I bet many of you have never seen Rebel Without A Cause (1955), although most have heard of it and some even know it to be a classic coming-of-age film starring James Dean, Natalie Wood, and Sal Mineo. As I have been writing about parenting/grandparenting these last few days, this film keeps popping into my head.
To tempt you a bit to rent the film or downstream it on Netflix, let me just say that the three teen idols of the 1950s all play troubled teens from good families. Jim Stark (James Dean) has a painfully weak, ineffective father and a dominating mother; Plato (Sal Mineo) is pretty much abandoned by his parents, and Judy (Natalie Wood) has the most “normal” parents, but she is the one that has haunted me the most through the years.
Let’s talk about Judy! She is a beautiful girl, popular, fun, and successful at school—so what’s her problem?
The tell-tale scene for me is when she comes home to her good family and she tries to connect with her father, who appears to be uncomfortable around her. She practically begs him to hug her or let her sit on his lap like she did when she was a little girl, but he is so uncomfortable with her sexuality that he pushes her away—both physically and emotionally. This refusal of affection pushes Judy into the arms of Jim Stark, and they sneak into a vacant house and, with Plato, create their own ersatz family where their needs for love and relationship are all met!
No, this is a 50s movie so they don’t sleep together, but the comfort Judy finds in her new boyfriend’s affection is not really sweet. It’s painful to me because I know her father’s rejection drove her to this point.
And this is the point I want to share with you, especially you fathers, something about raising children that I believe to be true and that we certainly practiced in our home. To be physically affectionate with your children will help them remain pure and holy until they leave father and mother and are physically loved by their marriage partner.
For some parents, showing physical affection is the most natural of all acts they do as parents—but not for all parents—especially some dads—especially those dads whose fathers never touched them except to punish them. Even if this is you, your children need for you to change the channel, to learn to show them your love in ways they can feel.
(We are so highly sensitized to abusive touching and fears of child molestation that I find myself wondering if we can even talk about this; nevertheless, I’m asking you to read this article within a framework of healthy relationships that would result in healthy and wholesome physical loving.)
Most of what I know about anything female, I learned from my wife Sherrylee. She was the one who taught me how important physically touching our children was, beginning with changing their diapers and rocking them to sleep, then reading to them in your lap and wrestling with them on the floor.
How a parent expresses affection changes as the children change—but it should never cease! When our older son was just starting school, we would always send him out the front door with a hug, but when he started second grade, he thought he had outgrown that. The game was to let him get out the door, then run after him, catch him, and give him a hug before he went one step further. The game was fun for both of us for a while. He’s 37 now, happily married with three of his own children, so he usually gets the hug when he comes in, but the grandkids get the hugs as they leave!
When your girls become teenagers and ever so self-conscious about their bodies, the uninhibited expressions of physical affection between fathers and daughters can disappear—as they did for Natalie Wood’s character—and too often with the same results! I don’t think I can tell you exactly what works and what doesn’t work for you and your daughters, but I do believe that you can continue to show each other love and affection physically. Maybe your kisses move from her cheek to just the top of her head. Maybe sitting in your lap becomes just a snuggle-up on the couch. Like I said, physical expressions of affection are given their meaning by the people who do them, so how you have defined your early relationship to your children will dictate how your later relationship can be expressed.
Children, then teens who are not hugged by their mothers and/or fathers seem almost driven to look for someone else to touch them! One of the best and most wonderful things you can do to make it easier for your teenager to be pure and holy is to hug them a lot! Show them as much affection as you and they are comfortable with.
Solomon the Wise once reminded his readers in his blog that there is absolutely a right time to embrace someone (Ecclesiastes 3:5)! Without plagiarizing Solomon, that’s what I want to say too! Hug your children, and love on them a lot!
And don’t be afraid!