Ask anyone who knows me, and they will tell you I’m a hugger. It’s in my blood.
I’m an affectionate dad, and my kids, ages fourteen, ten, and nine still crawl into my lap to snuggle. Touch is a connection point in my family, and it is the same for many people I know.
When I hug someone, I am telling them they’re valued, and their presence is important. But my youngest daughter, Olivia, threw me a bit of a curveball recently. Hugs are something different for her. I am sure she would tell you she like hugs for many of the same reasons I do, but a recent embrace sparked a conversation that opened my mind and gave me insight into both her heart and mine.
My wife and I travel a lot for work, and while none of our kids are fans of us being gone, Olivia takes it the hardest. When one of us has to leave for a work trip, tears are often a part of our goodbyes.
After a recent departure, I held my nine-year-old girl after her mom had left for the airport. She wrapped her arms and legs around me while she sobbed. After a few minutes, her breaths slowed and the tears subsided.
She had her forehead pressed against mine. We were eye to eye.
“Are you doing okay?’ I asked.
Olivia nodded and nuzzled her head into my neck.
A few more minutes passed, and she said, “Daddy, I like your hugs.”
“I like your hugs too.”
“Why?” she asked.
“I like feeling close to you. It’s a way to show you I love you.” I replied.
We passed the next few moments in silence, and then I asked, “How about you, why do you like my hugs?”
With her head still pressed to my neck, she said, “Same.”
I smiled and squeezed her with my arms, and she continued, “And they make me feel safe.”
While not a new idea, her words hit me hard. I know she feels safe with me, but to hear her say it like that brought a smile to my face and a few tears to my eyes.
A child is supposed to feel safe in their parent’s arms, but not every child does. They make me feel safe is something I’m going to fight to protect. I never want her to feel any other way.
Since then, I have been thinking about Olivia’s words and why I hug people. To my friends and family, when I hug you it might be because I’m excited to see you, or because I want you to know that I love you. But it always means I feel safe with you.
While on different levels, the power of an embrace is the same for my daughter and I. Depending on the situation, a hug can mean a lot of things:
It’s good to see you
I’m glad you’re here
I love you
I’ve got you
You’re pain is mine
Share your sadness with me
And the list goes on. But for us, the constant within every embrace is I feel safe with you.
So ask yourself, “Who do I feel safe with?”
Now make sure they know it.