MAN'S WORLD

AS A CHILD I was what doctors back then referred to as a cry-baby. I cried all the time. Fear, guilt, pain, shame, petty injustice, nightmares, dogs, doctors, haircuts or the prospect of any of the above, caused me to burst into floods of tears. So impressive was the effect that other children used to take things away from me just to see me cry. I was famous for it. Eventually I managed to shut off this emotional outlet completely, and not before time.

Following the birth of my first child everything changed. There's something about having children that loosens a nut in your brain. Maybe it's something to do with the enormity of the experience or just the chronic exhaustion that follows. I'm sure it does different things to different people, but for me it had the effect of reawakening my inner cry-baby.

This time around the blubbing is not triggered by genuine emotions, which for me remain as stunted as ever, but by a new and perverse sentimentality. I still regard actual tragedy with a face of stone, but I cry when the cat doesn't come home for dinner, convinced he is lying dead on a skip somewhere with the wind lifting the fur on his stiffened carcass. My wife thinks this is truly funny and keeps opening the cupboard where the cat food is, just to see me well up.

Telly is my real weak spot. Last week I even cried during Stars In Their Eyes, because they all wanted it so bad. Children's videos are also a problem. I have to leave the room when Dumbo's mother gets put in the cage, lest my son see my face crumpling. I envy his composure as he watches the bit where Pooh gives Piglet his house, or the end of Land Before Time III when the baby dinosaurs are reunited with their parents. I admire the way he can look up and say "Simba's dad's dead" without his voice quavering.

My wife has a disturbing passion for American TV movies, in particular for films which carry the subtitle "Based On A True Story". I cannot watch them myself, which I pretend is because they're so dire, but in actual fact I just can't make it through without falling apart. Even the worst of them are like cunningly laid traps. A recent Channel 5 offering about a Florida girl who was being stalked by her ex-boyfriend had me laughing right until the end when the mother marched down to the state legislature saying, "If what is happening to my daughter isn't against the law, then the law is wrong". Without warning my eyes begin to sting. This was a new low: crying at someone's newfound civic wherewithal. When they say it's OK for men to cry, you somehow know this is not what they mean.

I'm hoping that this is just a phase in my emotional development that I've left a bit late, and that it will go away soon. In the meantime I've learned never to mention it to psychologists at dinner parties.

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