Touch. It’s a delicate subject. I just read an article that discussed the idea of gentle, platonic touch between men. It made the case that men are often isolated from touch at an early age by both parents, and that the lack of gentle, platonic touch is a killer. The author decided he would try a different approach, and never give up hugging his son, or holding his hand, when the opportunity presented itself.
As I read the author’s words, this notion of touch between men felt sort of radical, and I started to wonder why. I found myself agreeing that, for the most part, this physical form of isolation seems true for most men, though not all of us. Many of us get cut off from touch at a relatively early age.
During important developmental years, it seems we impose a physical touch moratorium on young boys, who then flounder about without guidance on how to connect with others platonically/physically until they hit adolescence. And adolescence brings on the world of dating.
Now that is an awkward set up. When I was a teen, most guys I knew were wholly ill-equipped to handle comfortable platonic touch, so dating became mostly about (awkward) sexual conquests. Sorry parents, I know you don't want to hear that.
The author explained that he wouldn’t have realized this dilemma if it weren’t for being a stay-at-home dad. He was holding his son and had an epiphany about how important touch is, and how he would be expected to stop touching his son in the not-too-distant future. It was then he decided on a different approach.
Our rites of socialization are deeply ingrained in us, and often we hand down our customs and traditions without ever questioning them, even if they are no longer relevant or necessary.
When I was a child, it was the norm to be given a gun and told by most everyone (TV, parents, siblings, neighbors) that it was okay to play cops and robbers, or worse, indians and cowboys, and “kill” others. Though I am not a parent, apparently it is still true today that playing with guns is often considered absolutely normal and healthy form of play for a young child. Yet we all look in horror and shock as one of our young boys, out of frustration and rage and emotional imbalance, shoots up a mall or movie house. You’d have to do a lot of convincing to have me believe there is no link between the two.
We encourage games which encourage the mass shooting of “people” in order to win the game. We also say, for example, that it’s okay to play with trucks and build and destroy things. But to see two boys hugging or holding hands in a platonic friendship? Well, the psychiatrist is consulted and worries ensue about a homosexual or effeminate child. Really? I know not all parents see it this way, buy many still do.
I wonder what it might be like to have more parents who encourage young boys to be comfortable with platonic touch. When I think of that, in my mind, some military sergeant jumps up and shouts: “We don’t need more sissy boys in the world.” Okay mind, thanks for that honest shout out.
So my internal gut says boys are conditioned to be tough and less emotional because we need them to fight our battles. We are essentially (still) a warring race, and you can’t have someone in touch with their softer, sensual side on the front lines of a war, can you?
Still, I imagine a world where young boys are allowed to experience safe, platonic touch and encouraged to develop a strong emotional inner life, and I wonder how that might change our world.