a son and father hug


One Day Your Kids Won’t Hug You Back

Aug 6, 2018

I have three kids: two boys and a girl. They are each amazing in their own special way and I love them to bits. I squeeze them to my chest in a monstrous bear hug as often as they will let me. But I have always held my oldest son the longest and tightest.

It isn’t because I love him more. I squeeze him tighter because I have always felt as though he were slipping out of my grasp. And, well, lately he kind of has been.

One of my earliest memories as a new father is cradling him in my arms. He was about the size of an eggplant at the time, and not far off the color. I gazed down into his tiny purplish face and thought, “Hey kid, one day you are going to be big enough to squeeze me back.” Your quintessential new dad moment.

I almost had time to smile before another thought came to me, “And one day you’re going to be big enough to stop squeezing back.”

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I couldn’t point to the exact date that I stopped hugging my dad, but I know it was a very conscious decision. I was about nine, the same age that my oldest son is now.

Somehow I had picked up the idea that it wasn’t cool for kids my age to hug their fathers anymore. I remember spending a lot of time mulling this over and plucking up my courage. The day it happened, my dad opened up his arms wide for a big one and I just kind of took a deep breath.

"I squeeze them to my chest in a monstrous bear hug as often as they will let me."

And left him hanging.

He didn’t say a thing. He just smiled and ruffled my hair instead. It was such a relief. I was deep into my teenage years before I would hug my father again. In other words, I knew from the beginning exactly what was coming and I kind of felt like I deserved it.

I’ve done my homework. I know that it’s natural for kids to pull away. They’re growing up and public affection from a parent can feel like a childish and embarrassing burden. It does not diminish our connection to one another. I’m a victim of my own success, if you think about it. He’s confident in who he is and feels ready to stretch out and form new connections on his own.

I tell myself all those things. But that’s really not how it feels. 

Relevant Reading: What I Want To Tell My Younger Parent Self 

My turn came at the corner where my kids wait for their walking school bus. It’s always a bit of a mad-scrabble dash to get all three of them to that corner with their teeth brushed and most of their clothes on their little bodies.

This was probably the second or third day of the new school year so it was mad-scrabble with an extra flourish of urgency. Their friends were already there. The posse of kids and designated leaders, which constitute the bus, marched up. I kneeled down to give each of my kids a perfunctory squeeze and had the wherewithal, thankfully, to notice my eldest tense up.

Not here, his stiff little body told me. This is it, I thought. I caught myself. He looked so relieved. I tried to look happy for him. It was agony.

So far he hasn’t cut me off completely. I still get my hugs at home. I hope it lasts but I’m bracing for the worst. Like I have been from the start.

Article Author Rob Thomas
Rob Thomas

Read more from Rob here.

Rob Thomas is a writer, editor and a work-at-home dad. Brood, a book of poems inspired by his experiences of fatherhood, was launched at the Ottawa International Writers Festival in 2014. His journalism has appeared in places such as Ottawa Magazine, the United Church Observer, Canadian Running and on CBC radio and television. He is also a founding member of an Ottawa social club for dads called The Ugly Mothers.

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