A real dad touches his child as often as he possibly can. This rule is among the most important of all the Real Dad Rules, and yet is the number one rule being followed less and less because of a society whose members have gotten into the habit of over-scrutinizing a man’s every move with his child.
I believe it goes without saying that there is a very wide, very black and white line between appropriate touch and inappropriate touch. This discussion specifically centers on the miraculous, healing, and beautiful touch that comes to children at the tender hands of their real dads. The only thing I feel inclined to mention about inappropriate touch is this: real dads don’t do it, and they don’t need any guidebook telling them not to do it or where the line is.
But oh the delightful and calming power of healthy touch! There is no force more powerful in all the world to bond one person to another, and more specifically a child to her parents. Real dads touch their children in poignant and influential ways, and they never stop to think about what cultural proscriptions might exist, who might be watching, or what people might be thinking. They touch their children freely and openly, always aware of the powerful transfer that exists every time they do.
I’ve shared countless moments of touch with Noah since he was minutes old. As an infant, I used to sit in the bathtub with him pressed against my chest for half an hour or more while he slept on top of me. I spent those moments caressing his back or rubbing his tiny hands between my fingers.
As he aged and grew more cognizant of his surroundings, I’d lay in bed beside him, snuggled together under the sheets, singing silly songs or reciting nursery rhymes while he played with my hair and smiled. Usually he’d fall asleep next to me, his peaceful grin still spread across his face.
Even now, as I put him to bed each night, we enjoy the same routine. It starts with a bedtime story. I lie down, and he lies down next to me, excited for whichever adventure we’re about to enjoy together. Each night I scratch his bare back or rub his exposed tummy while we read. If I stop, he insists that I keep doing it. If I forget to do it in the first place, he pulls up his shirt and reminds me.
After story time, I put him in bed and let him choose a song. As I sing, he’s only content if I’m making skin-on-skin contact somehow. He loves to have his neck rubbed, his feet held, his legs massaged, and his face stroked. Sometimes, after the song, and after we hug and kiss goodnight, I walk out the door and his little voice squeaks its way around the entrance to his room. “Daddy, can you come rub my tummy some more? I just really want you to rub my tummy right now.”
The way he asks is far from manipulative. It’s far from a ploy to keep from sleeping. It’s simply a little boy who has a need to be touched, and who knows that he is free to ask for it.
And sometimes, as a colossal reinforcement that my son learns by example, Noah touches me in the very ways that I touch him. Most of the time he doesn’t realize he’s doing it. As we’re lying watching a movie he reaches out and rubs my (much less cute and much more hairy) stomach. As I’m sitting at my computer, he often begins scratching my back. As we wrestle and roughhouse, he often presses his face against mine, and leaves it there just long enough to feel a connection. He invents games that involve healthy touch. He finds new ways to experience healthy touch. And he loves healthy touch.
I get to experience these moments of touch several times every day. I get to witness my bond with my child strengthen itself every time we find a positive way to exchange photons. I get to smile as my son purposefully wiggles and positions himself in such a way to sneak extra moments of touch with me. I get the satisfaction of knowing that my son will be able to give and receive healthy touch over the course of his life because of what we now experience together.
Many there are, unfortunately, who never learn this skill. To both let oneself be touched and to give meaningful touch to others is often a learned ability, one which will not develop on its own, yet one that must be developed by any human who wishes to be truly successful, healthy, and powerful in communication.
While physical touch is a basic biological need shared by everyone, it’s also its very own powerful language which has the ability to communicate in ways that words simply cannot do. It has the ability to ask permission and it has the ability to ask forgiveness. It has the ability to show hesitation or fear, and it has the ability to instill confidence, conviction, or assurance.
With one touch, a person can often sense whether another is sincere or if they are dishonest. They can tell when a person is being genuine, and they can tell when a person is being pretentious.
Touch conveys emotion. When the energy of two people connects, such feelings as love, lust, gratitude, happiness, bitterness, or worry often come to the surface. Likewise, feelings of complete isolation and distrust can also turn up.
And perhaps, most significantly, those who haven’t learned the ability to touch and be touched often experience far less meaningful relationships. They experience difficulty truly connecting with their partner. They experience certain levels of distrust and jealousy. They never learn what it’s like to give truly of one’s self and to receive from another in return.
Forgiveness comes less naturally, for often there is no way to receive the message of true remorse except through the proper methods of touch.
Children who aren’t taught this ability often miss out on some or all of these vital forms of communication throughout their lives. They are forced to decipher a person based on words and body language alone. They are often misled and they often misconstrue the intentions and actions of others, which more often than not lead them to make irrational and fearful decisions that didn’t need to be made.
Research has shown that those who aren’t touched are at a greatly increased likelihood of having problems with drug addictions, eating disorders, attention disorders, promiscuity, and trust. Further research has shown that those who aren’t touched have a much higher likelihood of becoming workaholics, purposefully driving themselves away from others in the pursuit of success, all as a means to hide from the discomfort they feel being close to another.
