"" Writer's Wanderings: How Do You Hug A Six Foot Teenager?

Thursday, August 21, 2014

How Do You Hug A Six Foot Teenager?

The date on this essay is 1986. The son I wrote about is now 40+ and is facing the beginning of the teenage years with his son. I smiled when I found this as I was cleaning out old files. My grandson is eyeball to eyeball with his mom and won't be long before dad probably finds himself there as well.


When did it happen? My nineteen-inch baby suddenly grew to seventy-two inches. Sixteen years doesn’t seem like such a long time now. I wonder. Will it take me another sixteen to get used to this new size?

I smile as I remember my 5’3” mother coping with a 6’1” teenager—my brother. We had three steps up to the kitchen from the side door entryway. When she needed to emphasize her authority as the parent, she would catch him before he got up the stairs, blocking his path in the narrow door until he understood the message.
I have no steps so I need to find other creative ways of dealing with our new size difference. I’m a little taller than my mother but I still get a crick in my neck standing next to my son while talking to him.
In his book, “How to Love Your Teen,” (Campbell?) emphasizes the importance of eye contact with your children. Establishing eye contact is probably the most important way of seeing the love. It shows in another’s eyes. I want to be sure he sees that love in mine so I try to find ways of being “eyeball to eyeball” whenever I can.
Touching is another important part of parenting. A loving touch expresses warmth and concern that words could never reveal. Head patting does tend to go out of style as they begin to stretch skyward, but a hand placed fondly on the arm adds the emphasis of concern and love and brings even greater attention to what you are saying.
Touching a teen can bring an unexpected response in a parent also. In a moment of pride for an idea my son expresses, I reached up to cup his face in my hands and tell him how wonderful I thought his idea was. As my hands touched his face, my words were lost in confusion. My hands were touching the face of an adult male with a “three o’clock” shadow not the baby soft skin I remembered.
A bumper sticker proclaiming “Give hugs, not drugs” made me realize that the taller my son was getting, the less I was hugging. But, then, how do you hug a six-foot teenager?
I started a hugging campaign. “Ron, I love you,” I said when he came home from school that afternoon reaching out to stop him for a hug. Awkwardly, he bent over to hug me and I felt myself going on tiptoes to reach his neck.
Next I tried the old “sit next to him on the couch” approach to sneak a hug. That seemed to work a little better. He didn’t have to bend over so far.
I found a one-arm technique around his middle worked pretty well. But, somehow, it didn’t seem to convey the kind of affection we once expressed when he was able to climb up on my lap, wrap his arms around my neck and put his head on my shoulder as I embraced him in a full bear hug.
The little boy is still there inside the body of the man he is becoming. I hope a part of him will always remain. I hope the man will never outgrow the need for hugs. I know his parents won’t.

How do you hug a six-foot teenager? I’m not sure. I just know you do.

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