I’m a clingy father.
I feel it every day.
I see my daughter and my heart quickly fills with love. I want to immediately tell her I love her. I want to pick her up and give her a big bear hug. I want to give her a kiss attack which is what I call consecutively kissing her all over her cheeks.
Latinos are very affectionate, but the affection is not limited to words of affirmation. We are what is scientifically known as touchy-feely. I grew up hugging or kissing all my friends on the cheek. I kissed my dad on the cheek every time I saw him. My mom would have a hug mandate, and there was a minimum amount of hug we needed to fill out if we wanted to eat. She would revoke all my privileges in the same way Trudeau revokes all liberties.
I want to show that same kind of affection to my daughter, and at times I feel proud I have.
When our neighbors visited, I saw my daughter openly hugging and kissing them. When they play with her toys, she stands close to them and puts her arm right over their shoulder. I see these kids immediately look at their moms to understand what’s going on. They don’t know what to do with it.
But it warms my heart.
My kissing and hugging can be too much for her, and even as a toddler, she has come to a place in her life where she is establishing her boundaries. The parenting philosophy my wife and I follow encourages parents to respect that boundary. It is conflicting for me because it stands against everything I’ve learned by osmosis as a Latino.
A part of me is tempted to use all the tactics my mom used growing up to ensure she got what she needed from us. I’m confused by all these newfangled terms in the news like gaslighting, Munchausen by proxy, emotional manipulation, and racketeering. That’s what we would call proper parenting in Colombia.
Between the emotional warfare tactics and un buen chancletazo (one single smack with a traditional sandal), Latina moms were sure to raise well-behaved citizens.
But that’s not the parenting strategies I use now. I follow the RIE method, which is the philosophy that honors the senior citizen wisdom your kids are born with even though they’ve only been on earth for a few years.
It’s hard to fight my initial impulses, like when I want to permanently hug my first daughter. I shared with my wife how hard it was to accept not being hugged by her all the time, and she told me, “maybe if you didn’t ask for attention so much, you would get more of it.”
My wife was just trying to help, but it hurt because it reminded me of a time when I was still in the dating pool. I thought I was done with the games once I married her.
I dated in a time that is now hard to imagine. There were still dating websites, but it was nothing like it is today.
Today, similar to Domino’s Pizza campaign (where someone texts an emoji of a pizza slice and immediately places an order that will be delivered in under thirty minutes or is free), kids these days can text an emoji of an eggplant and, just like that, the booty call has been arranged in one character.
Say what you must, but you can never blame these kids for inefficiencies when it comes to sex.
We also didn’t swipe anywhere unless we are talking about swiping our credit cards to pay for dinner or coffee. Other than that, we would have to find out face-to-face those introductory details displayed today on profiles with highly edited pictures.
But, when I was dating, something else was very popular: advice from Pick-Up Artists.
That’s right! I grew up in a time when men’s idea of romancing women was dressing up in clown costumes and giving women backhanded compliments to get into their pants and never call them again. I mean, just a nice bunch of well-adjusted individuals.
My wife’s comment reminded me of them.
It made me wonder how Pick-Up Artists would approach parenting. It is only a hypothetical question because most of these guys are still selling workshops on how to pick up women and are unable to escape their arrested development and move on with the rest of their adult lives.
But what would it look like if at least one of them could escape, settle down and raise a family then use all of his pick-up artist’s tricks to raise his kids? Eventually, he would put it all together in a nice PowerPoint slide and showcase them in a small and musty second-grade motel to a room full of sweaty men.
So, if I were to use these tips in my parenting, I’d walk into a room where my daughter is with a cup of tea with four Assam teabags and three lemon wedges (distinguishing oneself) while sporting my best ‘Man in the Yellow Hat” costume (peacocking) and I’d approach her with comments like “wow, that’s a nice drawing for someone with undeveloped fine motor skills” (backhanded compliment) and then for the pièce of résistance, “yeah, I’d like to play with you, but I’d rather play with your sister who is a newer model. Have you considered Botox?” (exploiting jealousy and insecurities over societal expectations of beauty).
Obviously, I would never use any of these techniques. These techniques will lead kids to develop daddy issues becoming the prey of these same men who are giving the seminars. It is almost like McDonald setting up a playground with a few cute cartoons at their stores, so kids grow up to crave the homey feeling of a Big Mac, a guzzler of Coca-Cola, and a supersized order of fries.
The truth is that all dating gurus of this time didn’t advocate for the same things. I remember a coach that wrote under the pen name David de Angelo. I’m not sure if I found him later in his career arc, but when I learned about him, he was talking about the inner game.
DeAngelo spoke to a legion of men, who like me, were raised by divorced moms and still needed to find a way to behave in the world as men in a society that doesn’t give you the tools to be a non-toxic one.
De Angelo talked about self-confidence and advocated for men to focus on their development by becoming better at their work, at communication, finding hobbies, becoming healthier. The one thing that stuck with me the most was when he talked about emotional regulation.
He explained how kids cycle through emotions without getting stuck in negative ones because of shame or guilt.
Consistency and commitment are basic adaptive principles of interpersonal interactions. We expect people to be who they were yesterday. This concept is counterproductive when it comes to negative emotions, and we could use a more freewheeling approach to it as kids do.
Sometimes if we are stressed, angry, anxious, or sad, we would rather stay in those spaces than look crazy by quickly switching and cycling through the emotions. We are more afraid of being called flaky or moody than being more gentle to ourselves.
I think of that advice when parenting my daughters, and I try to follow it.
So when my baby belts out my name, “Daddy!” at the top of her lungs in the morning and she embraces me ready for the day and our morning routine — which consists of opening our windows together, looking at our orchids, and toasting her premade waffle — paleo waffle (I’m not an animal); I forget everything that happened the day before, and I don’t hold on to any of that so when I tell her that I love her more than she can ever know, I mean it.
And I hope that she grows up to love me and that she can show me that love through gestures of affection.
I think of Angela Davis’ quote, “I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept.”
At first, I was hurt that my daughter wouldn’t reciprocate my gestures, and I didn’t want to accept them. I wanted to find a way to convince her to hug me, even if it meant holding her fruit pouch hostage.
That’s at the center of Davis’ quote, “accepting the things I cannot change.”
But also in it is the sentence “I am changing the things I cannot accept.” And there, in the linguistic misinterpretation of Davis’ intent lies my strategy. To re-categorize my daughter’s desire to only hug me when she wants to from something I cannot accept into something I can accept.
I know that not only I can live with it, but I can appreciate it as the only way my daughter will learn how to enforce her boundaries and develop her personality, but more importantly, a backbone.
Sometimes a challenge doesn’t need our anxious or worrisome meddling. Maybe things will come our way if we learn to get out of the way. Maybe they won’t, but we learn to be at peace with whatever the outcome is through acceptance.
Like when for the first time my daughter and I watched the Encanto movie, and she sat next to me the entire time, covered by our Verde Esperanza couch blanket.
Or when we read Those Darns Squirrels at night, and we put a pillow against her chair and lay on it before she goes to bed. Or when we lay on the same spot after she wakes up from her nap and snuggles for a few seconds before she gets the hibbie jibbies and runs to her play space.
Then I know I can accept the love she decides to give me back — knowing the love we give our kids never comes back to us in the same measure but hoping it will be the same love they give their kids.