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Looking forward to another time

Country Roads

Several weeks into the Great Quarantine of 2020 one of the topics I am seeing discussed on Facebook is hugs and how much people miss them. People are missing the physical contact denied by social distancing.

For the most part, I grew up in a non-hugging family. We are of northern European descent and were a stoic bunch. The exception was my maternal Dutch grandmother. Saying “good-bye” at Oma’s house always included a warm hug.

Though we knew we were loved, in the early years our family just wasn’t physically demonstrative. Aside from Oma’s, I wasn’t comfortable with hugs. The young Huisman boys got enough physical contact fighting with each other.

This changed after my father passed away in 1992. For a variety of reasons, after the experience of losing our father my family became huggers. Since Dad passed I don’t recall ever saying good-bye to my mother without a hug. In her last days in hospice hugs weren’t always possible so a tender hand on her forehead or shoulder had to do.

Even my mother’s six ornery children have been known to hug each other these days!

The individual who initially changed my attitude on social hugging was someone else’s grandmother.

After dating my first wife, Cindy, for a while it was time to meet her extended family. I met her mother’s family; all nice folks but non-huggers. One Sunday I was invited to an after-church dinner at Cindy’s home to meet her father’s parents.

Grandma Fisher, I quickly learned, was a hugger and I got a warm hug from her on that first meeting. She didn’t seem to notice my awkward response. In later years, when we visited Grandpa and Grandma Fisher, we were always welcomed with a warm hug from Grandma and we went home with another warm hug from Grandma.

Grandma Fisher was from a family of huggers and at their family reunions everyone got hugged, even the newcomer who wasn’t totally comfortable with the practice.

Over time I became more comfortable with the hugs and began to look forward to visiting Grandpa and Grandma Fisher, partially because of Grandpa’s warm heart and Grandma’s warm hugs.

Fast forward to 2020 and I am now a hugger. Not a champion hugger, but no longer awkward about it.

Over the years I sat through a number of corporate training sessions on sexual harassment so I know how to hug appropriately.

As a large person I have to be careful. Like my handshakes, my hugs can be hearty. At a farewell party for a female co-worker some years ago she offered a hug and I responded. Directly thereafter she remarked that she had never been hugged like that.

I immediately apologized, fearing I had crossed some boundary. She smiled and assured me she liked being hugged like that.

Many of us guys are still uncomfortable with hugs from other guys. I certainly was until I got to know Duane.

Duane was a friend I met later in life. He was a retired Baptist pastor who served as chair of our Salvation Army advisory board. Duane was a hugger of all people – male and female. He greeted everyone with a hug.

Duane loved coffee, as I do, and we often met to discuss Salvation Army business (and dozens of other topics) over cups of hot coffee. Whenever and wherever we met, Duane gave me a big hug. I admit it felt a little strange at first to be hugged by a brawny 6’2″ guy.

I learned a great deal from Duane about life, faith and friendship. And I learned from Duane that it’s okay for guys to hug, too.

God took Duane home (way too soon for my liking) when he died of cancer nine years ago. During that experience I also learned from Duane how to pass on with grace. I’m looking forward to another one of Duane’s hugs someday.

Unlike Duane, I don’t always initiate hugs. I remember how uncomfortable I was with hugs years ago and don’t want to discomfort others. When offered a hug, however, I am not shy.

I’m fortunate in serving this term of isolation with a lovely wife who appreciates and reciprocates my hugs but I am looking forward to a time when social greetings can be warmer again.

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