I am a touch-deprived man, or it feels that way at any rate, and have been for most of my life. My sons never had to ask twice for physical attention from me and I was very aware of purposefully providing it freely from the day they were born. There are such strong memories for me of holding them and being physically close with them on occasion after occasion. This is not to say that I met all their physical needs, however, for as I think about it, I never was one who was super comfortable with male “horse play” “rough housing”, which lots of active boys love. It was always unsafe to me – I couldn’t be sure where it would go when I was younger – and experience from my history told me that when I am having trouble reading the “signs”, then that is when bad things happen.
At this stage of my life I keep finding myself asking the question of why is touch so important to me – or actually more accurately these days, why is the “lack of” meaningful, deep, connected touch such a strong voice within me. And likely as large a part of the question is why does this need seem so much more connected to male touch than female touch.
I do know that, upon the advice of some friends, I read parts of Gary Chapman’s books on the Five Love Languages shortly after my separation from Tucker. Even though I have tried, I can never get through the entire books (one for married couples and the other book for singles) – they are a struggle for me. But in doing the tests to determine my love language, I did discover that I had two almost equally rated top languages, and one was touch.
This need for touch could be primal for me and stem from the beginning of my very existence. I think watching the pregnancies and births of my two sons gives me some clues. Tucker would comment on how different each was even in utero, Nathaniel being quiet and snuggly and Alex being spontaneous and restless, which also was the way that they nursed as babies. But one of the big gifts of life for me was experiencing their births. There was this moment with both of their births that was almost identical and incredibly beautiful and intrinsically soothing to me. After they were born and a very quick once over by the medical people, they would place him, naked, on his mother’s chest, also naked, and there in that moment there would be this magic as both boys calmed after the trauma of birth, once again hearing the familiar, but faint sound, that they had lived with for nine months, and a sense of familiarity. It brought instant tears both times in that moment, and I can easily conjure tears whenever I think of it in the years ever since.
I was a big baby for my family – 9 pounds, three and three quarters ounces – and I have a big physical-sized head to boot. I was the heaviest of all four of my mother’s babies. It was a difficult birth for her and she hemorrhaged, losing a lot of blood. As I understand it, they had to begin a blood transfusion very soon after I was born, and even with that she had issues, passing out and hitting her head the first time she tried to get out of bed after my birth. So I am pretty sure, I didn’t have that same experience with my mother that my sons had with their mother. One can imagine the chaos in the hospital room and it was the 1950’s when births were very clinical, medical procedures.
I also know from my two sons that very young children equate touch and physical connection with safety and, in their innocence, ask for it often from the adults around them that they trust and whom they feel love them. I could see the sense of confusion with my sons when they tried to get that reassurance physically from someone, and the person was uncomfortable with providing it for some reason. I remember a clear example of Nathaniel doing this with my brother-in-law, and my brother-in-law ignoring Nate’s gestures that usually got him a reward of physical connection, so Nate even though very very little, kept trying different approaches. I saw the confusion for Nate and the resistance growing stronger with my brother-in-law, so I “rescued” Nate to relieve the confusion. He literally melted into my embrace – willingly and thankfully – my guess feeling like he was safe and his world restored.
So as I look at it, I entered into the world of my family as the second child, to soon be followed by my brother 16 months later, so I am only five months old when my mother realizes she is pregnant again. My older sister, Debbie, was two and a half years older than me, and had been the apple of the eye of particularly my mother’s family as the first born grandchild. She also took after my father, so she was physically pretty and had an out-going personality. And my father, he was emotionally and physically absent, so there was a limited amount of him to go around. Debbie was a daddy’s girl from the beginning and absorbed whatever physical interaction my dad would provide. It is even obvious in family photos of the time.
I have very strong sensual memories from the few times that Dad would gather there three of us in my parents’ big bed and tell us stories before we were sent off to our own beds for the night. I am not sure the stories were all that interesting, but I was entranced and the stories seemed vivid and fabulous. However, even though I don’t remember the stories, I do remember the physicality of us all being bunched and grouped together with Dad under covers as he told us these stories, and on one night in particular, this was while a rain storm swirled around outside the bay window off to my left.
I just longed for – and on some level still do – that loving male touch. Instead, it seems like what I got much more of from him was emotionally unstable, physical outbursts that result in pain or physical harm either towards me or those around me.
And today, what that means is a difficulty in getting that need meant when I have been indoctrinated by society to fear a male need to be touched and held by another male. Not being able to understand that need on any other level, I and society want to immediately jump to the place that this is sexual desire or need. I remember seeing with envy how boys on wrestling teams during a tournament I attended when my son was on a high school team, would just lay together on the floor in a relaxed intertwined way – it wasn’t sexual at all. It never was like that when I was in high school, so I am glad some things are changing.
Recently, I spent an incredibly meaningful time with a dear friend, with whom we both have shared each others stories deeply through the years. It was in his home town where we walked the very streets, parks, and neighborhoods where the stories of his life, that I had heard before, were now physically surrounding us. It pumped up the sharing to an even a deeper level and we both could feel an energy shift – in a powerful way – particularly on his part. It was a wonderful time, but when we separated, I felt this melancholy set it and a restlessness in my body. I got home, did a very long workout at the gym – just because it felt like the right thing to do and that workout went marvelously well as I had all of this energy. It only occurred to me the next day when the melancholy continued on some level, but now with physical exhaustion, that my body had had a need while we two friends were together sharing in that connected way, that out of habit I had shelved, not even consciously in the moment, and hadn’t addressed. I needed to have physical connection with him considering the depth of sharing. This didn’t seem like a sexual need or connection, but what my body visualized was us laying out in the sun, shirts off, skin to skin – perhaps a head on a chest – totally safe and relaxed – being connected with body and nature to integrate the depth of our verbal sharing.
What I have discovered in the past few years is some remarkable conversations with men my age, both straight and LGBTQ, where we have explored that need and desire for male touch in conversation. Often it seems to have a base in very early childhood and not having had the father connection that was vital, or sometimes it comes from the misguided pain of a man who intuits that need on our part and inappropriately takes advantage of that innocence in damaging ways. And then many of us turn all of this inward on ourselves by seeing ourselves as unworthy of the very male touch we desire. I have to say I have been very blessed to have men come into my life with whom I have had incredible interactions through dance in forums like InterPlay and 5Rhythms, where after wearing down the resistance barriers, we sometimes let ourselves connect with another and truly feel the energy that is there for both of us. As I said, a gift.
Today I am a physically older man than I wish I were, but happily satisfied with my wisdom age. Still a way to go, but feeling really vital and more connected and grounded than perhaps at any other time in my life. Lots of growth yet to happen, but also a renewed strength to help with that growth.
I feel my story needs to be told to validate my and other men’s primal need for touch by other men and affirm that we don’t need to interpret that always as being sexual nor have that need filled with shame. Touch is a natural and exquisite need of all humans and helps us to thrive and shine.
Brad Landon is presenting his one man show, The Winning Sperm, in NYC this December as a part of The Power of One.