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An open house I attended a blossoming spring or two ago was winding down at the home of BTL co-publishers Jan Stevenson and Susan Horowitz. Two boys of some of the invited party guests were fussing over who’d get to release balloons at the festive closing of the couple’s full bloom garden showcase.
Tucker, younger by a year, was losing out to his brother, taller-by-an-inch Sammy, age 7.
Tucker ran to his mom in tears. She hugged him, stroked his tousled hair. Gently rubbed his back. He held her a little closer, cried a hint more audibly, but was soon distracted from his hurt.
I envied Tucker his hugs. That simple act of parental comfort prompted memories for me. Some pleasant. Some so deeply sad.
I tried to recall a time when my father hugged me, but no embrace came to mind. And my mother wasn’t much on hugs either, though I know she often pampered me.
She read me the “OZ” books at bedtime, bought me comics when I was sick, and sent me to Baptist camp two happy summers in a row. (Where I developed a compensating hug crush on my cabin counselor Jerry Proxy.)
My father never spanked me, and I recall only once my mother did: I threw a stone at a friend and accidentally nicked his face. He rounded up a gang of neighborhood kids and they sing-songed names about me outside our courtyard window.
My mother underscored their taunts with her silver-handled hairbrush. Not too hard. But emphatic nonetheless.
Truth is: many families aren’t affectionate. Intimacy is a no-no. Reticence by one parent is copied by the other. If you’re an only child, as I was, you survive with one less emotional perk, and you miss so much.
I’ve been told that not showing feelings is English (my mother’s side) or Scottish (my father’s). My friend Chris O’Brien, who hails from London, said so. She said it over lunch (fish and chips, I’m sure.)
“Charles, you’re so bloody English.” She didn’t elaborate. But, now that I’m older and can think about things other than sex (try me) I find she spotted a fellow traveler early on.
So, I suppose it’s understandable, given the Anglo-Saxon family tree I tumbled out of, that I didn’t care tuppence for hugging.
Nowadays I hug unabashedly (try me.) It’s no big deal. Jocks hug each other openly. Straight men do, too. Affection – including cheek-kissing and gridiron butt-patting – is acceptable. Occasionally televised to sports-minded cheers.
I began hugging at Alcoholics Anonymous meetings in 1982. Everyone at AA hugs (and swills coffee.) It’s another way of saying, “We’re here for each other. Each hug helps us stay sober, one day at a time.”
I also hugged, while also surviving sober, at MCC-Detroit, where one-on-one open communion is highlighted with a warm embrace.
“Greet each other with a Sign of Peace,” Sober now 38 years.
At both places my sense of self worth was gradually restored. It was life-saving. And, sadly, hugs helped me through the heart-rending AIDS crisis of the ’80s. I lost 10 MCC-Detroit friends to AIDS – all young, bright and in their 30s.
Each had supported my sobriety. We shared laughter, tears and dreams. Not too long ago …
Sammy and Tucker, each releases his helium balloons and watches the bouquet drift off into tiny, tiny sky-colored dots, gone who knows where. They cheered.
(The balloons rose slowly toward the sunlit clouds. There was hardly a breeze, and the freewheeling colors, like migrating flocks, followed a steady, carefree path. A moment of blue. A fleeting touch of red. A hint of sunshine yellow. Om shanti!)
Tomorrow the brothers will have forgotten this spontaneous adventure. But I wish I could teach them to savor and remember their parental hugs.
At my age what I wouldn’t give for just one let’s pretend parental hug, with make-believe whispers softly in my ear, “There, there, my little man. You’re safe, so very, very safe with us. Go out and play. Be who you’re meant to be!”
Here today. Proud today. Hug a friend with a non-English remembering hello.