This morning, as I dropped my sons off at school, my seven year-old reached his arms up, grabbed my waist and squeezed. A micro-second later, he was joined by his four year-old brother, who had my legs in a bear hug.
They both then presented their faces with big puckered lips and waited for me to kiss them. Yes, on the lips.
This is our morning ritual. I drop my sons off at school, we hug and kiss each other goodbye. And then at the end of the day, we greet each other in similar fashion.
And then we go home for more hugs and kisses, given the slightest excuse. A spelling done correctly; a hug. Some nice handwriting; a kiss. Their teatime plates cleaned; hugs and kisses.
Oh sod it, even if they do nothing at all except simply exist, I’m all over them like a wasp on jam.
I live for the hugs and kisses of my children (and from their mother, in case she’s reading!)
And I wonder if it’s because I was deprived of them when I was growing up. Not from my Mum, but from my Dad.
We didn’t do hugs in our family, not even manly ones. I can’t remember ever hugging my dad, or being hugged by him. I know it hapenned, because I’ve got the photos to prove it, but they were all taken when I was under five years old. After that, there is no record of any Father-t0-Son physical contact.
I sometimes wonder if my Dad regrets this. He’s from the same generation of Lord Prescott, who revealed on Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs that he had never hugged his own two sons.
“I was a bit detached as a father – not indifferent, but kind of detached,” he said. “That comes from a background, a culture.
“I’ve got two brilliant sons and I love them to death, but to my great regret I cannot somehow put my arms around my sons.
“I don’t know where it comes from, but I very much regret that I never had that.
“I think that’s part of British culture and that was reflected a bit in me and I’m sad about that.”
It makes me sad that I can’t hug my own father. I remember once telling my mother that I wanted to tell my Dad how much I loved him “before it was too late”.
Her reply was blunt and dismissive: “Don’t be ridiculous. You’d embarrass him. Anyway, he knows. You don’t need to tell him.”
A few years later, we stood side-by-side in the front pew at my mother’s funeral – and I still couldn’t put an arm around him as his shoulders shook as he fought his grief.
Men like my Dad didn’t hug. It had nothing to do with a sense of maniless. It was barely a deliberate decision. It just wasn’t done. His father was a bricklayer and heavyweight boxer. He brought his two sons up to be tough. And my Dad did the same with me and my three younger brothers.
We were introduced to the concept of the Manly Handshake before we were teenagers. You could hug your mother, you could kiss you mother, but you shook hands with the Man of the House.
But something went awry with my hugging DNA.
I’m not afraid to show physical affection to the males in my life, from my sons to my best friends – and even to my new “virtual” male friends in cyberspace on Twitter, where we often send each other Man-Hugs in 140 characters as a demonstration of support.
But funnily enough, I can’t hug my brothers.
Is it a working class thing? They all work in the building trade. I think they’d clock me with a lump hammer if I gestured for them to “Come here and let your Big Bruv give you a hug”. Although they’re very happy to squeeze the life out of their pals when their football team scores!
It was after I went into the touchy-feely world of the media after leaving school 30 years ago that I got in touch with my physically expressive side.
Hugging was just a part and parcel of meeting and greeting. Hell, I even KISS my friends when the circumstances dictate (though mainly after a few drinks with the words ‘I fuggin’ love you you’re my besht mate’). But never on the lips, I hasten to add.
That particular display of affection is reserved for my wife – and my sons. And, thankfully, it is reciprocated. At least until they become surly, sulky teenagers – and then all physically contact, no matter how manfully motivated, will be out of the window.
I’d better start teaching them how to shake hands!