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Parting Glances: Hugs lost, hugs found

By |2016-04-09T09:00:00-04:00April 9th, 2016|Uncategorized|

An open house I attended was winding down. Two boys were fussing over who’d get to release balloons at closing. Tucker, younger by a year, was losing out to his brother, taller-by-an-inch Sammy, age seven.
Tucker ran to his mom in tears. She hugged him, stroked his tousled hair and gently rubbed his back. He held her a little more tightly, 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, some pleasant, some 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.
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 kids and they sing-songed names outside our window. My mother underscored their taunts with her silver-handled hairbrush.
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, 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 and found the whole ruddy business, well, not butch, unmanly, embarrassing in the closeted 60s and early-70s.
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. Even Promise Keepers “greet the brethren with an holy kiss.”
I began hugging at AA 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 at MCC-Detroit, where one-on-one open communion is highlighted with a warm embrace.
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 eight MCC-Detroit friends to AIDS – all young, bright, in their 30s. Each supported my sobriety. We shared laughter, tears, and dreams. Not too long ago. . . .
The balloons rise slowly toward the sunlit clouds. There’s hardly a breeze, and the freewheeling colors, like migrating flocks, follow a steady, carefree path. Sammy and Tucker, each releases his helium bouquet and watches it drift off into tiny, tiny colored dots, gone who knows where. They cheer.
Tomorrow they’ll have forgotten this adventure. But I wish I could teach them to savor their hugs. At my age what I wouldn’t give for just one, with whispers softly in my ear, “There, there, My Little Man: You’re safe, so very, very safe with me. Go out and play.”

About the Author:

Charles Alexander