I have never been comfortable with the manly hug. I can’t tell you why – I think man-hugging is one of those things you either experienced as a youngster or didn’t. I didn’t. I’m more of a firm handshake kind of a guy. That’s my zone. I learned early to give a girl’s father a firm squeeze and look him straight in the eye as you say hello. I appreciate my dad teaching me this skill because it makes a great introduction before you load yourself, your date, and your dubious intent into a beat-up jalopy to go out for the evening. Eddie Haskell had nothing on my teenage self, Mrs. Cleaver. The good news now is that any Eddie can spot a young Eddie immediately. They’ve come to my door hoping to see my daughters. The minute that kid takes my hand, I look into his gleaming eye and send him packing. Of course, he just lowers his head and leaves because he knows he got busted… It might take a minute, but a young Eddie can recognize an old Eddie.
Current circumstances have taught me much, and I am certainly learning the comradery, affection and compassion wrapped up in an embrace. I have another cancer dad who tells me I’m getting better at it.
I think I may have hit my stride this weekend.
My family came to Washington DC to honor Kylie’s wishes to spread awareness for the need to find a cure for childhood cancer. I was humbled to have the opportunity to speak at the event. I think my speech went off well. My goal was to combine a Shrek impersonation, anecdotes about my terrible dancing and a prison escape, all together with Kylie’s story, challenge people to action and make them cry in 9 minutes. It was hard to recover after using the words, “toilet paper” when I meant to say “dental floss.” Fortunately, I caught myself and corrected the error.
But it wasn’t what I gave to the event that mattered most, it was what I found there.
What I found there was a large group of people affected by cancer and looking for a way to make a difference. Nobody fights alone. There were no social, ethnic, economic, or racial distinctions whatsoever – cancer doesn’t respect the things that divide society. Curefest brought us together into the tangled mess we are.
Everyone was vulnerable. Everyone was real. I have come to like real.
Sunday afternoon, I walked around and met several people I have only known digitally since we started this journey. I also met many new sojourners. Two encounters stand out. One was with a man named Miguel who lost his son, Jonathan, around the same time Kylie died. Miguel is hurting – like I am hurting. His eyes were red the minute we shook hands and he began telling me about his boy. All I could do was listen and at some point, I just hugged him – for a long time. You know what? It wasn’t weird at all. It didn’t feel wrong. It felt perfectly right. I don’t think it solved anything for Miguel, but maybe he knows he isn’t alone in his pain. Being alone stinks.
Later in my trek, I stumbled upon a man named John who lost his beautiful daughter, Juliana, two years ago from the same cancer that claimed Kylie. In fact, I was told this was the anniversary of her death. Anniversaries are hard. No words, nothing to say… I’ve learned that much. I just reached out and hugged him and I began to weep. He actually held it together better than I did.
Maybe a lesson I’m learning in all of this is that dropping some barriers and hugging a man is all a part of this vulnerability thing. It actually won’t kill me! I might even be the better for it.
So, I hug. I’m a hugger. I hugged Chris, Jonathan, Tony and Peter. Although I am a poor substitute, these men can no longer hug their Mathias, Alexis, Cole and Mattie like I can’t hug Kylie. Did I miss you? I’m around. I’ll be back, big boy. I am equal opportunity, I will hug men and women (DISCLAIMER – I am allowed to hug women when and only when my lovely wife deems it appropriate and the hug’s duration is less than 3.7 seconds).
Now if I get to Europe someday and a man wants to kiss me on both cheeks, I might recoil a little. I’m not sure Eddie is ready for that.