I love hugs. Always have. They are an important part of my connection to friends and family. I remember what hugs feel like from certain people and even specific individual hugs from the past.
There are different types of hugs. Dare I say a hug for every situation. There is the “see you in a few days” quickie hug. There is the longer, closer “its going to be a while” hug. There is the handshake, shoulder to shoulder with other arm around the back hug. I was taught by homophobes in high school that when paired with two taps on the back this type of hug is the “not gay” hug using the taps on the back to emphasize each word. There are side hugs aka “A-Frame” hugs that were supposed to protect us from inappropriate touching between colleagues in college. So many to list but I can’t forget to mention the grandma hug+cheek kiss. One of my all time favs.
We are a hugging family. We are teaching my young son to hug. He’s great at it but one type of hug has eluded me. The “never leave/never die” hug. This one is characterized by a full double-arm swing around the neck and face planted next to the cheek. It takes time and the squeeze is strong. You can feel the person’s heartbeat as it pounds right next to your own. This type of hug is heartbreaking and when real very rare. It expresses the most emotion of any hug I ever experience. I love this hug and have seen my son hug my wife this way. Never me.
The first time I experienced the NLND hug was just days before my 13th birthday. It was the day I would later learn that my uncle had committed suicide. The family decided it would be best to let me finish the school day and my piano lesson after school instead of pulling me out when they got the news. My brother and a good friend of his picked me up, informed me of what was going on, then drove me to the house where everyone had gathered and begun to attempt the grieving process.
When we got home the only thing I can remember is my father. It was his brother who was now gone. Up until this point I had never seen him cry. He’s not a “men don’t cry” type of person. More I think that he is a source of strength in the family and sometimes that means keeping a stiff upper lip for everyone else so they have the space to emote.
Walking into the house I saw my father crying for the first time. I didn’t know how to react. I had absolutely zero words. For a kid who never stopped talking I was speechless. The only tool I had for the situation was to hug my father so I did.
That hug… is burned into my memory. Having just lost his youngest brother my father hugged me tighter than he ever had before. My father held me longer than I can previously remember. That hug said two things loud and clear. Don’t ever leave me and I love you with all of my heart.
Over the years there have been a lot of hugs from a lot of people. None have been that powerful until about two weeks ago. I had been hired to photograph multiple events that day. One was during the workday so my son was not with me during our usual times. We had been on a very consistent schedule for nearly a month and as any stay at home parent will tell you the rhythm of the day starts to really sync. That is not to say we weren’t busy. We had bumps in the road daily but activities and needs were easily anticipated.
Let’s go back for a second. I have been away from my son for extended periods of time. On the shorter end are 4-5 conference trips (Shout out to The National At Home Dad Conference and Dad2.0). The longest was a 45 day working trip to France and Iceland (Afram Island!) for the 2016 Euros Tournament. At no time did my son embrace me with a NLND hug. His mom… yup. Not me. I’m not too proud to admit I was getting a bit jealous.
Returning to the almost present. I arrived home after the 6th or so hour of taking event photographs that day. It is important to note because for this photog events are the roughest. Constantly on my feet looking for the next unanticipated moment. Mind always running like a souped up HemiCuda. It can be exhausting over time. I was expecting my son to give me a quick hug and then return to either eating or running around in circles.
To my surprise as I picked up my one year old he reached for my neck. Once he was close enough he pulled hard and connected his hands behind me. Planting his face next to mine he squeezed with all the might a young one can muster and held firm.
At first I couldn’t take in what was happening. All I could think was “what’s wrong” and “what happened while I was gone?!?!” Of course nothing had happened. Everything was fine. For some reason that day my son missed me so much he felt the need to express it when I returned. Luckily for me he held that hug long enough for me to get out of my own head.
I pressed my cheek against his. I held him as close as I could hold a little kiddo. I loved every second of it. There are moments when you know you should cry but a little dumb voice tells you for whatever reason not to. That voice told me to hold back but my better angels prevailed and I cried with my son in my arms.
I missed you too Kiddo.