Keep Him Close

Sometimes only a hug can make things right. A centering of the soul after a day spent out of sorts. I often look to tyke for this balance. Our routine is to get home from school, have a bite to eat and then cause mayhem – or “masti” as we call it. (He mostly converses in English but there are a few Marathi terms – like “masti” –  that bring out his impish smile; the realization of impending fun.) Masti-time is usually utter madness. I’ll tickle him, pin him down, he’ll try to do the same – I’ll lay claim to his feet or his neck and act like I’m eating them up. He’ll squeal with a mixture of terror, anger and delight. Five minutes have passed; they’ve effortlessly wiped out the preceding five hundred.

I know this can’t last forever. He’s growing up after all, and peer pressure arrives sooner than it did when I was young. The other day his mom tried to kiss him at the bus stop and he responded with an angry, embarrassed stare. He’s five.

I’ve loved holding him close since birth. In direct contravention of established Westernized parenting rules, he slept with us – cuddled between us in the center of the bed. This did result in sleepless nights for both of us when he cried out to be fed or changed, but it was worth it. In retrospect, it was totally worth it.

He still likes being held when he’s sad, angry or just wants to hang out. I savor these moments while I still can. Ruffling his hair, giving him a hug, kissing his cheek, using ridiculous terms of endearment – mish-mashed Marathi, English words and listening to his attempts at repeating them. Allowing me my moments of parental whimsy.

Strictly speaking for myself, a physical connection to my child is a huge part of being a dad. Especially since it’s not based on the same intrinsic depth as a connection between a mother and child. I think dads have to work harder to connect with their kids and it takes them a while to form that bond. With me it was mostly functional in the beginning – changing diapers, feeding, cleaning bottles, baths. It probably took a couple of years for tyke to stop thinking of me as the guy who hangs around and runs errands from time to time. My wife was a huge catalyst in pushing me to explore the different facets of my relationship with my son. As a first-time dad, it’s nerve-wracking and very puzzling. You love your child but you don’t know how to make it better, deeper. They don’t really communicate when they’re babies so the only thing you have is a physical connection. Holding him close, his smell, his baby breath, the feel of his tiny fist, the surprisingly strong grip on your finger, the babbling as he tries to tell you about his latest encounter with Elmo.

These days we have a lot to talk about; music, books, movies, cartoons, superheroes, Legos, sports. He’s a smart kid who loves taking in knowledge and new experiences. It’s easier to connect with him today, but I’m still loath to give up on our physical connection. Some days, work is relentless. The grind starts early at 6am with calls, carries on at work and I get home and continue working. Those days are the closest I get to feeling like a homicidal maniac. And yet, ever so often tyke will playfully approach, see that I’m busy and just give me a hug, sit with me for a couple of minutes and run off to play with his friend. I can’t really explain in words how important these moments are for my sanity.

A friend posted this amazing video about how we condemn our boys to live within the narrow confines of what defines masculinity. Be A Man, we tell them, while denying them the roadmap to empathy, kindness and cooperation.

This is a gateway to patriarchal attitudes based on a paradigm of invincibility and physical superiority. The video mentions many such triggers, one of them being a lack of closeness. Closeness does not make a boy more vulnerable, ”girly” or “sissy”. I sincerely believe it’s the best way for him to truly relate to his father and see him as a human being he’d like to emulate. Closeness teaches us empathy, love, kindness, the small but significant joy of sharing an unsullied, unhurried moment together.

I’ve noticed a visibly platonic distance between father and son at the morning bus stop. They’ll look at their kids indulgently, but continue to maintain a manly separation. I think that’s rubbish. I think they all just want to tightly hug their kids and wish them a great day at school and kiss them on both cheeks. And the forehead, and the nose, and the chin, and both ears…and…you get the point.

A few weeks ago I read the following post on a friend’s Facebook wall

“It’s a bit strange when you sneak into your 18 year old son’s room for the early morning kiss and caress while he is sleeping before I head off to work and then you see Plato and Aristotle books on his bed. He was reading that before he fell asleep. And then you think back all those years back when he would read noddy and Thomas the tank engine in that cute boyish piping tone. Whilst you’re proud and happy he has become a man reading philosophy, missing the memories of the little boy with twinkling eyes battle with the feelings.”

It made me very emotional. It also gave me hope – that there are fathers who truly understand the importance of demonstrating love and affection to their sons; that it’s normal to want to hug and kiss your son even when he’s eighteen. I used to be very embarrassed when my father would try to hug or kiss me in my teenage. Somehow you became less of a man when that happened. Of course, that’s utter rubbish. I’m much more demonstrative of my love for him today as a thirty-three year old, much to my dad’s amusement. I’ll be the one hugging him tightly and it surprises him, but I don’t care. I have a lot of false machismo and apathy to make up for.

For what it’s worth, my son’s going to have to put up with random kisses, hair ruffles and hugs, whether he likes it or not. I’m gong to sneak into his room and cuddle up with him in that tiny bed because the world will swallow me in the morning and I’ll miss seeing him.

