Are Men Allowed to Cry?

Over the last week or so, the events of our times have finally gotten the better of me. I think I have always been a person with reasonable emotional intelligence and awareness. However, I have grown up in a lifetime where showing your emotions is seen as a form of weakness. In my 40+ years of service in the Army, I have always been aware that as an officer and leader you must always show strength, be calm and decisive, your soldiers depend on you and you need to demonstrate hope and strength. Do not ever let your guard down. It is true that as a male this is still very much part of our psyche, you must not show your emotion or cry as some believe this shows vulnerability and is not setting a good example.

As a principal and leader, how wrong this thinking is. Showing your emotion is part of being human, part of showing who you are, and others will value your relationship. The events of last week were extraordinary. I was in a meeting at the Catholic Education Office and in a short break was alerted that the Premier was about to announce a full lockdown of the state. My immediate reaction was to be in touch with my leadership team at school. I rang the school and asked that a student communication be drafted with clear and succinct instructions, a parent communique was drafted as well, and all staff instructed to gather in our gymnasium after students had been dismissed. On my way back to school, my mind was racing. What would I say to the staff? I drove past Colonnades Shopping Centre and the car park was overflowing. I received an urgent email from the Catholic Education Office that a webinar would be held at 4pm for all principals with clear instructions on what needed to happen during this lockdown.

When I got to school, the leadership team was meeting in the Boardroom, I went to my office and put the kettle on and made myself a cup of tea. My mind was still racing! I quickly chatted to the leadership team who had already begun the planning across both campuses. I asked them to meet for the webinar so that they could hear everything first-hand. There was a general sense of calm across the school. Students made sure they got their laptops and any books to take home. At 3:40 pm the staff had gathered in the gymnasium, just over 170 all appropriately socially distanced. I addressed the staff in a calm manner explaining the events of the day and the Premier’s press conference. I reassured the staff that we would be OK, we had done the remote learning before and that the priority is for them to get home straight away to look after their families and to stay safe. I told them I would email them later that evening with instructions and the leadership team would be onsite to support students who needed to be looked after at school in the ensuing days. By 4:00pm the school car park was deserted – I could only imagine what was happening in the minds of everyone. What I do know is that it was a highly anxious time for me, I even experienced a level of fear and being confronted by panic shopping and everyone wearing masks brought a reality to the seriousness of what was happening.

This whole year has been a year of uncertainty, deep concern and levels of anxiety not seen previously. For me, the focus has been to keep going, be hopeful and grateful, show leadership and be flexible, stay calm and be decisive and compassionate. People ask me how I am and I respond quickly that I am fine. Well, the glass finally got to overflow this week. There have been moments when I have been feeling quite teary and at times very sad. It is a sign that I need to say it is OK to feel that way and to be fully human. We are all allowed to feel the pain and sadness of this horrible pandemic and what it is happening to our world.

During this time, I was drawn to a beautiful song that was sung at the Year 12 graduation called “The Prayer” written by David Foster, Carole Bayer Sayer, Alberta Testa and Tony Renis and made famous by Celine Dion and Andrea Bocelli. These words give me inspiration:

I pray you’ll be our eyes,
And watch us where we go
And help us to be wise,
In times when we don’t know
Let this be our prayer,
When we lose our way
Lead us to a place,
Guide us with your grace
To a place where we’ll be safe.

It is OK for men to cry!!

Dr Paul Rijken is principal of Cardijn College, an R-12 co-educational Catholic school in the Marist tradition, deeply inspired by the method of College patron Joseph Cardijn with a foundation built on the three pillars of his teachings; to See, Judge and Act. Educating and inspiring students in the beautiful Southern Vales region of Adelaide since 1984, Cardijn has grown to encompass three schools, each with distinct offerings. Cardijn College Galilee at Aldinga offers Reception to Year 7, expanding to include Year 8 in 2022 and Year 9 in 2023. Cardijn College at Noarlunga Downs offers Years 7-12 and is renowned for academic excellence and a vibrant extra-curricular program. Cardijn College Marcellin at Christie Downs provides a wide variety of vocational education and training opportunities for students in Years 10 – 12 and beyond, with relationships that extend well into their careers. With a current enrolment of 1750 students and 240 staff, Cardijn College is an institution which strives to be a beacon of faith in the community, with students who have enormous influence and impact on both a local and global level. Paul has been the principal at Cardijn College since 2005. He has a Ph.D. from Curtin University in Science and Mathematics Education. He is a Fellow of the Australian College of Educational Leaders.

4 comments on “Are Men Allowed to Cry?

  1. Michelle Ortiz

    Wow, this is so inspirational. Can I share this? All men need to see this.

    Thank you


  2. Viano Jaksa

    Your strength has always been one of your greatest qualities. Tears have always been seen as a sign of weakness, but I don’t think they are. They are a sign of deep feelings and to feel deeply is a strength and an innate part of our humanity. Your reflection is spot on, and filled with wisdom, as always.


  3. Tess Snape

    This is a beautiful— and important— post. I think when our leaders have the very real strength and courage to admit their vulnerabilities, this allows/permits others to accept, and admit their own. I think this is especially important for males to know: tears are not a sign of weakness, “Jesus wept” (John 11:35)
    I am certain this blog gives great reassurance to members of the Cardijn community how much you genuinely care. And in these uncertain times, this means much.


  4. Alan Brown

    nice one Paul very true!


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