Saturday, January 12, 2008

Father love, part 4: Affection

Suddenly, she was there. I felt the rough blanket wrapped around her tiny body on my bare forearms, the arms that were all that was holding her six-some pounds in the air--unbelievably. She was still now, breathing in, breathing out, steady in the calm that followed the storm of her emergence. Pinned against my chest, her steady stillness flowed in, swirling with my fear and overcoming it. Her impossibly blue eyes stared straight up into my soul.

It was love at first snuggle.

Since the first time I held my daughter, closeness, affection has been one of the things I most love about daddyhood. If I can hug them, it's all going to be OK. Despite the many flaws that Rachelle and I have, one thing they will not be telling their shrink as they lie on the couch someday is that their parents never hugged them or gave them any affection.

For better and for worse, my little girls have no personal space. Even touchy
huggy people like my wife and I feel claustrophobia setting in when we've got three noses and six hands in the middle of our cooking, gift-wrapping, bill-paying, cleaning or writing project. There are moments when we just wish they would find a diversion that doesn't require being within inches of our every move.

But mostly, we like it. I sometimes worry that we like it too much. Tons of us have lived the childhood annoyance of that overly affectionate relative or friend whose expressions of love nearly smothered us. I would like to say that every kiss, squeeze and tickle I gave my kids were an intentional, selfless gift. But more often, I find myself hugging them just because they're so dang hugable. Sometimes the affection I give is for my sake, not for theirs, which strikes me as almost exploitative. Those hugs are probably lost on them, emotionally speaking, while they help me get through the frustrations of parenting and life. Is that OK?

I wonder how often God sends us hugs when we aren't asking for them. We're busy building our block castles, dressing our paper dolls, scribbling drawings that only a parent could love. Suddenly, uninvited, He wraps us in His love, sending a purring cat, a needed email, a familiar scent, a tree silhouetted against the setting sun, a warm breeze, a song lyric, or just the feeling we're not alone.

I am clear that God is infinitely more selfless than I am, and snuggles up to us in these ways more for our sake than for His. But can't the selfless servant-heartedness of God's affection for us peacefully coexist with the fact that He just loves to love us? Does He enjoy giving us the divine equivalent of hugs, even when they're lost on us? Isn't there something to be said for a Father whose expressions of love outshine His children's ability to appreciate them?

I hope so, because right now I feel like sneaking into the sleeping twins' room and kissing the tops of their curly heads--whether they like it or not.


Questions I'm asking myself:
  • How important is it that affection be unselfish? How unselfish should it be?
  • To what degree is our need to give and receive affection a part of the image of God?

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