The touch of our fathers is powerful: yes, I am speaking from a Christian perspective. The touch of our earthly fathers leads us to our Heavenly Father. If we know the safety of our earthly father’s touch and embrace, then we will assimilate an inner understanding of our Heavenly Father as the one who holds and protects and saves us. If, however, that physical contact has been abusive, then we are likely to build an inner understanding of our Heavenly Father as the ‘god’ who is ready to beat us down.
Touch is critical: the right kind of touch is critical.
In relational orientation counseling – that is, counseling to repair the orientation of relationship between a parent and child – I often encounter teenagers and young adults who have a deep deficit in the area of touch from their fathers. The consequences of that lack of touch range from feeling distant from dad to feeling hate for their father to experiencing suicidal thoughts to devouring online sexual imagery to very dangerous “touch substitutes” such as sexual hook-ups with older men. You name it: I’ve heard it. Many stories are utterly tragic and devastating.
Several young men have reported to me that in the absence of sufficient touch, they sexually respond to almost any touch. For such young men, physical connection to other males is associated with sexual response. I worry about these young men being capable of establishing healthy, sustainable relationships in the future. I worry that they will form an ‘orientation’ of love wrapped around sexual release: that is, I worry that they will feel that ANY form of sexual release equates to love. Yet another tragic consequence from a lack of healthy touch from their fathers.
Our counseling does not focus exclusively on ‘touch’ but it is one entire part of our focus: human touch and particularly the touch that boys need from their fathers. Yet if a boy is now a teen and there are years of history with little or no touch between father and son, then introducing touch between father and son can be a very challenging endeavor. But it must be done.
When we start the process, some fathers who were not touched much (or gently) by their own fathers have no clue where to start. They are extremely uncomfortable with the closeness of physical affection. Getting them to even consider offering their teenage sons fatherly physical affection is sometimes a very scary thought.
You may think, “Well, this is not for me. I show physical affection to my son.” Maybe that’s true. But if there is distance between you and your son, you need to be open to exploring ALL channels through which you can deposit the seeds of a father’s love into your son’s heart. So keep reading and I hope that you find some of the ideas below relevant and helpful.
How do you physically affirm a nearly grown son that you have given insufficient affection to? That is the purpose of this article: to lay out some ideas for initiating healthy physical affection between father and son. Are you ready?
(1) Morning Hugs: A father’s hug nourishes even teenage boys. Our sons need to be hugged. For fathers that have never hugged, I don’t believe in the idea of starting with a bump-and-roll hug that lasts a quarter of one second. No, we have to press through the discomfort. I recommend a 15-second hug at a minimum. I understand this may be tough for you. If you cannot bear the stillness (which is OK), then you can rub your hands up and down your sons back. Or you can hug his back with one hand and place your other hand around the back of his head and neck and pull him against your shoulder. If you cannot bear the silence (which is OK), then you can say a prayer of blessing over your son as you hug him. If you can get to a place where you say a prayer of blessing, you’ll find that a hug can naturally last much longer than 15-seconds.
(2) Daily Affection: Do not waste an opportunity to deposit physical affection into your son’s life in your daily activities. If you are driving somewhere, you can rest your hand on his leg. If your family is watching a TV program, you can sit right up against your son and place your arm around his shoulder. If your family is hiking or walking, rest your hand on his shoulder or rub your hand up and down his back. Or if your family is just hanging out at home, you can give your son (and the rest of your children) a back rub or shoulder massage.
(3) Nightly Traditions: For younger sons, snuggle them as you tuck them into bed. For older boys, you will have to make your own decision whether it is still appropriate to snuggle. But even if that is no longer possible, you (Dad) can rub or scratch your son’s back or head as you say a nightly blessing of prayer for him.
I would like to address a common concern. With teenage sons, their hormones rage at times and they may be repulsed by physical affection because their bodies get easily aroused. This is a natural developmental stage. In counseling, we can give further advice on how to work around this concern: this concern should not hold fathers back from offering physical affection to their sons. We can do so in sensitive ways that respect our son’s specific needs.
I need to recognize that for boys who have been physically or sexually abused, physical affection can be quite frightening. Significant emotional trust must be established before they can feel safe with physical affection. This is not easy to accomplish but Dad, for the sake of your son, you need to initiate getting him the help he needs to make physical affection a healthy input into his life.
Recognizing that physical touch (affection) may not always be initially possible, I want to close this entry with a story about a father who gave his son physical affection without ever touching him. A few years ago I was sitting on a plane waiting to take off. In the seats directly in front of me sat a father and his teenage son. This boy looked to be about 13-years old.
What caught my attention was that this young boy was looking directly into the eyes of his father and his father was looking directly into the eyes of his son. That’s fine. But there faces were literally two inches apart. At first, I thought the boy was whispering a secret to his father. But this went on and on for an hour. Then, I thought maybe the boy was deaf. He was not.
After an hour of watching this intimate interaction unfold, I finally realized that this son was literally feeding off ‘good soil’ from his father. I must confess to you that this was such a beautiful sight that tears ran down my cheeks as I watched them both. To see a son who so trusted his father and so needed his father that he literally spent over an hour two inches away from his dad’s face looking eye to eye with every word they traded – it touched me deeply. I realized in that moment how much boys need their dads.
When I got home that night, I placed my then 2-year old son on my lap and just stared at him eye-to-eye for an extended period of time. He just stared back and smiled. I told him how special he is to me. He leaned his face into mine and our noses kissed. That night started a tradition that continues to this day. At unexpected moments, I call him over and say “Beeza Ching-Ching” (which in Chinese means ‘nose kiss’).
Dad, physical affection is critical between you and your son. Invest in making it a natural thing. Invest in making it a tradition. Invest in redefining it as an expression of healthy love. If your son is older and uncomfortable with closeness, then be creative to find ways that you can get “eye-to-eye” with him and let him know you are fully physically present to him.
One last item: if your son is now grown and lives outside your home, there might be many reasons why there is distance between the two of you. He may not be open to much physical affection at all. But I bet he would be open to a nice free dinner somewhere. Go to your son. If there is distance, ‘physically’ bridge that gap to get closer to him.
Dad, may our Good Shepherd use you to help draw your son home to you and home to our Heavenly Father. May He bless your sincere efforts to reach out to your son with fatherly love.
God bless you,
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This series deals with fathers and sons. Relational orientation counseling can be a blessing to any parent of any child – boy, girl, homosexual or heterosexual. If your family is in need of such counseling, contact me toll-free at (877) 683-6867 or email me. I am happy to serve your family. God bless.