I have two sons that I kiss every day I'm with them. They're not babies, either. My oldest son is 9 and my youngest son is 6. I give them kisses regardless of whether it be in public or private. I'm proud of the fact that they aren't worried about how it looks to strangers or who sees them puckering up to lay one on their dad's scruffy face. I like when both of them grab the patch of hair on my face that passes for a beard and tell me I need to shave because it's scratchy when I give them a kiss good night. Being a very affectionate human myself, I don't see this as anything but showing my boys that I love them. But when I look at, and I mean REALLY look at, fathers and how they interact with their sons when I'm in public, I feel like I'm in the minority.
Comedian Rob Delaney recently posted something on his Tumblr account that was printed in an Australian magazine named Smith Journal about men kissing their boys which really struck a chord in me. He spoke of how seeing a man in his 60s on one of his morning runs got him to thinking about how good it felt to have his dad kiss him good morning or good night. That led to him thinking about his two sons, and how he loves kissing them too. He talks about how he thinks we do a "gross disservice" to our sons by not showing them the love they need and deserve. Instead, many men avoid contact with their sons and teach them to toughen up and not cry. Most often starting around the time our sons enter kindergarten, we've replaced kisses with abrupt pats on the head and holding them at arm's length, teaching them to hold everyone at a distance. We think it prepares them for the adult world. However, what it really does teach them is that feelings are invalid and their worth as a man is tied directly to how "manly" they are.
Fellow Good Men Project writer Mark Greene explored in his excellent series on Touch Isolation the fears we have as fathers in relation to touch and what it will do to our sons. Societal dogma drives us to fear that we'll turn them gay or into "pussies." We worry what other people will think if our little men want to wrap their arms around our neck and give us a peck before they run off to play. Will they think we're pedophiles? Creating weaker males for tomorrow? That we're not being "real men" by being so open with our affection towards our own kids?
I call bullshit on all of those notions. The stoic patriarch dad is out; the hands-on dad is in. If we want our sons to grow up and be good partners to those with whom they choose to have relationships, don't we owe it to them to show how to express feelings and love? Sure, we need to also show boundaries and consent for those feelings and expressions, but they need more than just the simple where and to-what-extent. As Rob Delaney put it:
Here's just one reason the way I raise my sons matters to the world at large: my sons will one day wander out into the world and meet your daughters. So one hopes I instill in them, and model for them, behavior that is rooted in kindness, compassion and fundamental respect of others.
We can extrapolate applications of this concept with this basic precept: be kind, be present and don't be afraid of feelings or expressing them.
So I'm going to continue to give my boys kisses. Hopefully they will learn to express their love freely with openness and without any level of shame. And hopefully, they won't wipe those dad kisses away.
This piece originally appeared on The Good Men Project.