20 Things that Make Me Cry
Prepare yourself, because you are about to be faced with the toughest gauntlet of heart-wrenching tearjerkers you’ve ever experienced. I defy you to watch these clips, listen to these songs, and read these books without shedding a tear. Consider it a challenge - a challenge that I always fail. Or maybe I pass - depending on how you look at it.
I think it’s important to cry every now and then. And I think it’s actually a good thing for kids to see Dad shed a few tears as well. Boys and girls are bombarded with gender norms by society enough as it is - things like girls are full of emotions and boys don’t cry. That’s why it’s up to us dads to step up and say you don’t have to be emotionless robots to be tough and cool.
Unfortunately, if they aren’t being taught explicitly that it’s okay to be sad sometimes, little boys are absolutely going to grow up thinking there is something wrong with crying. That’s just the way it is, and it’s extremely distressing for the little guys to have to pile junk like that on top of being sad already.
The funny thing for me is that things in my everyday life don’t make me cry very often at all. But there are quite a few movies and books that get me every time. Some of the items on this list go all the way back to my childhood, and some are relatively new discoveries for me. But it turns out that there are common threads that tie all of the items on this list together. You can even play detective. Try your best to psychoanalyze me and figure out what the common threads are in the top 20 things that make me cry.
Spoiler Warning: Several of these entries include descriptions of key plot details from books and movies - including their endings.
20. When the Band Decides to Keep Playing in Titanic
The end of Titanic is masterful at manipulating my emotions. But it isn’t Jack and Rose that make me tear up, it’s the parents tucking their kids into bed in the lower decks while water is rushing in and the band plays a sad song on deck. It’s hard to explain why the band gets to me so much. If you’re unfamiliar with the scene, the band is playing on deck to try and calm everyone’s nerves during the evacuation. At a certain point, they stop playing and say goodbye to each other, ostensibly to go their own ways and do their best to find a rescue boat and survive.
But the violinist continues to play by himself, and one by one they come back to join him, accepting their fate. The short montage includes an elderly couple hugging in bed, and a mother telling her kids a goodnight story. And the band is just the icing on the cake of this very sad part of the film that reminds us all that life is about doing what you love and spending time with those you love.
19. The Gillette Commercial about Raising the Men of the Future
I try to be very attuned to the responsibility of raising kids and how important it is to help them develop their own sense of priorities in life. If I had my way, everyone’s number one priority in life would be kindness. But, as a middle school teacher, I also get to experience more than my fair share of humans being mean to other humans.
With that in mind, I really love this commercial from Gillette about raising kids to be kind. It probably really gets to me because it’s a passion of mine. There are a lot of great moments in this commercial, but my favorite is when a father taking a walk with his son goes out of his way to stop a group of bullies from terrorizing a boy on the street. The look on the boy’s face as he watches his father do the right thing is enough to make me tear up.
18. The Thai Insurance Commercial - Silence of Love
This commercial from a Thai insurance company is a work of art. It’s worthy of an Academy Award. It tells the tale of a man who is deaf and his daughter who is embarrassed by him. I don’t want to spoil a single second of it if you’ve never watched it before. Just turn up the volume and watch close. All I can say is that as a father I can barely handle this one. It’s kind of like a live version adaptation of The Giving Tree. And ultimately it makes me cry my eyes out for pretty similar reasons.
17. Tears in Heaven
Eric Clapton lost his son when he was 4 years old. Shortly after that he wrote the saddest song that’s ever been written. I can’t imagine that pain and all I can do is hope I never understand it. Clapton touches upon such a tragic concept with his lyrics - asking his son if he’ll even remember him if they meet again. That’s a terrifying and very depressing thought. It’s enough to make me want to squeeze my kids close for an awkwardly long hug.
16. Nothing Compares 2 U
Next up is the second saddest song ever written - Nothing Compares 2 U - written by Prince and made famous by Sinead O’Connor. The funny thing is, it makes me cry because I have my own interpretation of the lyrics. Prince wrote the song for a girl - so the original intention from him was clearly a breakup song. But for my entire life I’ve interpreted Sinead O’Connor’s version of this song as singing to a lost child. Every single lyric of the song can be interpreted both ways. Take these two lines for example:
I could put my arms around every boy I see, but they'd only remind me of you.
All the flowers that you planted mama in the back yard, all died when you went away.
The great thing about art is that the artist and the person consuming the art both bring their own experiences to the table to create meaning. And I’ve always come together with this song to create something that makes me very, very sad.
15. Cry, Heart, But Never Break
Death is perhaps the most difficult subject for children to learn and understand. Cry, Heart, But Never Break by Glenn Ringtved tackles this subject head on, and attempts to explain to a young audience why people have to die.
