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I was 25 years old when I left my beloved city of Pittsburgh to move across the state. I hadn’t lived at home in years, but I had always been relatively close. I’d gone to college locally and spent most weekends at home because it was more convenient to work at the time. When my wife and I had been dating for a while and decided to move in together, we settled in a little townhouse just 15 minutes down the road from my folks.
It wasn’t until they came to see us in our new home in the Philadelphia area that I’d ever really been “visited” by my folks. It was a new experience for me. It was also on that visit that my wife took notice of something. As my parents pulled away after a pleasant visit, my wife looked at me with a puzzled expression on her face.
“Why didn’t you hug your dad when you said goodbye?” she asked.
I thought about it for a moment. It just wasn’t something we did. I hugged my mother when she left. I told her that I loved her. I hadn’t said the same to my father. We didn’t hug. We didn’t even shake hands. I had just said goodbye to him and wished him a good trip.
It wasn’t that I didn’t love him. I love my father with all my heart. We disagree on many a topic, but I always have and always will love him.
When I was younger, there was never any lack of affection in our home. I grew up with plenty of hugs from both parents. I grew up with plenty of “I Love You” expressions from my father. It was just like they had gradually just kind of fizzled out.
It’s probably a fairly normal progression of male bonding. Historically, American men have not always done the best job at expressing their affections for one another, especially in physical manifestations. Heck, it was a pretty common sitcom trope in the 1980’s and 1990’s that it took an incredible amount of security for a man to be able to hug another man. Often the main characters on those shows had to physically force themselves to deal with their own insecurities.
I’d overcome those insecurities years ago. I often hug my close male friends when I see them after a long absence. I often share embraces with my male acquaintances in greeting, albeit with the requisite “Bro-Hug slap each other on the back near to the point of bruising” maneuver.
But why hadn’t I hugged my father Good-Bye? Why hadn’t I told him that I loved him? Why did I take for granted that he would just know that I did and that I didn’t feel the need to audibly reinforce it? I really didn’t have an answer.
It really took my wife pointing it out for me to even realize that I hadn’t done it. It was at moment that that I realized what I’d been missing out on. It was at that moment I really stopped to think about what it would mean if God forbid, something should happen, how I would feel after that. It was then that decided to make it a point to make sure that each parting with my father would end with a hug and each conversation would end with “I love you.”
My children are still at an age where hugs and “I love you Daddy” comes frequently and without reservation. At three years old, physical affection is a pretty big part of every interaction. As they get older and more independent, I know that there will come a day that those things will begin to feel like more of an obligation to them than an actual emotional expression. Teenage angst will inevitably push them away from me. There will be a time when watching cartoons or hockey will be done from opposite sides of the couch, instead of snuggled up next to Daddy. There will probably come a time when my “I love you” will be met with an exaggerated eye roll as opposed to the traditional desired response. I just hope we never fall too out of practice.
I missed a lot of hugs with my father. I’d hate to miss any with my sons.
This article was brought to you by Snarklets, Bracelets & Gifts Hand Stamped with Mantras for Real Life.