The Start of a Beautiful Friendship
So, there I was years ago, watching my 5 year old son watch me kiss my 2 year old daughter on the lips. Wasn't there any truth in the lines from “As Time Goes By,” the classic song from Casablanca, “You must remember this, a kiss is just a kiss…” Well, I knew something was amiss, because my son had this look in his eyes as if to say “I know Daddy didn't just do something to my sister that he doesn't do to me.” Wow! What was I to do? What would you have done? I mean, my 2 year old daughter having seen me kiss my wife on the lips all of her young life had been puckering up for months with me to say hello or goodbye. My son must have never truly focused on what was going down, until now. So, with no further ado, this was the moment of truth. What was a brotha, or in this case father to do?
I teach a philosophy course called Moral Problems. In it I challenge my students to unpack moral dilemmas. Well, what could be more dilemmatic than my conundrum of whether or not to kiss my son on the lips? After all, his puckering up to emulate his sister’s receipt of a kiss from Daddy was long overdue. He may have subconsciously spied it before, but today, he was calling me to the carpet. And it wasn't like I could bookmark the moment and come back to it when I felt like it. No, no, no! It wasn't going to be that type of a party. So, I needed to “Stand and Deliver” for “Something New” or I would be “Unfaithful” to “The Mission” of not succumbing to “The War Within.” Sometimes when I am really stressed I speak in movie titles, so bear with me through those moments. Essentially my dilemma was:
If I don't kiss my son on the lips, then a positive consequence of not kissing him is that I can maintain my macho image. Like most men, I have worked diligently over the years to be seen as “cool” and “tough.” I couldn't run the risk of losing that image by responding to my son with too much affection, could I? Also, if I don't kiss my son on the lips, my daughter might continue to feel special. Lastly, if I don't kiss my son on the lips, I don't have to feel the sensation of ever kissing another male on the lips. After all, my dad never kissed me on the lips when I was young, did he? I'm still not sure about that! I wonder how many men's fathers kissed them on the lips when they were young!
Anyway, if I don't kiss my son on the lips, then a negative consequence of not kissing him is that I send a message to him and any other father and son tandem that might be caught in a similar situation that there is a double standard that fathers must adhere to if they don't want to be seen as different, or worse, less than the average guy. If I don't kiss my son, then he learns that Daddy is going to treat his daughter very different from the way he treats his son, and really for no certain reason except some ridiculous dysfunctional peer pressure that men respond to. Additionally I may be inadvertently telling him that he means less to me than the other two members of our household, his mother and sister, simply because I won't give him the affection he desires at that moment. Now remember, I am a diversity director, which only compounds this problem. I'm supposed to be somewhat enlightened. Another negative consequence is that my daughter might find a way to tease my son about the fact that Daddy kissed her, but not him. Though she was only two, she already had game!
If I kiss my son on the lips, a positive consequence could be that he feels as valued as his sister does, undercutting her game while developing his. I also could eliminate in my son any thoughts that there are limits to our affection that don't exist between his sister and I. Another positive consequence would be the statement I would make about my ability to not succumb to certain aspects of my socialization that truly are somewhat irrational. What is the big deal about a man kissing his son on the lips? Didn't I see the very chic Michael Douglas, the Michael Douglas who is married to Catherine Zeta-Jones, kiss the extremely Spartan Kirk Douglas, his father, on the lips once. If the man who portrayed the film Wall Street’s Gordon Gecko could do it, why can’t I.
If I kiss my son, on the lips mind you, a negative consequence might be that others might see it and that it might make them see me differently. Some might even say that it could even contribute to him being more comfortable kissing other males on the lips. Just because I am a diversity director doesn't mean I don't succumb to my socialization at times. The fear of people projecting to others who we are and what we are about is something that intimidates many of us. What would you do? What should a man do?
Well, I took a deep breath, puckered up, and went lip to lip with my Youngblood. It was a very strange sensation, this double consciousness, this feeling… Okay, let me say it another way… even though I was extremely proud of my self for having stepped up, I was just as relieved about the fact that somehow my son never puckered up to me again after that day. That tells you exactly how deep seated heterosexism is in our psyches. Or, that unlike my daughter and wife, my son either thinks the experience was overrated, or worse, that I am a lousy kisser. Still in all, what do you think should have been done? Why?