In the story, death is a character in the story that comes to visit when a grandmother is about to die. All of her grandchildren try to stall death by offering him more coffee and asking him questions. Ultimately he tells them a story about life and death, about happiness and sadness, and how we have to have highs as well as lows for life to have any meaning.
I love how the children still don’t entirely understand by the end, because that’s not the point. It’s impossible to understand. And I think that’s why this book makes me cry. While reading it, somewhere in the back of my head I’m always conscious of the fact that this is a book written for children who are very likely very futilely trying to come to terms with the meaning of life.
14. Billy Elliot
Billy Elliot is a film about a boy who discovers how much he loves to dance. His father works in a coal mine and he’s very against the idea of having a son who is a dancer. This is a very heartwarming film about following your passions.
Helping our kids find out what they love to do and how they want to spend their life is really important to me. I consider it my most important job nurturing that. The idea that kids are being discouraged from doing what they love is certainly enough to make me cry. Billy’s dad tells him “lads do football, or boxing, or wrestling - not ballet.” But by the end Billy’s dad realizes the error of his ways. The final scene is very powerful - as Billy dances the lead in a professional production of Swan Lake as his proud father and brother look on.
13. Snape Looking Into Harry Potter’s Eyes
Without spoiling too much about Harry Potter, let’s just say that Harry’s relationship with Snape is complicated - as is Snape’s relationship with the entire Potter family. Snape loved Harry’s mother, and hated Harry’s father - with good reason. By the end we’ve been through 7 rollercoaster books - with many ups and downs regarding Snape. Do we trust him? Is he a good or bad?
But, when Snape is dying, all that matters to him is the chance to look into Harry’s eyes - because he has the same eyes as his mother, Lily. It’s so subtly written and so beautiful - and it’s such a punch to the gut when you realize why Snape makes the request.
12. The Little Match Girl
Whether we’re talking about the book or the short film from Disney, it doesn’t matter. This story is just about as tragic as it comes. A little girl is trying to survive by selling matches in the street during winter. Unsuccessful in her efforts she settles down into a cold, dark alleyway for the night. She begins to strike her matches one by one to keep her warm. With each match she sees comforting visions as well. This portion of the story is full of hope and magic. She sees herself in a warm home with a big feast. She sees her very own elaborate Christmas tree. And she sees her grandmother come to take her away. But in the end they find the girl’s frozen body in the alleyway.
11. The End of Pixar’s Coco
It’s very emotional when Miguel sings Remember Me to help Coco remember her father. That moment of remembrance from people suffering from Alzheimer’s is a very sensitive spot for me. It truly a theme that will get me every time. It’s a devastating thing to experience - or even just to imagine. Both the thought of forgetting your loved ones, or your loved ones forgetting you, is very hard to think about. There is absolutely no doubt that I will cry when Coco’s face lights up as she listens to her father’s song that he wrote for her.
10. Life is Beautiful
There’s no telling when I’m going to cry during this movie. It’s very unpredictable. Despite the fact that Roberto Benigni is hilarious and cutting it up through the whole movie - it doesn’t change the fact that the entire film is one giant tragedy and perhaps the most beautiful display of fatherly love I’ve ever seen.
In the film, Guido is put into a concentration camp with his wife and son, and quickly separated from his wife. Amazingly, Guido successfully shields his boy from the horrors of the entire ordeal by pretending the entire thing is one big game they are trying to win, and that they paid to be there. At any given moment during the movie I’m liable to stop laughing and remember what an unbelievable gift this father is giving his son - all while he’s scared to death on the inside. He even keeps up the charade for his son as he marches to his certain murder.
9. The End of the Movie Philadelphia
I can’t listen to Neil Young’s Song Philadelphia without crying. It plays right at the end of the movie during the wake for Tom Hank’s character Andrew Beckett. The song is just heartbreaking. And it plays while we watch home videos of Andrew as a little boy. Without the context of the film and the beautiful song by Neil Young all you have is a happy family playing on the beach. But taken in context it’s heart-wrenching to watch Andrew splash in the waves with so much life ahead of him and so many possibilities. You’re given ample time to sit and consider the beauty of childhood innocence and I always come out a mess on the other side.
8. The Rain Scene from Searching for Bobby Fischer
As a dad I’m very sensitive to this touching scene from the best chess movie ever made. Josh lost a game where he was the heavy favorite and his dad took him out into the rain to talk about it. He’s pacing back and forth and grilling Josh like an angry coach while Josh sits in the rain and shivers. Suddenly Josh asks “why are you standing so far away from me?”. His dad realizes what he’s done and just hugs his son.
