I am not a ‘hugger.’ I don’t think I ever have been a hugger, but I notice I get even more distant the older I get. I’m not saying I don’t like to be touched; I’m not a houseplant sitting off in a corner at parties. I’m just saying that when I walk into a room saying “Hello” to me is sufficient. Unfortunately, that also means that I’m not the most affectionate parent. I know I should be — I see my nieces and my nephews, who are very affectionate with their parents, and I envy that connection. I love to be more like that, but I’m not.
When my kids were young my kiss goodbye to them was usually quick peck on the top of their heads. Over time their Pavlovian response to my leaving was to just lower their heads to me, like waiting to be knighted by the Queen, receive their kiss and then off they went.
I fear that I have passed this emotional brick wall to my children, but fortunately, I find that there are two factors that may avoid this unwanted inheritance. The first is the aforementioned nieces and nephews.
During my separation and after my divorce I found I spent more and more time with my family which meant my kids spent more time with their cousins; more than they ever had during my marriage. Whenever we visited my brother or my sister everyone (cousins, nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles) would get up and give their greetings; a big hug, a handshake, or a kiss on the cheek.
My daughter, Amanda, maybe for the sheer fact that she is a girl jumped right into the fray with the hugs and kisses and squeals of delight. For my boys, Alexander and Danny, that wasn’t the case. My nieces, Mia and Lianna, noticed something wrong about how my sons entered the room and decided they would have none of it.
“What the hell is this?”
Their disdain was for the way the boys just stood there, stiff as boards, almost repelled by the incoming intrusion of affection.
“No, no, no,” they said and then made it their mission to change things.
From that point on, anytime we entered the house, they were like heat-seeking missiles towards my sons. They would stand in front of the boys; arms opened wide, and with a big smile on their faces, they would say, “Give me a hug.”
It wasn’t an immediate success. At first, my sons would bend at the waist and tentatively put their arms around their cousins’ shoulders. There they’d stand like catholic school students at a dance who waited for the Mother Superior to come by with her ruler to make sure they left “room for the Holy Ghost” between them.
But in time, it worked. Now at family events, it’s the boys who seek out their cousins, Aunts, or Uncles for the hug, the handshake, or that kiss on the cheek. Good work, girls.
The second thing that will save my kids from being a non-hugger like me is simply the fact that their generation seems to hug — a lot. It has taken me by surprise; I think if I tried to hug my friends even once growing up I would have gotten my ass kicked.
“Hey, nice seeing you guys again,” arms outstretched (nose broken).
Unlike when I was growing up, kids today (wow, I sound old) all seem so comfortable with it; surprisingly, even the boys. Again, I think Amanda came by it more naturally being a girl, but even the girls could go overboard at times.
My kids attended a small Catholic grade school that grew smaller as each year passed (it finally disappeared entirely in 2011). Amanda’s eighth-grade graduation class consisted of maybe 23 kids. When we arrived at the church for the ceremony, Amanda went around and hugged each of her classmates. Then, when the ceremony was over, and we were all about to leave, round two of hugs began.
After the graduation, a group of families decided to go to a local restaurant. When we walked in the squeals from the girls could have shattered glass. Those videos of returning troops would seem like a three-hour calculus lecture compared to the excitement these kids showed at seeing each other again. After all, it had been almost ten minutes since they last laid eyes on one another.
The boys, while not as animated, still hug an awful lot. But theirs are more the grasp a hand, bump chest, throw a left arm around shoulders for a quick bear hug, then release.
Whatever happened to just shaking hands?
The last time I remember hugging my kids was the night of my brother-in-law Marty’s funeral. As the kids dropped me off at home (I was in no condition to drive) I gave each of them a big hug. To say they were surprised by my spontaneous display of affection would be an understatement. For me, if I couldn’t hug them on one of the saddest days of our lives, then when?
I know it’s on me, and I’m probably opening myself up to some free advice from all the armchair psychiatrists out there. The bottom line, however, is that I love my children with all my heart and I know they know that.
As for the hugging, well, that’s something I just can’t seem to wrap my arms around.
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