By Gregory Keer
When I was 15, one perfectly fine day was ruined by a hug. As I was running out the door to meet my morning carpool, my mom stopped me with, “Did you forget to hug your mother?”
I relented, fighting all the uptightness my adolescent attitude exuded, and she embraced me with the conviction a person usually reserves for airport departures. Having just recently applied her perfume, Mom not only planted a kiss on my cheek, but also transferred four ounces of Ralph Lauren fragrance to me.
From the carpool until I reached my first class, I suffered intense teenage anxiety over the prospect that someone would think I intentionally spritzed myself to smell like a fresh bouquet of roses. Considering that I attended an all-boys’ school, the stakes were pretty high. I tried relentlessly to erase the aroma, wiping my face with my hands, even resorting to spitting on my palm to neutralize the aroma.
Everything went fine until we had to write an in-class essay. In the quiet, Steve Weisburd picked up his head and sniffed the air.
“Is that Lauren perfume I’m smelling?”
I sank into my seat, hoping to melt into the plastic of the chair.
I survived that day without detection, though I still can’t forgive my mom for turning me into a department-store perfume counter. What I can’t fault her for was the hug. Because of the hugs of my mom and other relatives, I was blessed with an extra measure of love and security.
Today, I don’t transfer cologne to my sons, but I do hug them a lot. From the time of their births, I have held them, kissed them and pinched their chubby legs. As they’ve grown, I’ve cherished the times they’ve come up to hold my hand while walking, climbed onto my lap when tired, or run to me for a bear hug upon my return home at the end of a long day. My wife and I have also let the boys crawl into our bed for morning cuddles (it’s gotten more crowded with five of us and they fight to be next to at least one of us).
The general love standard in our home has our boys hugging and kissing each other when they say goodbye in the mornings, reunite in the evenings, or whenever the spirit moves them. With extended family and friends, affection can sometimes be tricky, depending on my kids’ moods or familiarity with the person. They’re outlining boundaries that may insult a few people on occasion, but I know they need the space to figure it all out.
For my part, I am given to occasional concerns about the boundaries of affection. My wife’s expressions of adoration for my sons have come easier because she’s a woman. Coming from a generation whose fathers often saw physical warmth as unmanly, I fight the lingering feelings of discomfort at showing love as my children mature.
With my oldest almost 9 years old, he’s gotten to that point when he doesn’t want a big hug and a smack on the cheek before he goes off to school. Sometimes he just dashes to the bus, forgetting to do more than wave goodbye. I feel like such a wimp in my disappointment. I want him to grow up, but not at the expense of familial closeness.
The good thing is that, at night in front of the TV or while reading books, he still snuggles up to me. This is great, but then I wonder if I’m allowing him to be too much of a little boy. The feeling is mostly due to my social self-consciousness, which asks, at what age is it not OK to cuddle with my son? Will he still lay his head on my shoulder when he’s 16 … 21 … 40?
My hope is that he will. No matter what my kids’ ages, I will never revert to handshakes and slaps on the back. As my children grow older, I will keep hugging them, kissing them and throwing my arm around them, because they will always need more than just the words of Dad’s love.