most part, than what he’s achieved in itself.

  9. Yikes! You don’t want to be Mark Waugh…ever…he was a complete faulty production – I mean performance wise!
    Watching Agassi was a much pleasant experience no doubt because of his passion, but probably performance wise Sampras topped him. I wonder, does success depends on controlling your emotion?
    I loved watching Agassi and Sampras both, agassi’s passion was contagious…on the otherhand Sampras’ calculation, poise and patience was adorable!
    If I remember correctly, Goran Ivansevic was another unfeeling/cold one and he finished his career just behind Pete Sampras, as no. 2.

  10. They looked good…but I don’t think you could be that pokerfaced….(I think I am out of trouble! :D)
    Yes! You are right! Ivan Lendl!! I didn’t like him – he probably surpassed Sampras in context of being cold!
    Even with all those expressionlessness Sampras looked human compared to Ivan Lendl!
    I wonder whether emotion plays a major role in tennis or life as a whole!