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What Does the Super Bowl Have to Do with an old Girl Scout Song?

Watching the end of the Super Bowl, as grown men elatedly shared their full range of emotions by hugging, crying, bumping into and holding each other, I was saddened that this seems to be one of the few acceptable places for grown men to touch in a platonic way.

Unfortunately, sports is one of the very few “safe” places where men and boys can have physical contact — without fear of being called a sissy, a queer, or to be questioned about their sexual intentions.

Boys and men learn early that acceptable touch only belongs in sports or sexual pursuits.   Early on, they lose the comfort of a parent’s hug, or a friend’s hand.

That’s when this old Girl Scout song came to mind:

“It’s the human touch in this world that counts. The touch of your hand in mine. It means far more to this fainting heart than shelter bread and wine. Shelter’s done when the night is ore and bread lasts only a day. But the touch of your hand and the sound of your voice live in my soul always.” (Originally a poem by Spencer Michael Free)

Touch not only makes us human, it enables us to survive and thrive.

You may recall hearing about orphanages in eastern Europe in the 1990’s, where children were warehoused and rarely touched. Babies often failed to thrive and those that did were plagued with developmental and behavioral issues – because of the lack of touch.

One scientist explained it, “Basically, they die from lack of love. When an infant falls below the threshold of physical affection needed to stimulate the production of growth hormone and the immune system, his body starts shutting down.”

If you took high school biology you may remember the famous experiments conducted in the 1960’s by Harry Harlow. Monkeys were given soft mother-substitutes who did not feed them, and wire-mesh mother-substitutes who did– the monkeys consistently returned to the soft mother-substitutes for nurturing – for touch.

We are born with the primal need to seek touch. Touch is comforting, stimulates brain growth and a strong immune system. Touch equals life!

Yet, we shut it down so early for boys – exceptionally so in western cultures.

In the Arab world and in China, it is common for grown men to hold hands. As Samir Khalaf from Lebanon said, “Holding hands is the warmest expression of affection between men. It’s a sign of solidarity and kinship.”

But we deny men and boys this connection.

Girls and women can touch in our culture, almost without question. Yet for boys and men there isn’t trust that they can touch platonically, explains Mark Greene, author of “How a Lack of Touch is Destroying Men.” He continues, “In American culture…we collectively suspect that, given the opportunity, men will revert to the sexual at a moment’s notice.”

It’s no surprise then that just when boys become isolated from friendly touch – they’re thrown into the world of sexualized touch – confusing as it may be. What if they could acceptably maintain their platonic connection to their friends and family at the same time?

Mark Greene explains that he finally discovered the importance of touch as a stay-at-home dad. He realized that the constant touch brought a “level of contentment and calm that had heretofore been missing in my life.” He continued, “You gain a fluency and confidence in touch that you will never loose. It is a gift to us men from our children that literally has the capacity to transform American culture.”

A friend explained that he didn’t hug until his mid-30’s, when a grown male friend hugged him – to his surprise – and discomfort. Fast forward 20 years and he is known as a hugger now. Men are loosening up around hugging a bit – as long as it is over quickly!

Finally, it is ironic that with a cultural ‘aversion’ to touching, we bring pets into retirement homes so the elderly can hold them and touch them. We let animals replace the human connection. Yet, what they crave more than any pet can give is the HUMAN TOUCH – the TOUCH OF YOUR HAND IN MINE.

Do you still hold hands with your son?

How are you encouraging him to stay connected to those around him in a platonic, friendly way? Can we manage a cultural shift in the way we look at boys and men touching each other? It seems a small way to be comforted and connected – off of the sports field.


Join Boys Alive! on Facebook for some virtual touch…


 

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