Last night I came home from a busy day at the office. I walked into the kitchen where my son and daughter-in-law were cooking dinner. I instinctively reached out my hands behind both their backs and rubbed their backs as if to congratulate them for the beautiful dinner we were about to eat.
My son did not comment, but my daughter-in-law said, “Do it again! Your friendly back rub made me feel so encouraged.”
These words were very heartwarming to me. You see my daughter-in-law has been through hell and high water the past several months. Her own father passed away relatively unexpectedly in
March this year, and she was very close to her dad. I recount the story of her father’s passing in my blog – “A Man Called Mick“.
On top of this she has been recovering from a severe bout of postnatal depression. These two things, together with a few other disappointments, have crushed her so much that my son and daughter-in-law decided to accept the invitation to live with us for as long as needed.
That’s why her words of appreciation meant so much to both her and me. There is tremendous power in a father’s touch. That is not to say that a mother’s touch and cuddle is any less important, but I am not a woman, so it is hard for me to make comment. What I am convinced of is that fathers need to learn from their wives to be a lot more tactile with their children and their families.
Hairdressers often have exceptional wisdom. The best are astute observers of the human condition, and often act as de facto counselling psychologists for both men and women.
As my hair was looking a bit shaggy I walked into Michelle’s Barbershop. Suddenly I came up with a good idea. As Michelle is a very wise woman, I told her the title of this week’s newsletter and asked her to share some of her wisdom with our readers. After all, hairdressers touch a lot of heads. She got back to me with three sayings:
- Time is like a river. You can’t touch the same water twice because the flow that has been passed will never pass again. Enjoy every moment in your life.
- Your smile and your warm touch, that’s all I need.
- Touch comes before sight, before speech. It is the first language and the last and it always tells the truth.
David Burchett in his brilliant blog article called “The Power of a Father’s Touch” makes this story both powerful and personal.
Our first foray into the amazing world of grandparenting came with the birth of Ethan Paul Burchett in Waco, Texas.
Since Ethan was a bit early the doctors were cautious about some fluid building up in his lungs. To be sure that all was well they scheduled an x-ray on his second day. New dad Matt went along with Ethan for the procedure. Unswaddling made the little guy unhappy and scared. As he grew more anxious, his dad did what every loving father does for their child. He touched him to let Ethan know he was there.
Our friend Jana happened to be at the nursery and captured the candid moment.
I keep thinking about that moment. How Matt instinctively knew that Ethan needed that touch and how Ethan wrapped his little fingers around dad’s big finger. Instinctively, Ethan calmed down when he felt the touch of his father. Happily, all was okay with his lungs.
In an article in Psychology Today called “The Power of Touch“, Rick Chillot gives us a very interesting perspective:
Matthew Hertenstein, a psychologist at DePauw University, in a 2009 study demonstrated that we have an innate ability to decode emotions via touch alone. In a series of studies, Hertenstein had volunteers attempt to communicate a list of emotions to a blindfolded stranger solely through touch.
Many participants were apprehensive about the experiment. “This is a touch-phobic society,” he says. “We’re not used to touching strangers, or even our friends, necessarily.”
But touch they did—it was, after all, for science. The results suggest that for all our caution about touching, we come equipped with an ability to send and receive emotional signals solely by doing so. Participants communicated eight distinct emotions—anger, fear, disgust, love, gratitude, sympathy, happiness, and sadness—with accuracy rates as high as 78 percent.
“I was surprised,” Hertenstein admits. “I thought the accuracy would be at chance level,” about 25 percent.
Previous studies by Hertenstein and others have produced similar findings abroad, including in Spain (where people were better at communicating via touch than in America) and the U.K. Research has also been conducted in Pakistan and Turkey. “Everywhere we’ve studied this, people seem able to do it,” he says. Indeed, we appear to be wired to interpret the touch of our fellow humans.
“The power of touch is profound – whether it is an accidental glazing from a stranger, the strong kneading of a professional masseur, a gentle hold from someone close, a reassuring squeeze of the hand, an ‘I see you’ caress, an encouraging touch on the back, a quick kiss on the forehead or one that is slower, more tender and more anticipated.
It can strengthen connections, heal, communicate, influence and soothe. When the touch is cold and brittle, it can also widen the distance between two people. If it came with gorgeous packaging and retail hype, we’d be lining up to do the deal. Fortunately, we don’t need to do any of that.
Our skin is our largest organ and would measure about two metres if it was laid flat. Given that our bodies are precious real estate, for something to take up this much room, there must be a good reason for it.
Yes it’s to stop infections and yes it’s to stop our important bits and pieces falling out but there is another reason. It is the pathway for touch – one of our most powerful and important functions. For long-term wellbeing, touch is as important as food and security.
In one tender squeeze there are so many things that can be said. ‘You’ll be okay.’ ‘I’m proud of you.’ ‘Yeah, I’m worried about it too.’ ‘It’s scary isn’t it.’ ‘You’re freaking amazing.’ ‘Come on. Talk to me.’ ‘What’s happening with us?’ ‘I love you.’
When it’s from the right person in the right context, we rarely have to guess the words – the words become irrelevant anyway. Instantly we can feel closer, calmer and more understood.”
Practice makes perfect. Those friendly loving hugs and touches can change your children and family forever for the good. Learn from our experienced psychology practitioners the power of a father’s touch and put it into practice. You will be amazed at the positive effects!
Yours for More Love,