I took my 7-year-old son on a special day out yesterday. For a looooooong time Sam has wanted to go to Hershey park, so at long last we did. He was so excited the night before he could barely sleep. When we finally arrived, parked, put on our masks and started heading towards the entrance Sam slipped his hand into mine. It was such a sweet and simple and beautiful thing. He wanted to be connected. Even as he jumped up and down with anticipation he never let go.
He held my hand all the way through the parking lot and into the park. After a little while I found myself looking around and noticing that there weren’t others boys his age doing the same thing. None of them were holding their dad’s hands, and I felt a little self-conscious. On top of that my hand was getting quite sweaty as the sun was beating down on us, and I really wanted to say to Sam. “Let’s not hold hands. I’m right here beside you, that’s good.”
But as I found myself wanting to say those words Sam wrapped me in a big hug as we waited in line for our first ride, the biggest roller coaster he’d ever been on, and he said, “Daddy, this is the best day of my life. I’m so glad I get to spend it with you.” As he said those words my heart melted. Here I was about to tell him we should stop holding hands because I was self-conscious and my palms were sweaty, and what he was trying to say to me was that he wanted to be connected. He wanted to share this experience together.
We held hands for nearly the next 6 hours in the heat as we walked all over Hershey park. His little hand in my larger sweaty hand. Swinging back and forth as we walked and chattered and decided which rides to do. It was a beautiful day.
As our day came to a close and we walked back to the car, Sam’s little sweaty hand was still slipped into mine. I found myself wondering if this would be our last trip to the park where he’d want to hold my hand and be connected in this way. He’s growing up fast, and we live in a culture that doesn’t value this type of connection for men and makes it feel uncomfortable. I’m living proof of that, sadly.
Dads, I wonder what messages we are sending our sons with the ways that we choose to be physically present with them. Do we teach them with our actions that it’s OK to be tender and gentle with other boys as well as to be rough and tough. Do we show them in our own male friendships that physical affection is not only OK, but that it’s good and necessary.
When I look back on our day together years from now I will assuredly forget the rides we went on, the food we ate and the things that we talked about, but I will always remember holding Sam’s hand, being connected to him and being filled with love for my sweet, sensitive son. It may be the end of holding hands at Hershey Park, only time will tell, but it will be a day that I will never forget.