Huggy Bear

My father was a hugger. Actually, I should say he is a hugger. As far as I know, Dad will still welcome those he loves with a warm embrace.

That is the culture in which I was raised. My dad placed a high value in the worth of a hug. To him, it communicated something that could not be exchanged in words. It instilled a sense of acceptance, joy, and respect wrapped inside his arms.

It rubbed off on me. By the time I was in high school, I was willing to deliver a hug to anyone who needed it. The trait came in handy when an earthquake shook the auditorium during the final dress rehearsal of Neil Simon’s Rumors in the spring of my junior year when cast and crew members needed a hug, a shoulder to lean on from someone with a clear head that could tell them, “Everything is going to be all right.”

Times have changed. I have grown older and perhaps a little more cynical. Life experiences and emotional wounds have transformed me. These days I am less like a koala bear and more like a polar bear. I prefer colder temperatures, growl a lot, and can be a bit of a loner.

Photo courtesy of ZME Science

Sure, I still give hugs but they are more reserved for my kids, my parents, or my brother. My natural inclination is to keep everyone else at arm’s length. Greet with a high-five, a handshake, or a subtle nod that says “hey.”

Yet seasons pass and wounds heal. I am going through a personal evolution and find myself once again welcoming hugs from friends. Those awkward Christian side-hugs, the ‘we’re not too manly to hug’ bro-hugs, and full-frontal hugs that imply an unbreakable brotherhood.

While my digression from the way my dad raised me was a slow burn with no clear reason why, this road back has been quick with an identifiable culprit.

I blame my friend John.

He is the kind of man that will hug anyone. And he pulls it off with so much grace and genuine humility that there is nothing creepy or intrusive about it.

Suddenly, I have changed again. Now, I will accept a hug when walking around church. Or when I bump into friends downtown. Or at the end of my small group when I’m headed out the door to go home. Or when John walks up behind me at Subway and gives me a sneak-attack hug like the friendliest ninja you’ve ever met.

But it is not just John. It is the group of guys he and I are in. It is out-of-state friends who have promised to give me the biggest hug when we finally get to see each other. It is the people who have worn down my rough edges and encouraged me to be vulnerable again.

A funny thing happens with friends like that. When you surround yourself with the right kinds of people, they make you a better person.

To those friends who have welcomed this polar bear into your midst and awkwardly embraced me: thank you for teaching me to be more of a cuddly bear.

Photo courtesy of Metro UK

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