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Take it from a crier: Baker’s tears were real

Charlie Baker got teary during a debate at WCVB-TV.WCVB-TV

When Charlie Baker lost it Tuesday night, I was standing in my kitchen finishing the dinner dishes and, I swear to God, felt a lump in my throat, too.

In a campaign awash in the minutiae about tax policy, bloated corporate salaries, and a dysfunctional and unbalanced state government, it was a weirdly seminal moment. In a tough and tight election that is going down to the wire, it instantly became must-see TV.

As Baker struggled to tell the tale of the New Bedford fisherman who stopped his sons from choosing a life away from the sea – "And I ruined their lives" – he choked up. He rubbed his eyes. He struggled for composure.


It was live. It was riveting. It was cringe-worthy. It was real.

And when he said, "I may not make it through this story,'' I knew he was a goner.

Baker is a crybaby. Who knew? I can relate. I am, too.

My kids mock me for tearing up at what they clearly believe are inappropriate moments or at things that don't budge the needle on their emotional Geiger counters.

At the end of the great Ron Howard movie, "Apollo 13,'' there is a scene where white-knuckled mission controllers wait for the re-entry parachutes of the crippled spacecraft to open. I know how this ends. But it always gets me. Cue the family ridicule.

When my dad died earlier this year, I wrote his eulogy, but knew I could never deliver it. And I didn't. Someone else read my words.

A couple of years ago, I introduced a dear colleague at an event in Dedham. She was receiving a major journalism award for which I had nominated her. I embarrassed myself during that introduction, recounting her life's milestones, knowing how hard she had worked to achieve them and how much they meant to her.


When I sat down, dabbing my eyes, Marty Baron, then the Globe's editor – a journalistic titan whose tenderness is largely kept under wraps – leaned over to me and said: "I didn't realize you were so emotional.''

I was running the Globe's Spotlight Team then, a group of tough, hard-boiled investigative journalists. The only tears that unit is supposed to produce comes from crooks and rascals. That exchange with Marty was embarrassing for me. I cringe recounting it here.

So I related to Baker on Tuesday night.

There is something about the sight of a man in tears – especially a man known as a tough CEO who can bristle at anyone with the temerity to question his intelligence or his policy positions – that, for many, sets off their phoniness meter.

And that's happening now for Baker, too.

Within hours of the debate, skepticism abounds: It's an act. He's faking it. The guy writes himself a big check while outsourcing hundreds of jobs. He sees the bottom line, not real people. Now he's crying? Boo hoo. Give me a break.

It wasn't too long ago that what Baker did on Tuesday night would be an 11th-hour death sentence for his gubernatorial campaign.

In 1972, when Edmund Muskie appeared in front of the Manchester Union-Leader after its publisher, William Loeb, attacked the candidate and his wife, his presidential campaign never recovered. Never mind that those tears on his cheek may have been melting snow.


The first President Bush has talked about how easily the tears now come for him – and other members of his family.

Today, Republican House Speaker John Boehner is openly lampooned for the regularity with which his voice catches, his eyes well. He makes Charles Baker look like Charles Bronson.

So make a motion to revoke my membership in the Tough Guy Newspaper Society if you will. But I believe the emotions displayed by Charlie Baker were the real deal.

They came from a father who knows what it would feel like to have done anything that would impair – even slightly -- the promise of a bright future for his children.

That night in Dedham, after the awards dinner was over, I went over to some colleagues on hand for the occasion and sheepishly apologized for blubbering through my introduction.

A veteran columnist told me to stop it. She told me it was beautiful. Real. Genuine.

"I wish somebody would cry for me,'' she said, half jokingly.

I wonder what she thought when Baker did that on live television Tuesday night.

Thomas Farragher is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at thomas.farragher@globe.com.