Shortly after picking up my younger daughter from the Elementary school the other day, I saw a father and son holding hands as they walked to the car.  The boy looked to be maybe 7 or 8.  It was a very sweet image, and it made me smile.  It was a stark contrast to a very vivid memory I have from several years ago: I was walking into the mall, and I was close to a small family group – a mom with her teenage daughter and her (pre-teen? early teenage?) son.  As they were walking into the building, the son put his hand into his mother’s.  She pulled her hand away from him and reprimanded him, telling him that he was too old for that kind of nonsense.

I could feel his dejection, the sweet innocence of his youth being shattered in that moment, and my heart ached for him.  I don’t know if that was the first brick that woman had placed in the wall between herself and her son, or if it was the hundredth or the thousandth.  How many other times had he reached out for her, in public or in private, only to be rejected?  How many more times in his life would he make such an attempt before deciding that it just wasn’t worth it any more?  How would that dynamic with his mother influence his friendships and intimate relationships with girls (and eventually, women) in his life?  And how old would that mother be when she realizes that her son has neither time for her, nor the inclination to take her outstretched hand when she wants a bit of help or comfort in her later years?

I hope that father and son that I saw continue sharing their love and affection in such sweet and open ways for the rest of their lives together.  I’d like to think that in 5, 10, 15 years or more, they still feel like they can hold hands, hug and kiss one another.  It seems to me that all too often, displays of affection between males of nearly any age beyond puberty are restricted to a fist bump, a pat or the back, or the manly shoulder bump – you know, the one where they clasp right hands, pull into one another very quickly, bump chests or right shoulders and pat each other on the back with their left hands before quickly pulling apart again.

I don’t have sons, but I’d be interested to hear feedback from people who do.  At what point does a boy become “too old” to hold hands with one or both of his parents?  Is that something that is instilled by the parent(s) or by society or peers?  When does the sweetness of a son kissing a parent become inappropriate?  Are the guidelines for acceptable behavior of that nature different in public than they are in private?

I also wonder the same things about the relationship between father and daughter.  For the first several years of her life, it’s entirely appropriate for a little girl to throw her arms around her Daddy’s neck and kiss him, or to snuggle up next to him on the couch or the bed to watch tv and fall asleep.  Is there a point in her physical development (menarche, perhaps?) where those kinds of displays are no longer appropriate?  Should a kiss on the mouth become a more demure peck on the cheek?  While she can no longer fit (comfortably) on his lap, is it okay for him to hold her in his arms, or is that creepy now that she’s developed certain physical attributes?

Or are these all entirely dependent on the nature of each unique relationship?  It’s very confusing.

For me, I’m already noticing my older daughter distancing herself from me in many ways, including physically.  There was a time in her life when Mommy could make nearly everything better with a snuggle and a kiss, possibly with a tickle thrown in for good measure.  Not any more.  Although I still get a goodbye kiss in the morning, and a goodnight kiss at bedtime, and the occasional hug throughout the day (often depending on whether she wants something from me), and she tells me “I love you” frequently – I do miss the simpler days of her childhood.  My younger daughter is still quite free with her affections – often coming to snuggle up with me on the couch for no particular reason other than just wanting that physical contact and comfort – and I treasure that.

I hope both of my daughters will continue to feel comfortable with these tokens of our love and affection for one another as they grow older and become more independent.