Real men don't cry. We just get something in our eye.
A short walk from my house in Hampshire, on a hill overlooking the heathland, is a plaque marking the spot where Richard Pryce Jones deliberately crashed his Halifax bomber during the war. He could have parachuted to safety, but that would have meant crashing into the village. The epitaph reads: "He died that others might live."
It never fails to move me. Not to tears, you understand. That would be disrespectful. But I do usually manage a lump in the throat and that film of moisture over the eyes that men have in their emotional armoury. Gordon Brown demonstrated the non-crying cry beautifully when he made his farewell speech on the steps of Number 10. That catch in the throat. The determination not to weep in public. At that moment, if at no other, he had nobility.
Not everyone can carry it off. I don't think Paul Gascoigne ever quite got the hang of it, for example. But I like to think I have it down to an art, my technique honed from years of watching The Railway Children, Sleepless in Seattle and that scene in Dumbo when the mother elephant is locked away. "Daddy!" my sons will say, pointing the accusing finger. "You're crying!"
"Me? Over Dumbo? Ha ha ha. No, boys, what I am doing is man-crying, a sort of non-crying cry. I'll teach you it one day. Very useful."
They are too young to appreciate the nuance yet, but when they are older I will explain that open sobbing is associated with being female, and so inappropriate for men. The Charlie Chaplin analogy might be useful here. He once said that the way to act drunk is to imagine yourself a drunk man trying to act sober. The same is true when a man learns the non-crying cry. To be convincing, you must look as if you are trying to avoid tears.
In this respect, it is important for a young man to appreciate the difference between male tears and female. I remember once asking the actress Emilia Fox if she could cry at will, right there and then, over lunch. To my astonishment, she could – from a standing start. Fat tears rolling down her cheeks. When she had finished, she resumed her smiling countenance.
Those are female tears, and the reason you never hear anyone say: "It's enough to make a grown woman cry." That expression only works when it refers to "grown men" and though that may seem tautological, the "grown" is justified. Not all men are grown. The emotionally incontinent exhibitionists who cry when they are kicked off talent shows such as The X Factor are not grown men, for example. Men have to be careful what they cry at, because some subjects are more worthy of tears than others. Grief, obviously. But not self-pity. And rarely should a man cry in pain. And never at the death of a princess he didn't know. Those are the rules.
I suspect my colleague Matt Pritchett might be with me on this. One of his cartoons this past week showed a father next to a television tuned to the World Cup, explaining to his children that "at some point in the next few weeks, you are going to see me cry". And the day after the last survivor of the Great Escape died, he did a cartoon showing a gravestone with a mound of tunnelled earth trailing away from it. I seemed to have something in my eye when I saw that, and I expect he had the same something in his eye when he drew it.