Research has also shown that touching others and being touched has a powerful effect in healing both the body and the mind. Those who know, understand, and appreciate touch experience improved physical and mental health. They have a much lower mortality rate compared to their untouched counterparts, and they generally perform better in their careers.
But, as intriguing as the science behind touch is, real dads have a simpler view on it. Real dads touch their children because they know that it makes their children feel love. Real dads touch their children because they know that it makes their children feel trust. Real dads touch their children because they know that it is good for them.
They also touch their children because they know that not touching them is one of the most passively damaging things a father can do to his child. A real dad somehow sees that not touching his daughter means that someday she’ll probably go look for that touch in the wrong hands and in the unhealthiest of ways. A real dad somehow sees that not touching his son means that someday he’ll probably distance himself from those he wishes most to love.
A real dad doesn’t see the science, he sees the need. He sees that the more he touches his child, the more his child longs for it and the more his child reciprocates. He sees that the more often he snuggles with his child locked in his arms, the more tender and caring his child becomes. He sees minor or drastic improvements in his child’s disposition and nature. He sees that when his child is touched, she is more helpful, more obedient, and more thoughtful to how her actions affect her parents and others. He sees that his child’s fears all but dissipate and that his child’s trust in the goodness of mankind grows.
And while a real dad does everything he can to protect his child from the predators and perverts of the world, he knows that there is always a chance some other person will find a way to cross that line and touch his child inappropriately. And so, knowing that such a thing is a possibility, and knowing that the odds of such a thing happening are reduced with every positive and good touch his child experiences, he finds ways to touch his child in safe and healthy ways all the more often.
Real dads know that touch can often help a parent gauge when something more serious is wrong. A father who is in the habit of sharing beautiful touch with his child will be able to discern variations in his child’s responses to that touch. He’ll feel a change in energy, and he’ll be able to discuss it with his child, confront it, and work with his child to move past it.
He also knows that if his child ever becomes a victim, she’ll be able to distinguish good touch from bad touch. And, having such ability will likely free her from the excess guilt and torment that often follow those children into adulthood that have been touched or forced to touch inappropriately.
Simply put, real dads know that if they touch their child in healthy, beautiful, and significant ways, their children will be able to weather the storm should abuse from others enter the picture. They know that should it happen (God forbid it ever does), their kids will be all right.
And while even the thought of inappropriate touch should cause any parent to become physically ill, how sad is it for the man or woman who looks upon healthy touch and condemns it or declares it to be inappropriate. You are wrong.
I live in the same society you do. I live in a time when the realities of abuse have made others paranoid. I live in a day and age where I can pull out my phone, open certain software, and immediately see the photographs and conviction details of dozens upon dozens of sex predators, all living within a one mile radius of where I currently am. I turn on the television and see entire programs covering the topic of sexual abuse. I see stories about it in the newspaper almost daily. It is portrayed in books and movies. More and more people I love and care about surface with their own stories.
But as real dads, we can not care about or absorb such fears. We can not lend thought to the possibility of incorrect judgments placed on us by others. We cannot withhold our loving touch in exchange for assurance from tainted sources that we are acting within our limits.
When we do, our children’s needs go unmet. When we do, the future of our children is darkened and disrupted. When we do, we doom our children to lives less full, less complete, and less beautiful. We damage them in ways we never fully understand. And for what?
This topic has become taboo at best. I for one can no longer accept it as such. It is time that the real dads in this world talk about loving touch. It’s time they openly display their affection to their children in public places. It’s time that they turn the table on society’s paranoia. It’s time we set the example together.
Real dads touch their kids.
If that statement makes you uncomfortable, I believe there are some things you need to consider. I believe there are beliefs you need to reevaluate. I believe there is a serious gap in your thinking.
If you are a real dad, immediately go and find a way to lovingly and appropriately touch your child. Scratch your daughter’s back. Wrestle with your son. Link your daughter’s leg over yours while you’re watching a movie. Tussle your boy’s hair.
Then, don’t ever stop finding ways to offer loving touch to your child.
As your child ages, the need and want for so much touch will certainly diminish, but it will never disappear. And you guessed it. Real dads are on top of that, too.
PS. Today’s post is the seventh chapter in a read-along of my new book The Real Dad Rules (which will go on through February of next year). Don’t wait to read the rest of The Real Dad Rules! Get your own copy today (Amazon, Kindle, iBooks, Nook, Hardcover, or visit the official Real Dad Rules webpage for signed copies or bulk discounts). Get it for yourself. Get it for your kids. Give it as a gift. Just get it, and get in on the conversation!
While I wrote this book to everyday dads (from an everyday dad), I believe that its message can be applied to and appreciated by mothers and fathers alike. And, if you believe in the message of The Real Dad Rules, and if you love what you’ve read so far, please do Noah and me two huge favors! First, please share this page with your friends and family. Second, please take a second and leave a five-star review on Amazon (or Nook/iBooks).