Ignoring the steady weight of the eyes of four friends fixed on me, I smiled lovingly at the giggling boy in my arms. He wasn’t old enough to express his love for his father with words, but the delighted anticipation in his eyes as I took a deliberately loud breath said enough. His eyes went wide as I inhaled, pulled him in, and planted kisses and ridiculous growling noises on his cheeks and face.
I sounded like the Cookie Monster devouring a triple layer chocolate chip cookie cake. A joyfully squealing cookie cake wearing a diaper.
Our need for some father-son affection abated, I handed him off to my waiting wife who gave him a similar Cookie Monster treatment as she wandered off. I reveled in the view a moment — my wife is a wonderful mom with a wonderful walk — and returned to my conversation with my buds. Or rather, I intended to, until the raised eyebrows and barely contained smirks that greeted me gave me pause.
They then began chiding, teasing, and chuckling at my kissy display.
“I don’t do that with my son.”
“Yeah, that’s a bit much.”
“I don’t kiss my boys at all, much less like that.”
And on it went. I sat through it, shrugging, thinking to myself, “Your loss.”
A Need for Touch
But it’s not just their loss. Their boys need physical touch as much as their daughters. Arguably more so, since they’ll get it rarely from any other masculine source.
In our homophobic (I know it’s not a popular label, but it fits more often than we’d like to admit) contemporary Christian culture, we’ve lost sight of the value of physical affection between a father and a son. Sure, it still exists on occasion in the more indirect manners — wrestling on the floor, for example — but even this is minimal. In America, the average father spends only thirty seconds per day in physical contact with their children. Plus, we often dismiss the more direct forms. And it’s a universal dismissal.
Certainly, there’s an age when a son often pulls back from physical affection in one or more forms. How many sixteen-year-old boys delightedly embrace their father in the afternoons like they did when they were six? But why should my toddler be kept distant if he has a penis while I can extend all the slobbery and noisy affection I want for a daughter? How ridiculous is that?
There’s certainly no biblical precedent for this stigma. In fact, kisses take place as tokens of affection throughout the Bible, across gender lines and in a variety of relational dynamics that make most Americans cringe to learn. Brothers kissing sisters, friends kissing friends, and — gasp!— fathers kissing children. Both genders.
The ancient Hebrews had some distinct lines not to be crossed in their culture, but simple nonsexual kisses were certainly not one of them. And certainly not between a father and son.
Frankly, I don’t care all that much that my affection for my son might arouse a few awkward moments for other people. In fact, I relish it. Let them see a father who loves his son, a son who loves his father, and a relationship that is defined by something more substantial and intimate than intentionally remote nonchalance.
When my son considers his words for my eulogy, I don’t want insouciant, aloof, or sequestered to even cross his mind. I’d much prefer he recall Cookie Monster kisses.