When I was a little boy, I remember seeing my Dad give his father a kiss on the forehead. Pop was a tough old coot, and their relationship could sometimes be called tempestuous, but Dad always made sure to give the old guy a kiss when he saw him. Of course, I always followed Dad’s lead and kissed Pop on his stubbled cheek.
I was five years old and remember Dad started dropping me off at school, and he always gave me a kiss on the cheek before I got out of the car. At first I would look around, nervous one of my friends would see me (because I had never seen any of their fathers doing that), and Dad said the same thing every time, “Never be afraid to kiss your father goodbye. It could be the last time you see him.”
Dad had been in the Army and survived D-Day. At that point he was a NYC cop, and I thought of him in heroic terms like Batman or Super Man. But as I got a little older it sunk into my mind what Dad meant by saying that it could be the last time I saw him as he went off to work. From then on I never missed a chance to kiss my father when I saw him, right up until the day he died at 94 years old.
It seems to me that society puts pressure on boys to be different with their fathers. Mom gets all the hugs and kisses, and Dad gets a firm handshake. That societal pressure for men not to cry, not to be affectionate, goes way back in time, but that does not mean it is the right way for us to operate.
My mother said that when I was growing up I was my father’s shadow. I followed him everywhere and wanted to do what he was doing. When he shaved, I had to put the cream on my face too and use a bladeless razor. I watched him change spark plugs, fix a pipe, and put in a ceiling fan. Besides spending time with him, I started to assist him and learn how to do these things too.
As I became interested in baseball, Dad would take me out to Shea Stadium and we would see my team, the NY Mets. He taught me how to understand the game, the strategies involved, and he even tried to teach me how to do a scorecard (sadly, I never could master that one). I still remember the cold spring winds on Opening Day, the pungent smell of mustard as it smothered a delicious hotdog, and the joy of getting some dinky little plastic prize from the Cracker Jack box.
But my fondest memory of going to the games with Dad was sitting in that chair next to him with his arm around me. Never have I felt safer, more loved, or happier than those times. I wish now I could have him back even for a few moments to sit there and watch the game with him again.
I understand that all fathers aren’t good dads – it is a sad fact of life. I knew friends who had problems with their fathers, and I know their lives were adversely affected by that. The importance of a dad – whether he’s a biological father, a stepdad, an uncle, or another male figure – is undeniable and, as studies have shown, crucial to both male and female children.
The Importance of Fathers in the Healthy Development of Children, an excellent publication from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, makes clear how crucial the impact of having an involved father is on children’s lives:
Children with involved, caring fathers have better educational outcomes. The influence of a father’s involvement extends into adolescence and young adulthood. Numerous studies find that an active and nurturing style of fathering is associated with better verbal skills, intellectual functioning, and academic achievement among adolescents.
Most people don’t need a study or research to know the fact that having a good dad in one’s life is going to lead to good outcomes. I loved my mother very much and she taught me many things, but I would never have had a chance to become the man I have become if I didn’t have the opportunity to learn from such a good man as my father.
When my kids were born, I took what I learned from Dad and applied it as best as I could. When my son drove me crazy with his behavior, my Dad would sit there watching and laughing. I would ask, “What’s so funny?” and he said, “I always told you that I hoped you got a son just like you were, and now it’s happened.”
My son always saw me being affectionate with Dad, and he followed my lead and always gave Dad a kiss when we went to see him. After Dad passed away, my son continued the tradition and always gave me a kiss because “Papa said to do it.”
An article from the National Fatherhood Institute supports the notion that Dads need to find a way to show affection to kids of all ages:
It may become more difficult or awkward to show affection to your kids as they get older, especially in the teen or young adult years. But they still need you to demonstrate that you love them, perhaps even more as they enter more challenging stages of life. Don’t be bashful about hugging your teen or young adult or saying “I love you.” Even fully grown adults who have their own children need their father’s love!
I found enormous strength in Dad’s love, how he hugged me, and gave me a kiss. By being affectionate with his children, my Dad taught us that love knew no gender. It was also important that I always saw Dad hugging and kissing Mom; affection was an integral part of our family, and that is something I continue to practice in adulthood.
So today, gentlemen, whether you’re 5 or 55, give your father a good hug and a kiss – not because it’s Father’s Day – but because it should be an everyday practice. Even if you have never done it before, it could take your dad by surprise, but I bet it will be one that makes him extremely happy.
As for me, I cannot hug my Dad anymore, but I have pictures of him, remember stories about him, and I can touch the flag that the Army gave us at his funeral. Of course, one of the most important things I retain about Dad is the memory of his hugs that will last me a lifetime. And now I am going to go hug my kids and give them each a big kiss in honor of my Dad not because it’s Father’s Day – but to also perpetuate their memories of my being affectionate with them.
Photo credits: ballparks.com, national fatherhood institute[amazon template=iframe image&asin=098571381X]