I’m going to be a doting dad. I’m going to keep him close.

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12 responses to “Keep Him Close”

  1. Rajeev Anil Roark says :

    You have a lot of lovely comments, well deserved, from parents. Here’s one from a son.

    I cried through this post. I tried to make sure I won’t even though I am sitting in a room alone but I guess that false machismo made me stubborn. But then I broke down and cried.

    I cried because I was 12 and I lost my father to suicide. The world swallowed him to the point where he chose never to see another morning. And before that, he was the man who was my superhero. I sat in his lap and watched The Lion King. He showed me the magazines he got on flights and from airports when he traveled. Everything I am today, I am because he instilled those habits and those values in me. Of decency and chivalry and standards and self-respect.

    I was never able to tell him how much I really loved him. I was too young, too busy playing with friends to realize how lucky I am that my father comes back home instead of going away to drink or sit in some random bars. I never had the chance to grow up to his height and be able to look him in the eye and give him a hug.

    I thank you for this. I needed it. I am 24 now and it still hurts just as much as it did the day when I lit his pyre. But thank you for this. This feels a little better.

    • daddysan says :

      Rajeev, I’m sure I don’t have the right words to reply to this, but I’ll thank you for sharing this. It moved me and I think he’d be proud of the courage and sensitivity you’ve shown even in sharing such a personal story. Stay strong.

  2. Nonstopbakbak says :

    Dear DS
    Thank you for writing this. I cried a little when I read this. Please bear with me while I tell you why.

    I had a very difficult delivery with my daughter, and neither my folks not my husbands folks were able to be with us then. The internet was all I had to fall back on for information, and boy, I read and read, until I realized that, intuition cannot be found on machines.

    Right from the first painful step out of the hospital to running behind her now, I can only say that, I am constantly amazed and humbled by her all at the same time.

    We did everything trusting our intuition. She is now three and still has her bed in our room, and loves to keep going back and forth, looks for “Amma cuddles” constantly and I’m so glad she needs me as much as I do. I know this will change, soon.

    Just yesterday she learnt to say “But, I’m hungry Amma”. — small triumphs, at least now I know when to give her food!

    You are a great dad DS, you know why? It’s because you keep questioning, keep trying and keep writing such things, for us to smile, nod, and say, you know what, I’m not the only one, who’s had gazillion doubts if I was doing it right.

    The job of a parent is to provide roots and wings at the same time. It’s tough as hell, and sometimes there is no gratification. But I will keep holding her and loving her more and more, because one day, when the world changes her, I hope she remembers she always has a home in us.

    Keep writing, keep inspiring. Sending you and your family lots of good wishes.

    Regards,
    Shruthi

  3. aranyak says :

    Lovely! Resonates so much with my own experience as a father, albeit to two daughters, which perhaps makes it easier to express affections in this weird masculine culture.

    I’m glad you did the natural primate parental thing, of letting the tyke cuddle between you two while sleeping, instead of the bizarre western norm of forcing babies to sleep on their own through the long lonely nights! I still remember the shock I felt upon discovering (through the show Mad About You) that that is indeed the norm out here in the US. Physical contact, touch, is so important to us social primates, psychologically and even physiologically (especially for babies learning to regulate the rhythms of their own tiny bodies) that putting them aside in their own rooms too early ought to raise more red flags about parenting than the other way around. We haven’t fully accounted for all the individual and societal damage done by parents who didn’t hold their babies close for long enough.

    Thank you for sharing this!

    • daddysan says :

      No, thank YOU for sharing that! Fascinating!

      • aranyak says :

        Oh, you’re welcome!

        There is a whole growing body of research on the benefits of co-sleeping, as an integral part of our evolutionary heritage (especially by James McKenna). Many pediatricians openly (and more somewhat secretly) advocate in favor of co-sleeping even though it goes against the mainstream thinking and even the official position of the discipline’s primary body. You can read more about the issues on McKenna’s website (http://cosleeping.nd.edu/).

        Fathers, especially, are cut out of the benefits of the physical attachment you so eloquently describe here, because of fears of infants being smothered. Methinks that any parent capable of rolling over and smothering their baby in sleep has other serious issues to begin with.

        Anyway, if you want to read more about parenting styles from an academic perspective, start with Meredith Small’s wonderful book “Our Babies, Ourselves” (published just the year before our first one was born). It’s a bit dated in terms of more recent research, but remains valid and relevant. Lovely read too, so check it out:

        Our Babies, Ourselves: How Biology and Culture Shape the Way We Parent
        http://amzn.com/0385483627

  4. prats35 says :

    Such a heartwarming post this is. The value of a hug gets higher as the boys grow older, and think that you’re hugging them is a way to make them look weird. I’m glad you feel that you should never stop showing your child how important it is to hug.
    God bless

  5. cagedbird2free says :

    What we do to our children, both boys and girls!

    A hug always helps and a hug from a child or to a child is bliss.

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