Real Men Cry: Why President Obama’s Tears Matter
President Obama tackled topics ranging from the economy to Osama bin Laden, marriage equality, and fake news in his optimistic farewell address last night in Chicago, ending with a poignant “yes we can, yes we did.”
But the breakout moment, according to Facebook and Twitter feeds everywhere, was when the president tearfully acknowledged First Lady Michelle Obama, or as he affectionately called her, “Michelle LaVaughn Robinson, girl of the South Side.”
“For the past 25 years you have not only been my wife and mother of my children, you have been my best friend,” Obama said, as he began to well up with tears. “You took on a role you didn’t ask for. And you made it your own with grace and with grit and with style, and good humour.” Here, the president paused, took out a white handkerchief, and quickly wiped his eyes.
This made for great, emotional television—even before This Is Us aired. But the president’s tears matter more than anyone can really know. For the past eight years, the country has had a president who wasn’t afraid or embarrassed to show emotion on the world stage. Obama memorably shed tears earlier this year, when announcing executive action on gun control, and recalling the Newtown massacre.
“From high schoolers at Columbine and from first graders at Newtown,” he said, as if in disbelief, as he brushed away tears, “First graders.” He has cried in public at least eight other times during his political career, according to a list by the Independent Journal Review, including while remembering his grandmother, who died two days before he was elected in 2008, and in remarks after the death of Beau Biden, the son of his friend and vice-president, Joe Biden, in 2015.
It’s hard to quantify the message this sent, particularly to men and boys around the country who are socialized from a young age to keep a stiff upper lip and shake off their sorrows, that the most powerful man in the world would be vulnerable enough to cry in front of everyone; that he didn’t buy into the belief that being stoic makes you strong; that there is power in his tears.
Only a secure and confident man can stand up while the world watches and tearfully thank his wife for her friendship, love, support, and independent achievements the way Obama did last night. As a friend tweeted afterwards, “This is how a real man treats women.” That’s a line I don’t expect to read a whole lot over the next four years.