The second time I took Doug (my husband who passed away in 2008) to see my parents, my dad hugged him when we were leaving. As we turned out of the driveway, I looked at him and he had tears in his eyes. I asked why he was upset. He said, “Your dad hugged me and my dad has never hugged me.” Being from an Italian over affectionate family, I could hardly believe him. He said his dad just wasn’t affectionate and had never told him that he loved him. I told him that sometimes we have to teach people who don’t know how to express their emotions. As time went by, my dad and Doug’s relationship grew closer, especially the last two years when we lived with dad after my mom’s death. In fact, Doug had shared with me one night that my dad was his hero. When my dad committed suicide, he was devastated! He went into a deep depression and was hospitalized. The day he was discharged he told me that he wanted to go visit his folks for the weekend. I told him I thought it would be good because his mom had been worried about him.
Through the years, I had started calling his mom, “mom” and his dad, “dad.” I’ll never forget one day when my brother-in-law and sister-in-law were at my in-laws with us and Doug and I were leaving for a little while, I went over and kissed mom on the cheek and dad on his little bald head and told them we’d be back in a little while. When we returned, my sister-in-law pulled me into the bedroom and said, “I can’t believe you kissed Doug’s daddy, you know he’s not affectionate.” I said, “Well, he may not be, but I am Italian, if you go get a loaf of bread you kiss everybody goodbye and when you get back, you kiss everybody hello again!”
It had been eight years since I had seen his tears from my dad’s hug and I had become close to his dad. He had been a road builder who was up every morning at 4:00 A.M. before retirement and still was the first one up in the morning. When we visited for the weekend he would make the coffee and I would smell it and get up and drink coffee with him. He was a man of few words, but he would open up and we would talk for hours. I found out after he passed away, that he told me things that the family did not know.
On the way to their house the weekend after his discharge, Doug told me that he had decided to hug his dad that visit and asked what I thought about it. I told him to go for it and restated that sometimes we have to be the one to show the love. The whole weekend went by and they walked us down the driveway to our car and we got in the car. Doug looked at me and said, “I am going to do it”. He got back out of the car and 6’ 1” Doug walked up to his 5’7” dad and hugged him and said, “I love you dad!” His dad was as stiff as a post, but Doug got back in the car, turned to me and said, “I did it!” Of course, tears were streaming down my face and I said, “You sure did!” When we got home, the phone was ringing and when Doug answered it, it was dad. Now, you have to understand that when dad wanted us to know something, he would tell mom to call us and tell us about it. This was the first time he had ever called us, but he said, “We sure had a good visit didn’t we?” Doug said, “We sure did dad.” And dad said, ”Love y’all” and hung up. Not only did Doug hug dad that visit, but every visit after that and dad started “patting” him on the back when they hugged and it wasn’t just ”goodbye hugs”, it was “hello hugs” too!
So, if there is someone you would like to have a hug from but have been afraid to try it, just do it. It will bring you closer together and you won’t regret it. I believe we should all spread as much love as we possibly can!
Toni True-Wills, Ph.D.