respect + love + restraint = trust

I wrote the following last summer. Last July, to be precise.

My dad is a hugger. He’s not a polite 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 45 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.

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 children 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 them.

I miss them every day.

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


As I pull into the garage every night after work, 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 into my arms.


I don’t.



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

Strong, potent, unfiltered, intense.

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, conscious of every part of my bearing, my facial expression, my energy.

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, knowing it’s welcome, I squeeze her. We laugh.


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

The restraint is hard.

I just want to love her.


In 2012, I republished that post. After the words, “I just want to love her,” I added the following:

“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 the entirety of his body back to give her plenty of room to get through without having to touch him.

He reaches for her hair, but stops. His hand hovers above her head, hangs momentarily in mid-air, then 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, he explains, 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.”

Still 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 the pictures to understand the words. 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 that 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. And thus, 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 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 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 what he was doing all along was loving her.

I’d attached a note at the time saying that I had no idea why the photos were so big and then added that I’d thought about trying to fix them, but that it kind of felt right as it was because, as I said at the time, “Everything about my dad is big.”

This weekend, while visiting Papa, I once again pointed my camera at the them. It’s what I do. And after losing Noelle and beginning to truly understand the immeasurable value of photos like the one with her above, what I will continue to do.

After capturing damn near perfectly imperfect pictures of everyone (if I don’t say so myself), I asked my dad and Brooke to stand together for a few. This was what happened next.

Note: I’ve made the following photos as big as the preceding ones because I like symmetry. I’ve also lightened them so that you can see their faces. It makes the colors look a little funny, but I can live with that. 


{image is Brooke with her arms above her head, telling Papa she’s going to make bunny ears on him. Can you see her smile? I”d walk a thousand miles for that smile.}


{image is the two of them making funny faces at each other. When I posted this on Facebook the other day, I wrote that it might be my favorite picture in the history of the world. I stand by that.}


{They are looking at each other, laughing. Oh, my heart.}


{image is my dad joking with Brooke by covering her eyes for the picture. And she’s LAUGHING under his hand. Because it was funny. THIS. IS. TRUST, PEOPLE. This is what it looks like. 

(Note: Please don’t physically joke like this unless you know FOR SURE that it’s okay. This took a HUGE amount of comfort, which Brooke has with him, but, please, PLEASE be sure you have explicit permission before doing something like this to anyone, no less anyone autistic or with sensory issues of any kind. Moving on …)

I had gotten what I’d hoped for (and so much more), so I assumed we were done. I thanked them both for letting me take the photos. Brooke gave me an Elvis: “You’re welcome. You’re welcome very much.” But they didn’t move.

And then this happened. So I kept snapping.

For years and years, my dad’s big, loud, messy, physical love for Brooke was restrained by his respect for her needs, her comfort, her.

That respect yielded trust.

And, ultimately, the trust melted into a relationship between these two, that, well, yeah, this.


{image is Brooke nestled inside a Papa hug. If you zoom in, you can see her smiling in there, her right arm around his back.}

A perfect equation .. Respect + Love + Restraint = Trust

6 thoughts on “respect + love + restraint = trust

  1. We have been very lucky with Quentin. His whole like he has been a touchy feely kissie face. Use to get in trouble at school because he could not, not kiss just everybody. Didn’t matter if it was the girls or boys or teachers. He has a best friend in his life skills class from grade school that just loves Q so much, but it took him months to let Q hug him. It took a lot of control on Qs part to not touch him, hold his hand or hug him. But, it happened and its a true best friendship now. Trust and love.

    Way to go Brooke!

  2. You did it again! Got me bawling like a baby, sitting here first thing in the morning… Your writing is so beautiful. And your dad, the way he expresses love; he was such a good teacher, and you learned the lesson(s) well. Your stories make my heart happy. ty

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