My dad is a hugger. He’s not a polite hugger, nor even a typically straight-male-pat-on-the-back-while-hugging-to-preserve-his-masculinity hugger. He’s a look-out-cause-here-he-comes hugger. He’s a hands on, I-love-you-and-I’m-a-gonna-show-you hugger. He’s an I-haven’t-seen-you-in-far-too-long-so-get-over-here-and-hug-your-papa-kiddo hugger.

He is the most physically demonstrative person I’ve ever met.

I’m nearly 44 years old and still, I can’t walk by him without him reaching out to stroke my hair or squeeze my shoulder. When he gets emotional, which is, well, always, he reaches out and gently touches my hand.

We have always communicated love physically. And with food, of course, but that’s another post.

In February of 2009, I wrote the following:

Restraint is not me.

It sits like an anvil on my chest, squeezing the air out of my lungs.

It reminds me, admonishes me.

Tsk tsk.

Approach slowly, gingerly – lest she run.

Every day, I fight to neutralize every molecule of my being, wrestling with my very nature.

Restraint is not me.

It runs contrary to everything I am.


My love for my girls is a vast, wild, physical force.

It is not quiet or calm or tame.

It can be soft and gentle, but at its core it is fierce and messy and loud.


I hate being away from my girls.

I miss them every day.

The separation from them burns. I feel it on my skin, in the dull ache in my gut.


As I pull into the garage every night, the anticipation begins to build.

My heart beats faster as I reach the basement steps.

They’re closer.

I can feel them.

I’m home.


I can’t wait to squeeze them, to kiss them, to inhale them.

I live for their sweet smell, their soft skin, their laughter. Oh, the laughter!

I want to bound up the stairs in a cloud of electric energy, scream their names, scoop them up in my arms.


I don’t.



Katie waits for me at the top of the stairs. We drink each other in.

Strong, potent, unfiltered.

I breathe.



Brooke is nowhere to be seen.

I stealthily, carefully hunt her down.

I quietly sing-song, ‘Where’s my baby girl?”

A tiny voice repeats a long-practiced “Here I am.”


I reach her.

She doesn’t move.

I move closer, crouch in front of her, consciously smiling.

Fighting the overwhelming, visceral urge to grab her.

“Hi, Baby.”

“Hi, Mama.”

“I missed you today, little love.”

“You did?”

“I did. May I have a hug, sweet girl?”

“You may.”

I work my way in.

Finally I squeeze her. We laugh.


I brush away a tear as I head upstairs to shed my work clothes.

The fight is exhausting.

I just want to love her.


When I republished that post in 2012, after the words, “I just want to love her,” I added, “Nearly three years later, I see what I couldn’t then. Loving her was exactly what I was doing.”

I watch my dad with Katie. He scoops her into a bear hug until she squeals and giggles because, ya know, breathing is good. She can’t walk by him without him reaching out to stroke her hair or squeeze her shoulder. When he gets emotional, which is, well, always, he reaches out and gently touches her hand.

I watch him with Brooke.

He holds the door for her and pulls himself back to give her room to get through without having to touch him.

He reaches for her hair. His hand hovers above her head, stops in mid-air. Drops to his side.

He shows her the boxes of waffles that he bought for her. He remembered that she likes waffles, but he wasn’t sure which ones, so he wandered through the market searching for them. He finally had to ask for help because he “had no idea the damn things were in the freezer.”

Not sure which were “the right ones,” he bought three different kinds. He shows her the boxes because he knows that describing them isn’t enough. She needs to see them. She chooses the ones she eats at home.

He offers the accoutrements that she would never take – butter? Maple syrup? He smiles at her, “No thanks, I’m good,” and wells up as she walks back outside to take her place at the quiet table by the fountain.

“She’s come so far, Jessie,” he says.

When he comes out with her food and I suggest she sit with the rest of us, only so as not to be rude to her grandparents, he says defensively, “That’s her spot. She’s happy here.” He delivers her waffle along with a bowl of blueberries and strawberries, their stems meticulously carved out. I don’t hear her thank him, so I prompt her. “She said, ‘Thank you,'” he says. “Right, kiddo?”

With a mouth full of strawberry, she says, “Right.”

After our visit to the barn to see Grandma Noe’s horse, it’s time to hit the road. I force everyone to smile for a picture because apparently it’s in the Mom Handbook that you need to torture people you don’t get to see very often by insisting they spend at least a portion of their time awkwardly posing for pictures.

But then they come out like this and you’re really glad that you did.


{Image is a photo of Papa, Grandma Noe, Brooke and Katie standing in front of Jasper, Grandma Noe’s gorgeous Friesian horse. He’s not feelin’ it. The grass is far more interesting than a photo.}

But then it’s really, truly time to go. So everyone hugs goodbye. And my dad reaches out a pinky to Brooke, adopting the absolutely brilliant strategy of her Grandpa DD, who years ago recognized both her reticence to hug and her desire to connect and, on the way out the door one day, hooked pinkies with her et voila, the pinky hug was born.

And then, as though I haven’t tortured them enough, I insist upon just one more photo session. I know, I know, but just one. With a five-hour drive between us and, well, some heavy, hard life stuff that makes seeing them incredibly complicated, we get together so rarely that I just can’t help but document these too brief visits. I need proof that we were there. Proof that will get us through the next six, nine, twelve months before we might see them again.

And so I asked for just one more picture.

And this is what happened.

Papa, in a very silly voice said, “Okay, as long as she promises not to hug me.”


