On August 25, 2019, 32-year-old Alexander Meijer announced he was stepping down as a moderator of the r/HappyCryingDads subreddit due to terminal colon cancer. “I’m a dad myself, to an 18-month-old daughter, who I will eventually leave behind,” he wrote in his farewell post, praising the subreddit’s “so very wholesome” users for making his moderation duties easy. As a sign-off of sorts, Meijer left a GoFundMe link created to raise money for his wife and daughter, alongside a sobering reminder to “hug your dads, love them… cherish what you have, please.”
Less than 24 hours later, he awoke from chemotherapy to find more than 400 unread emails and a grand total of $21,000 in his GoFundMe account, the vast majority of which seemingly came from r/HappyCryingDads subscribers.
Meijer may have passed away in February 2020, but the subreddit he helped to nurture — which now has 400,000 subscribers — is still one of the most wholesome spaces in existence. Scroll through the top posts and you’ll see teary, middle-aged men greeting long-lost relatives, dog dads crying at thoughtful memorial gifts and guys discovering they’re about to become grandfathers for the first time. With every emotional post, it’s a subreddit that calls bullshit on the corrosive trope that “real men don’t cry” — which research has already debunked anyway.
Michael, 51, became a moderator back in 2019, at the request of Meijer. Since then, he’s come to understand the wider importance of watching tough, rugged guys break down in tears on a daily basis. “As a society, men are expected to keep their emotions bottled up, although that’s rapidly changing,” Michael tells me. “To see guys express their feelings in these happy, tearful moments creates an emotional response, and it shows that the crying dad does have a soft, emotional center.”
Nowhere is this more apparent than in Michael’s personal favorite video category: rough, cussing biker-type dads who’ve just found out they’re about to be a grandfather.
“All of a sudden, they’re like a kid on Christmas morning,” he says. “First comes the glow in his eyes, then the facial expression full of joy and, finally, the tears of happiness.”
There’s rising awareness that men worldwide are severely struggling with poor mental health, but ad campaigns often rely on misguided slogans like “Reach Out” without acknowledging there’s often nobody for these guys to reach out to. A study published last year showed the pandemic has exacerbated this mental-health crisis further. Although men are increasingly signing up to virtual therapy — according to quoted stats, rates rose 79 percent between January 2020 and September 2020 — they’re still less likely to have close friendship groups, or to keep in touch with each other.
That’s where r/HappyCryingDads comes into play. Emotional video clips are one thing, but it’s the comment sections where users share stories of love, grief and struggle. “I lost my mom this year,” writes one guy, whose phone automatically erased her voice messages. “It hurts. I miss her a lot.” His post is met with similar stories, and words of condolence. In another post — a video of a color blind man seeing his children’s red hair for the first time — a group of users share stories about their own late dads, describing each other as “internet friends” and offering virtual shoulders to cry on. “I am so aware I’m not alone thanks to all these replies,” writes one. “The internet can be a really wonderful place for people to come together like this.”
As evidenced by the subreddit’s exponential growth over the last few years — from 10,000 followers when we first covered it back in 2016 to 400,000 now — the tears are still very much flowing and show no signs of drying up — which, of course, is a good thing. Or as one guy on the sub puts it, “Society says we have to be strong and lack healthy, emotional responses to things. But sometimes a good cry or laugh is all that you need.”