Handshakes and Hugs

I am saddened to report that I have failed, and so it seems for the so-called right reasons. Thanks for visiting by piece called Handshakes and Hugs…and please, keep reading.

Some weeks ago during the first days of school, when everyone was happy to be reunited with friends and acquaintances, I walked into the high school cafeteria chatting with students, former clients and faculty members. There were handshakes, high-fives and fist-bumps all around. Then, from out of the corner of my eye a freshman who had attended one of the groups I facilitate for the past two years, jumped out of her seat, raced towards me and gave me a gigantic, full throttle hug. Fair enough. That was good, and welcomed instantly.

Then immediately after came two of her friends in lock-step, total strangers to me, with the first one saying, “I want a hug too,” and the third friend chirping with, “me too, me too” with nearly as much fanfare and gusto as their friend who knew me well. I instinctively and defensively raised both hands in front of me and said, “Whoa, we’re in school, PDA alert…how ‘bout a handshake, instead?” One girl giggled and said, “Sure,” and stuck out her hand to reach mine. But the third student was noticeably taken aback and seemed rebuffed, though she still offered her hand in greeting. Rather than get into a whole explanation of the why’s and why not’s in the middle of the caf I just thanked them for their understanding, made small talk and moved on.

And the experience has been niggling at me ever since.

Over the years I’ve written volumes on the challenges of being a male working with children and teens. And for the record (again) I will state that it’s a very good thing that we have policies and practices in place to help maintain boundaries so that both youth and the adults who work with them feel as safe as possible, especially within institutions like schools. But still, there are times as a human family, when we could have more and could do better in terms of being real and present in the moment, one to another.

The moment I described above was one of those instances. However, rather than critique how well I carried myself professionally or how poorly I missed the mark, I’ll leave it here with a terrific video clip sent to me many months ago by a long-time friend of mine. Enjoy it. It’s good. And if you watch it closely, you will see, and perhaps feel, everything I’ve spoken of above.

I welcome your comments, and suggest that you consider commenting below, on my blog, rather than through Facebook, so that more people can follow the conversation. Thanks!


Kevin Lee


Author: Kevin Lee

In a nutshell, Kevin fesses up to the following: He's a retired youth advocate-counselor, a blogger, writer, photographer, rower, Friends Minister, grandpa of six and married to a terrific woman for 43 years and counting!

10 thoughts on “Handshakes and Hugs”

  1. Kevin, I love to read these things! Although I do agree with policies and procedures (in place for good reasons)I hate how they have turned most of our society into cold, unemotional beings. Everyone at some point, needs a hug, especially children and young adults. Keep doing what you do best!

  2. Everyone needs hugs and it made me sad to watch the beginning of the video when people were not receptive to recieving one. Keep caring for our sons and daughters. I know my daughter is a better person for knowing you. 🙂 I definitely agree with Mary….Dartmouth needs a “free hug” day!

  3. Kevin, this is wonderful! All I can say is I felt like I was standing right next to you that day, feeling every single emotion you felt. Great job!

  4. Thanks, Michelle, especially for your support as well. A “Free Hug Day” in Dartmouth would be interesting, for sure.

  5. Hey Arleigha… and as a person who feels her way around with written words, too, I appreciate your sense of this as well. Take care!

  6. Now that would be very interesting, indeed! We wouldn’t need to pull a permit (not yet, anyway!) pay for insurance, hire security or pay custodians… I like it already!

  7. Oh what a poignant video! I observer carefully who was receptive and who was not. Most of the “receivers” seemed to be in the same age bracket as the givers, or children, or elderly. The saddest realization is that those who turned away were likely those who most needed a hug. What would I have done?

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