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.
20 thoughts on “Free Awkward Hugs”
Hugs is good!
Yes they is!
Your speech accomplished all those things. I giggled with the toilet paper!
Hugs can help if you let them! Thanks for your continued push for awareness. I admire your family!
I’m glad you got that extra unintended laugh. I’m really glad I realized what I said or people would be wondering about a toilet paper rope.
My man puts on his strong persona when I grieve. I think a man hug can be a freeing act and much needed.
I agree., I just didn’t know..
I’m looking forward to reading more of your blog posts soon Mark!
Mark, it was an honor to hear your speech and find you Sunday to meet you. You did a great job for Kylie!! I find myself leading my friends to your blog, hearing after they read the first one, a genuine Thanks! Your message touches people’s need for a little humor to accompany all the heartache. I too, wanted to give you a big hug, but I have the same rule for my husband as your wife, so I just shook your hand. Your daughter is permanently in my head through your blog and, ” GET WIND OF THIS.” Kylie joins all of the Children with whom I worked and the Children, whose parents, I am meeting now. Some like Peter, Vicki,and Ilona, I met for the first time Sunday after knowing them on FB. Somehow, the man I met Sunday shows no signs of ever having been an EDDIE HASKELL!
Oh Margy (with a hard G). It was so nice to meet you. And I promise, I was a ton of trouble growing up but had the adults fooled.
Mark having never met you personally, I think I can still say you are a class act. I always enjoy your stories. God speed your work for cancer and love for your family. I am a hugger always have been. I do do always look a fellow in the eye though just to make sure he is ok with it lol.
Peace to you
Someday, I’ll take a hug from you Tom.
I can assure you it meant a lot to Miguel! Sometimes there are no words anyway and a hug speaks volumes. It was great to meet you and your family!
That was a special time. Tragic, but special. Thank you, it was a pleasure to meet you two and I am so sorry for your loss.
man hugs = good hugs
I’m just slow on the uptake
I’m not big with the hugs either, I’m more of a one armed hugger when it comes to the crunch.
I have been the side-hugger, always. It took a long time.
Maybe it depends on the person to be hugged? There must be a gateway hugger that turns you (the royal you) from a one armed back patter to a full on bear hugger.
I’m sorry to have taken so long to visit. What a heart warming story. Cancer seems to touch way too many lives, and yes – the anniversaries don’t get any easier.
But, I’m with you. I love the real, the authentic, and the vulnerable. I was not a hugger growing up. I’ve changed that in my own little family unit – even the teenage boy is not immune.
Thank you so much for visiting me (three times!) this morning – it led me right over to you.
And I’ve visited once since! Banner day.