I once had a lot of physical touch with my dad, starting with when he would me hold me in his arms as a baby.
However, it was always clear to me that this was optional. I was confident that, if I said that I didn’t want it, he would respect that. I cannot remember any specific instance of refusing touch from him, but it must have happened, and he must of respected it.
As a little girl, I was totally unaware of sex, let alone that anyone might consider a man touching a little girl to be sexual, so that was not a concern for me. I am glad that didn’t hold my dad back either, at least in the privacy of our home.
I have a feeling that my mother is envious of how my dad managed to have the touch-ful relationship with me that she wanted for her self. My hypothesis is that my mother wanted me to be a certain way (in this case, provide lots of affectionate touch), whereas my dad just let me be, which is why I felt more comfortable with my dad, and ironically more willing to engage in physical touch with him.
Of course, I grew up, and became aware of sex, and the tendency in our culture to associate any kind of physical touch between females and males with sex. And of course, as I became biologically capable of reproduction, it probably became harder for my dad to disassociate physical touch with me from sexual connotations. And we gradually touched each other less and less.
But it didn’t stop completely. Even when I was in my last year of college, my dad would still brush my hair on a regular basis, just as he had when I was a little girl.
And then I went to a different continent.
And then I came back.
And he hasn’t brushed my hair since.
I haven’t asked him to brush my hair. I don’t know how he would react … but I feel it would be too awkward to ask. Maybe it’s as simple as him not wanting to brush my hair. But I can’t help but suspect that heterosexual norms are interfering. Why else would we stop something we both liked (though my dad might not like brushing my hair, I’m pretty sure he likes some forms of affectionate touch)?
I think this is an example of how heteronormativity and the assumption that anything which could be sexual is sexual (one could also question whether consensual sexual touch between a parent and adult child is wrong, but since I don’t want sexual touch, I won’t go there). If there was a wider acceptance of non-sexual physical touch, it might be easier to negotiate physical touch with my dad.
Since this is a private matter between my dad and myself, the only attitudes which matter are our own. But I have definitely internalized the sense that trying to pursue non-sexual touch with my dad is shameful because non-sexual touch is actually sexual touch when a woman does it with a man, and I think it’s a good bet that my dad has internalized something similar. And even if I address this attitude within myself, I don’t dare damage my relationship with my dad by trying to address his internalized attitudes. I don’t want to risk it.
And yet, this attitude itself has already damaged the relationship.
In the next post, I will talk about my experiences of craving touch (or not).