Reach out and touch someone

I like to hug. There. I said it. I’m a giant and I like to hug. And that weirds a lot of people out. Even my own kids at times. I wasn’t always a huggy kind of a guy. I used to be more of a hearty handshake and maybe a man-hug. Make sure to lean at the waist and don’t linger. That could be uncomfortable. Personal bubble invasion issues. The only people I gave “real” hugs were my parents and my wife. That worked for me reasonably well until I became a father at age 22. After my baby was born I showered her with all kinds of affectionate hugs and kisses and life was good. My wife and I were blessed with two more daughters over the next seven years. During that time I quit my job teaching and became a full time stay at home dad. Our daughters were affectionately loved and cared for by us. We held hands while walking together to the park. My girls climbed into my lap to read stories. They started giving me “fall-over” hugs where they would get a running start and leap into my arms and we’d fall over and laugh and hug. By the time my son was born in 2004 my oldest daughter was nine and had already started to pull back ever so slightly from the hugs and hand holding. She was growing up. Determined to still be affectionate with her (and my other kids as they grew up) I made an effort to give them each a hug at bed time. They didn’t really like it. Unfortunately, I didn’t persist. It wasn’t until a few years later that I realized I wasn’t really having as much physical contact with my kids once they became 8-10 years old as I had when they were younger. As I thought about it some more I realized that was kind of the way it was with my own dad when I was a kid. My mom tended to be more affectionate and my dad would be more of the disciplinarian. I knew he loved me but he certainly wasn’t super huggy or physically affectionate. I didn’t really know what to do with my own kids, how to change our attitudes and perceptions about hugs and other physical affection without it being “awkward”.

Then my dad got sick. In early 2007, at age 66, my health-conscious and fit father, was diagnosed with pancreatitis and was hospitalized several times over the course of a couple of months. Turns out that first diagnosis was a little off, because at the end of March, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Weeks to live. Maybe a few months. We were all in shock. But what happened to me as a result of that awful experience was that I rediscovered my inner teddy bear.

As I said before, I’m kind of a giant. I’m 6’8″ tall. I have to duck to avoid hitting my head when I go through most doors. I’m a nice guy but (apparently) a little intimidating when others see me. But cancer didn’t care. My dad’s cancer and six week journey through hospice leading to his death that May six years ago transformed me in many ways. Perhaps the most significant was the power of human touch. As my friends learned of my father’s condition they often expressed their concern and support and asked what they could do to help. That was all very thoughtful and much appreciated. One friend, a neighborhood mom that I’ve known since our oldest daughters started school together, saw me at the grocery store and asked about my dad. Upon hearing my grim report, she simply walked over and gave me a hug. No words needed. Not sexual. Just one human comforting another. Beautiful. After my dad passed away there were many people who offered their condolences at his service. While the memories people shared were nice to hear, it was the physical touch – holding hands and hugging – that were the most comforting.

Recently I came across an article on http://www.goodmenproject.com that talked about how we, as men, are missing out on the benefits of gentle, platonic touch with other people. That struck such a chord with me and stirred up my memories that I just shared. And it caused me to examine my own life and how I parent my kids. Why is it that my 3 year old daughter excitedly holds my hand when we’re walking but her older sisters and brother wouldn’t be caught dead doing that? Is there something that I could do to change that? Why does one of my older kids ask me to give her a hug many nights before going to bed when another one literally almost punches me if I try to hug or kiss her? I don’t have the answers. Interestingly, though, my only son is nine. And he and I have a pretty close relationship. While he doesn’t hold my hand, he wants me to put him to bed every night and allows me to hug and kiss him (cheek only!) before sleep. But he won’t let my wife hug or kiss him.

One of the many things I love about the church my family attends is the real sense of community there. I noticed it from the first moment of the first day we walked in. In the ensuing 20 months since that first visit I’ve gotten to know a lot of the men who also call that their church home. While I’m not particularly close to a lot of the guys what’s really struck me is the level of the brotherly love at my church. And the hugs. Not the awkward hugs like I described in the first paragraph. Real hugs where you actually embrace the other person and hug. It’s amazing. Once in a while I’ll forget where I am and extend my hand to a guy only to have my arm practically yanked off as he pulls me into an embrace. And that was my buddy Rob who is maybe 5’6″ but with a huge heart. Going to church each week and getting hugged has really helped my emotional and spiritual well being. I’m forced to be real. About a month ago my buddy Kyle greeted me and I half-heartedly gave him a hug and pulled back. He looked at me and admonished me to “Do it like you mean it, bro!”. And gave me one of the biggest bear hugs imaginable. I guess I should mention that Kyle is a former offensive lineman and stands about 6’4″. He’s almost as big as the senior pastor (another former O-lineman) who also gives great hugs. Until becoming a part of this particular church community I had rarely experienced the brotherly love and support from others that comes from physical touch.

As a SAHD I have the unique opportunity to literally touch the lives of my children in both a figurative and literal sense. I want them to know the power of human touch in a positive way. I need to challenge myself to empower my kids to express their feelings and emotions through positive platonic touch. Follow AT&T’s advice from the 80s and “reach out and touch someone”.

No go find someone to hug.

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