Enda's emotional apology has reminded us: real men do cry

Eamon Keane

WHAT'S in a tear? Well, a lot. Especially for us Irish men. Enda Kenny touched the nation's heart with a tearful apology to the Magdalene women this week.

As people analysed events in the Dail, Enda's tears were remarked on. His display of emotion had a big effect. Media commentators spent all week saying that men should cry. Shock horror!

That's kind of obvious but the real question is why are men are so afraid to do this? Credit to Enda but, remember, it did take a week to display his emotional side.

And no, I don't buy the well versed line that he was just being wise in waiting to apologise. I think he was on a much deeper journey. The Magdalene women did him a big healing favour. Their tears must never be forgotten in all of this, of course.


But why, though, is it so difficult and such a big deal for the Irish male to cry?

I can still remember quite clearly my father's funeral. I didn't cry that day. Why? Because I was numb. At certain times the psychic or soul shock is too great. We switch off. And that's okay because it is a legitimate protection. However, the problem is that we stay too long in those frozen states because of our male conditioning.

From an early age, it is drummed into men not to express. One of the most destructive phrases ever spoken to Irish men is 'be strong now for the family.' This has condemned many a man to silent torturous years of unexpressed grief. And men go on to perpetuate this on their children and their wives.

If you really want to know why many Irish men drink/drug so much, the answer lies in our inability to handle the so-called dark emotions.

If we are to learn anything from the barbarism of the Magdalene and other institutions, it was that children were never valued. This was a direct contradiction to Christ's teachings but the law nonetheless.

Little boys were carted off to reformatories and industrial schools. They learned fast to repress emotion. Brutality was rendered to those who dared express how they felt.

In the same era, beatings were administered in so-called 'normal' schools around the country to a whole generation of men. The dominance of the Church backed by the State had a deadly effect on how men dealt with emotions. We even banned writers who took us into any form of emotional world. James Joyce, Edna O' Brien, Sean O'Casey and others were dealt with in Taliban-like fashion by the ruling elite.

This brainwashing of men has had disastrous effects. Look at the cult that builds up around so-called 'hard men' or 'tough' leaders. They were and still are revered in our society.

Whether it was criminal gangs or apocalyptic bankers, macho culture has dominated. Anyone who questioned this was seen as weak.

Things are changing. And it is coming from the most unlikely quarters. Rugby player Alan Quinlan has spoken openly about his depression. Dublin City Councillor Mannix Flynn, in his play James X, shows us that the only way out of the institutional and societal abuse is to express and feel your true story. These are my male heroes, not the bullies who we once lauded.

But credit this week belongs to the Magdalene women. They appear to have opened something in Enda after his less than empathetic initial reaction to the report.

But isn't it odd that a man crying in the Dail generated so many headlines when the real sea of tears belongs to the brave women who journeyed from hell to tell us their story.