I grew up in a proper Midwestern household, which is to say in a family who only grudgingly acknowledged that emotions and bodies were both things everyone possessed, and consequently should feel appropriately ashamed about. Needless to say, I was raised in a home where displays of physical affection were infrequent and awkward.
And while my father was, and is, a loving and involved presence, he's suffered from Multiple Sclerosis for the past 40 years. Not only did this mean he couldn't really be very physical with his children, it really affected the way he perceived his own body and bodies in general, which definitely impacted me growing up.
So I grew up feeling hopelessly self-conscious about my body and brought those feelings about my body into adulthood. Then my wife and I had a baby and my relationship with my body changed dramatically. I began to see my body in terms of my son.
My legs are for chasing after him.
My arms are for holding and hugging him.
My crooked, long-suffering spine and hips are for supporting us when I hold his little 19-month-old frame in my arms.
My father always told me that he loved me but when it comes to conveying love, especially to a child, there's no substitution for the human touch, especially from Mom and Dad.
I could say that my wife and I make a conscious effort to be as physically affectionate as possible with our son, but the truth is that it just comes naturally. I can't imagine a day where I wouldn't want to hug my son, where I wouldn't want to re-affirm our bond with a hug or a fatherly squeeze.
The two best parts of every day are when my wife takes a bath with our son in the big upstairs bath and I keep them company, and when my son sidles up to me on the couch as I put my arm around his shoulders and read him a bedtime story. My father always told me that he loved me but when it comes to conveying love, especially to a child, there's no substitution for the human touch, especially from Mom and Dad.
Perhaps not coincidentally, our son seems to be growing up to love his body, to look at it as something incredible and special that he should be proud of, and not a source of shame. I grew up internalizing what I saw as the stifling repression and all-consuming shame of the Midwestern mindset so I'm glad that he appears to have escaped that.
His mother and father's desire to hug and hold and cuddle with him will at some point become a source of intense mortification for our son. But until that time comes, I'm enjoying being physically affectionate with my boy in a way my family never was with me when I was growing up. The day will come when our boy will be too big to reflexively accept hugs from Mom and Dad, but I intend to really savor every day until that exquisitely bittersweet moment arrives.