Growing up in the 60s and 70s, I’m a Third-Generation Japanese Sansei. Given that, I wasn’t big on public displays of affection (PDA). I was uncomfortable hugging or kissing someone on the cheek, even a close family relative. It didn’t feel natural, even for my parents. Go figure.
Most of my sense of “natural” stemmed from my family’s home environment. No, we Japanese folk were not big on physical displays of affection or love. I don’t ever recall my Mom and Dad holding hands, much less kissing. Again, I realized that was more the exception than the rule, as I observed my friends and relatives’ parents. That was my childhood experience. Handshakes for me were about as personal as it got.
As the 57-year-old Japanese American Man, my experience within Japanese culture tended to be very reserved, even restrained. Looking back, that reflected in me, as well. Our parents taught us to keep our emotions just under the surface, always in-check. If you were pissed or unhappy, smile and speak politely.
This was also more about “saving face” or mentsu wo ushinau. Don’t do anything that would embarrass yourself or your family. Mentsu wo ushinau possess the veneer of honor. As a kid, the message I received, culturally, was that displays of affection might be considered signs of weakness. More personally, it wasn’t “manly.” Of course, nothing this was not the case.
Boiling it down, “saving face” occurs as shame, which disempowers us. Honor, however, makes one powerful, especially through one’s ability to express themselves. Fortunately, I discovered that over the years from other cultures.
When I moved up to Los Angeles from Hawaii for work, I met my dear friend Charlie at the YMCA. Charlie is African American, about 13 years older, and a good man with a big heart. Charlie schooled me in weight training. He even got me back into Aikido training, after quitting to go to college prep school, years ago.
When we saw each other, we’d shake hands and hug. No, it was nothing like what Cam Newton does on the sidelines after scoring a touchdown. Although, that would be oh so cool.
Charlie made me a brother. I’d go to his house for dinner on occasions. For a couple of years, I got to spend Thanksgiving at Charlie’s house with family and friends. Not only was I the only Asian there, but I was also the only non-Black person there. I even sat next to the couple whose daughter was married to Kobe Bryant.
Everyone greeted with a hug and treated me like family. I admire and applaud that about Black culture. Even in the broad strokes: I was made to feel welcomed. Unlike where I came from, full hugs and handshakes were about love and respect. For my own training, I began to adopt that practice.
A few years before my father passed away, he and I often found ourselves spending a week (or so) fishing up in Kenai, Alaska. Dad’s first love was fishing. The people at the Fishing Lodge treated us like family, as one of their own. I got to be dear friends with the owner and fishing guide Ross.
When Ross took Dad and me on king salmon fishing trips on the Kenai River, we’d have a blast talking about all kinds of stuff. Ross was a good man, a good husband, and a good father. I consider myself lucky to have hung out with him a lot with him over the years. I caught a 53-pound king salmon with Ross. We called it a ‘Man Fish,’ which, essentially, was the labeled of any king salmon over 40 pounds: it was a joke that gained a life of its own over the years.
At the end of my awesome fishing stay, I’d say to Ross, “How about a ‘man hug’?” We’d do it full-on—a tight, both arms, chest-to-chest hug (not that one arm around the shoulder BS). Our ‘man hug’ came from a place of respect and love for each other, so there was no reason to water it down.
Vulnerability and the ability to demonstrate authentic affection define being a ‘good man”. I finally discovered that over the years. Love and respect matter for all of us as human beings and there is no weakness or unmanliness in that. So, men, hold on to the people you care about and allow yourself to feel (and receive) the emotional fulfillment we all need…and deserve.
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