I can get emotional about this one because I try very hard to be cognizant about what’s important in life - particularly when it comes to raising kids. We’ve all gotten angry for incredibly stupid reasons before. But it’s so important to step back, look at it objectively, and reestablish your perspective on what really matters.
Josh is an incredibly sweet soul who can’t hate his opponents like his coaches want. He asks his mom if the homeless men he plays chess with in the park can sleep on his top bunk. He reminds me a lot of my own sweet son. And anything that would squash out that sweetness makes me sad to think about.
7. The End of The Notebook
When Allie suddenly remembers that it’s Noah reading to her I fall apart. This is the most beautiful love story ever written. Even if you removed the frame of the elderly couple and the Alzheimer’s and the reading visits - it still would have made a good story. But once you wrap it up in that unbelievably beautiful frame it’s just a masterpiece. Noah would read their story to Allie every single day, because sometimes it helped her remember. And sometimes they could spend a few moments together. I just can’t stand it. I can’t even think of this story without crying.
6. Littlefoot Saying Goodbye to His Mom
The Land Before Time starts out with one of the saddest scenes in cinema history as far as I’m concerned. Littlefoot’s Mom is dying and Littlefoot doesn’t really know how to process that so suddenly. He pleads for her to just get up, and she tries, but it’s just not happening. He can’t comprehend what it means to not see her anymore. Right before she dies she gives him the last little bit of advice she can.
Littlefoot. Let your heart guide you. It whispers, so listen carefully.
The next morning isn’t much better - as he has to leave his mother’s body and go off on his own. And it’s just terrible when he thinks he sees her but it’s just his own shadow.
5. Artax Sinking Into the Swamp of Sadness
This scene has traumatized me since I was little. Atreyu’s horse Artax is overwhelmed by sadness and depression and simply stops moving. Atreyu plays it off casually for a little bit and tries to change directions, but slowly it dawns on him that Artax isn’t just stopping - he’s sinking into the swamp. The emotional plea that ensues is very difficult to watch. Atreyu pulls and cries and screams and I can’t take it anymore.
Not even the ending where Atreyu is riding on Artax again is enough to ease the pain here. What I’ve seen cannot be undone. I can’t believe this is in a kids movie
4. The Giving Tree
I often refer to The Giving Tree as the ultimate book about love. In fact, we have already ranked it as #1 on our list of the best picture books about love. I can’t read it out loud without my voice quivering a little bit. It’s devastating how much the tree loves the boy, and how oblivious the boy is acting. But the reason it has such a powerful effect on me is how it’s all tied up with growing up and how our priorities change as we lose our childhood innocence.
It’s very hard to to watch the boy’s desires change - from wanting to swing in the branches and play to only caring about money. The loss of childhood innocence is enough to make me weep by itself, but once you weave it all together with the beautiful and unconditional love of the tree I just lose it.
3. The Opening Montage of Pixar’s Up
I mentioned this film during my Best Man’s speech at my brother’s wedding, because when I’m reflecting on love and marriage it pops into my head immediately. The first 5 minutes of Up is hands down the most beautiful depiction of love and loss I’ve ever seen. And if you somehow survive sitting through it without bawling your eyes out, just wait until the big reveal of the adventures Ellie had been collecting in her adventure book the entire time.
2. Mister Rogers Singing It’s You I Like
I’m likely to cry at any given time watching Mister Rogers, because his kindness and his genuine passion for children can be overwhelming. If I had to pin down one particular thing that gets me every time - it’s when he sings the song It’s You I Like. My kids and I recently rewatched the episode where he sang this song with his friend Jeff, and I was pretty broken up.
1. The First Two Pages of The Little Prince
If I were to ever get a tattoo, it would be of a boa constrictor eating an elephant, but it would only be the outside and it would kind of look like a hat. Then I would walk around and test everybody I see. Does my tattoo scare you? “Why would I be scared of a hat?” you might say.
I find the first two pages of the The Little Prince to be tremendously depressing, as well as the most perfect description I’ve ever read of what’s wrong with our education system and our society in general. A young boy excitedly shows his drawing of a boa constrictor eating an elephant to his adults, and they say it looks more like a hat. Not only this, but they proceed to tell him to put aside his drawings to focus on arithmetic and geography and grammar instead. After that the boy never drew again.
I can’t describe how much this anecdote rips me apart. Nothing in the world is more precious than the passion and creativity and imagination of children. And without fail we always tear it down and ruin it. As Arcade Fire said:
We're just a million little gods causin' rain storms turnin' every good thing to rust.
Did you find any common themes in this list? I think I’m clearly a sucker for things like true love, kindness, following your passions, and childhood innocence. What makes you tear up? Did we miss any books, movies, or songs that always make you cry? List them in the comments!