I don’t remember many touchy feely moments in my time as a kid. My mom gave me hugs — I do remember that — and my dad gave me hugs on special, very rare, occasions. We got along and we spent time together, but we each had our space and we usually liked to exercise our use of that space by keeping our physical distance from each other. That’s just how things were in my family.
There are some moments with my dad that I will never forget. Most of those memories are tied to our time watching The Late Show with David Letterman. As my dad would head upstairs to catch the last half of Jay Leno, he would tell me he loved me as he climbed the stairs, and I would tell him I loved him in return. Saying those words to my father, however, always felt so awkward, but those were special moments with my dad that will stick with me forever.
Beyond those words I don’t remember much other contact with my dad that would be considered intimate, emotional, or mushy in any way. Unfortunately, those habits and experiences with my family have carried over to the relationship I have with my kids. My wife called me out on it the other night. I’m man enough to know that she is right.
I have a bedtime routine with each kid and that routine doesn’t vary much from night to night. When I put Vivi to bed I read her two stories, sing her three songs, and then put her in her bed and tell her I love her. There is no kissing her on the cheek or giving her a hug outside the rocking I do when I sing her her songs. When I put Addie to bed I tell her to brush her teeth and when I walk into her room to say goodnight I give her a high five and tell her, “I love you.”
A high five. Sheesh, is that the best I can do? I know my wife is right. I know I’m conditioned from my own childhood to feel awkward with any display of my feelings. I know it’s the same way in the way I act toward Casey, my wife, as well. I know that it’s part of why she called me out on my stilted and less-than-stellar abilities in this area.
I know high-fiveing a 9-year-old with really big emotions is lame. My even younger daughter, Vivi could probably use a good night kiss even more. If I don’t change my profoundly rigid habits soon, I’m pretty sure Vivi will eventually experience what it’s like to get a high five just before bed.
As Casey has heard from me a number of times in our marriage — “That’s just the way I am.” Problem is, being the way I am isn’t good enough and I, perhaps more than anyone, knows something needs to change. Casey explained to me that she always remembered how her father used to always kiss her on the top of the head when it was time for her to go to bed, and those memories are some of her fondest memories of her time as a child. She also told me that her dad still kisses her on the top of the head now when she visits him and she admires him for the gesture. My girls deserve to have those fond memories of me for when they are older. There is also a very real concern that if I don’t express these kinds of gestures with my girls now, they’ll think it’s too weird if I start kissing them goodnight on the cheek or head later on in their lives.
The other night I decided to follow my wife’s advice, and when I went to tell Addie goodnight I told her to put her hand down as she waited for her nightly high five and to get her cheek over close to me. I gave her a quick kiss on the cheek and told her I loved her. When I was done she giggled and jumped back and said, “I haven’t had a whiskery kiss in a long, long time.”
And then my heart sank with regret.