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Giving thanks for a father’s kiss

John Fountarests with his newborn sdays after his birth March 2002.

John Fountain rests with his newborn son days after his birth in March 2002.

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Updated: July 15, 2012 3:22PM

In a downtown ballroom, amid the chatter of an after-seven crowd, I received my first kiss, at age 51. At least, it was the first kiss I can remember from a man, from a father.

It was a loving salutation from a man who has been like a father to me.

Still, his kiss caught me off guard.

I was stunned momentarily as we stood dressed in black tuxedos — masculine men, men with bass-thick voices. Big men — black and bold — men who relish our manhood.

I stood almost speechless as childhood memories and a certain longing and tears welled up in that moment.

Where I’m from, “big boys” don’t cry. Men don’t kiss men. And intimacy among and between the male species — even between father and son, or grandfather and grandson, even among brothers — is often reduced to a handshake, on the rare occasion to a quick hug — especially amid a culture of homophobia, machismo and ultra bravado.

All of this seems governed by some warped idea transmitted innately from generation to generation of touch-less, kiss-less men who create touch-less, kiss-less boys. By some cultural ideology that little boys — or big boys — don’t need the platonic, pure touch or kiss of a good and loving father.

And while not every son may need this degree or display of love and affection, so many of us did. So many of us do.

In the absence of my father who, by the time I was 4, had abandoned me, I longed as a boy for his touch. To be lifted in his hands, held high above his head, thrown toward the sky as he stared at me, careful not to let me fall.

I longed to be tossed and caught by the muscular arms of my father. All the while, I’d be giggling and giddy as he threw me up again and again and again.

That was my longing, my dream.

The reality of his absence created in me a hole that even after all these years I am not sure ever will completely heal.

The hurt still nags sometimes, like arthritis at the onset of the cold. It is especially cold on Father’s Day, and in times when — if I had a father — I might simply sit with him and take solace and strength from his presence.

When I see the rage of murderous young men, the percolating anger so evident in little schoolboys and the nomadic stare of young black men, wandering through life without purpose, I cannot help but wonder what difference a father’s love, commitment and touch would make in their lives. And it couldn’t be clearer that some man who was supposed to be in their lives has dropped them.

I know. My father dropped me.

But men like my grandfather, my stepfather, my uncle and others — imperfect as they were — picked me up.

They are the shoulders on which I stand and in whose shadows I learned to walk as a man — something that neither my mother nor any other woman could ever teach me to be because they are not men.

Teaching my own son to be a man is part of my life’s calling. I remember bringing him home from the hospital that day in March 2002, cradling his head in my palms, singing to him, kissing him. And I will kiss him, I have told him, until the day I die.

Thanks to Paul Adams, I won’t have to live — or die — without knowing a father’s kiss.

And of this much I am convinced: No son should ever have to.

Not one.

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