{Image is a photo of my dad approaching Brooke, pretending to be wary. Brooke is laughing.}


{Image is a photo of my dad and Brooke standing next to each other. They are close, but not touching. He is watching her for cues. His left arm hovers in the air behind her. “I’ll stand here,” he is saying, “but nooooo hugging.”}


{Image is a photo of him looking at the camera, smiling. She is giggling. Her shoulder is touching his side. Her arm hangs between them.}


{Image is a photo of them together now. His left hand hovers by her shoulder, not touching it. She’s just snuck her arm around his back, which is why he’s saying, “She’s hugging me,” with a mock offense that’s making her laugh.}

The photo above … it’s all of it. My dad’s hand. There, but not touching her.


{Image is a photo of them together. Her arm is around his back; his left hand now rests on her left arm. He is looking down at her as she smiles at the camera.}

And this one, above? Well, my dad’s face. That’s it.


{Image is a photo of them together in which this otherwise dignified man, one who ran a school for forty-five years, who was never, ever seen without a suit and tie, joins his granddaughter in saying, “Moon snotties!” to the camera, because, well, she asked.}


{Image is a photo of my the two of them together. She looks perfectly comfortable at his side, her arm behind his back and his around her shoulder. He is mock-yelling, She’s hugging me!” and she is giggling.}

Restraint is not him.

It sits like an anvil on his chest, squeezing the air out of his lungs.

It reminds him, admonishing him:

Approach slowly, gingerly – lest she run.

I watch him fight to neutralize every molecule of his being, wrestling with his very nature.

Restraint is not him.

It runs contrary to everything he is.

And yet, for my girl – our girl, he waited.


He waited.

And I hope it doesn’t take him three more to see that it was, all along, love.

Editor’s note: I have no idea why the photos are so big. I uploaded them from my phone and I don’t have time to try to figure out how to make them smaller. Truthfully, it just sort of feels right anyway. Everything about my dad is big.

Editor’s other note: Our entire family remains indebted to Grandpa DD and his pinky hug. We are so incredibly blessed to have a gaggle of grandparents (no, really, there are eight in all) who don’t just love our girls, but respect them enough to love them as they need to be loved. Thank you, Grandpa DD, Grammy, Papa, Grandma Noe, Baba, Grandpa Svend, Grandpa Bill and Emmy (who prefers to skip the Grandma part as her and Grandpa Bill’s son, Uncle Clay, is younger than both of our girls, his nieces. :))




24 thoughts on “restraint

  1. Thank goodness for that pinky hug and the love from all eight of us and a special thank goodness for the restraint that allowed Brooke to feel so comfortable. Thank you, too, for stopping by on your way home. It was a really special treat.

    Love you,

  2. 💖

    i love love love that there are so many grandparents! i had just the two; when i think of having 4 times as many, my heart swells up with love and joy.

  3. It’s stories like this that make me so grateful that you give us a window into your wonderful family’s life. It’s such a truly inspiring privilege to see your journey, and will definitely remind me to make sure I stay close to my family, even as a I grow up.

  4. OMGoodness, I totally love your Dad, I used to see his posts and think he just “got” it and his love for you was so obvious but this, this is beyond, thank you for sharing.

  5. I have so many wishes for my son that it’s not in my power to make come true. Having a Grandpa like your Dad is in the top 3.

  6. This is perfect! It made me cry, so moving. It is a tutorial of love and understanding. It made this teacher’s day.👏💕👏

  7. Absolutely beautiful and you brought me to tears once again because you understand…you’ve been there. I too am a hugger and my eldest son while he has Asperger’s and ADD is a cuddlebug. My daughter who has Asperger’s though never wanted to be touched or held or have you in her space. The last few years she has really blossomed and now will walk up and hug you or come snuggle on the couch to watch TV and it is the best gift I longed for all those first years. Thank you for sharing and putting it into words so exquisitely. Your blog has helped and inspired me so very much and I want to thank you for sharing your thoughts and your family with all of us and helping to make the world a more understanding place for the inspiration that is our children.

  8. I just love this. We are visiting family in MA this week, and… well, this is just so perfect. You are blessed. I’m glad you had such a nice weekend. xoxo

  9. The pictures came out the size they did so that all of us could clearly see all the love reflected in your father’s face. Thank God for grandparents that have learned to adapt to our incredible kids.

  10. Been following along here for quite awhile now.. THIS. This is one of the most beautiful posts ever. I’m crying my eyes out over here. God Bless you and your family and how lucky you are, and it’s so clear that you know it… and Brooke is so, so very lucky. 🙂

  11. I remember when Q started hugging (relatives). Giggles all around. He never had a problem hugging everyone else though. He was known as Georgie Porgie at school because he would hug EVERYBODY, no matter age, gender or station. He deffinitly is a lover, not a fighter. Very grateful for that. Jess, your story was lovely. Wish Q’s grandpa was as touchy feelie as Brooke’s. She is very lucky. Thank you for your story.

  12. I really needed to read this today. My husband’s parents are nonexistent in our B’s life, unless it benefits them. And it hurts when they brag about their perfect granddaughter. But my parents are completely immersed in B’s life. They are never disappointed and are affectionate with him on HIS terms, not theirs. Thanks for posting this and reminding me of that. Your family is exceptional, just so you know. 🙂

  13. I think I have to instigate pinkie hugs for my Star’s grandad. He loves contact- sometimes- but doesn’t always like contact (because that makes sense). A pinkie hug might just do the trick to help grandad feel connected (though he is connected, he just wants something that is /theirs/)

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