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What I’ve Learned From My Father’s Tears

cowgirl standing next to cowboy father

I can tell my father’s crying by the way he breathes. The air seems to enter slowly, then release in one long and drawn out breath.

My father doesn’t cry.

He has only cried on two occasions that I can remember.

Once, on the night of my parents’ worst fight. I was young, five or six. My father had been kneeling on the edge of the bathtub while I splashed around in the royal blue baby bath seat, little colored rowboats and stacking blocks littered around me. My mother came in, an angry tornado, and threw her diamond at my father. It clinked off the edge of the porcelain tub, the wall, and then came to a stop on the floor underneath the window.

I found my father later, sitting on the lid of our downstairs toilet, head in his hands. Silent tears rolled down his face. I wanted to curl into his lap, but I was scared. I’d never seen him like that before.

The second time was my graduation day. With teary eyes, he told me he was proud and placed a folded note into my palm as I turned to take a picture with my friends. The note referenced writing and following my dreams. I still keep it in my scrapbook.

Now here we are.

The car is silent except for the sound of his breath. It’s too quiet for anyone else in my family to notice, but I can. I can see the way his shoulders shift slightly down. His left hand goes to his face and rubs his nose, disguises the brushing of tears. His mouth is hollow, the air entering sounds empty, broken. His cries are silent; in a strange way I envy this. I have never been one for discreet sadness, my heaving shoulders and trembling lower lip have always given me away.

It breaks me to watch my father cry. Men crying has a way of making me feel tender, making me feel just as vulnerable and afraid. But watching him, I can not associate crying with weakness. He cries because he is strong; because he is so strong that only some things can break him. Broken, yet not weak.

I am unsure how to comfort him, so I rest a gentle hand and place it on his shoulder, hoping that he can sense that I love him. We are very similar, though I try to fight this. We want things to be perfect, we strive to make things wonderful, but we often fall short. I see myself as broken, but I do not believe that I am weak. I hope my father understands this.

Soon he will wipe his tears and we will pretend this didn’t happen. I will not say anything, and neither will he. But I will hold this moment close when I feel alone. I will remember that even those with the strongest shells have hearts, soft, and real.

This entry was posted in: Family


Marisa Donnelly, M.Ed., is a writer/editor, credentialed teacher, proud bonus mama, and CEO of Be A Light Collective, a coaching and content creation business and digital marketplace. She is the Director of Donnelly’s Daily Apple, a flexible learning/tutoring and educational resource platform, and the lead voice for Momish Moments and Step by Step Parents, verticals dedicated to sharing and advocating for non-traditional parenting journeys. Marisa currently resides in San Diego, California, with her fiancé, kiddo, and their two rambunctious Pitbulls. ❤️

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