by Lenny Haberman

I was crossing with my twins in a parking lot the other day and, of course, I was holding their little eight-year-old hands. Despite their protestations, they are too young to enjoy voting rights as to whether or not we hold hands. As I clutched their hands like a Venus fly trap catches its prey, I marched straight ahead focused on our destination. When I was a kid this might have been to a park, a library, or a nature trail. As it was, we were on our way to some high-priced, corporately owned indoor trampoline center. As we crossed, I caught a glimpse of my hands as they enveloped my kids’ hands. Then it all hit me. I didn’t have a flash back, but rather, a “flash forward.”

I had a flash forward to the day, many decades from now, when I would reflect upon this particular moment holding my kids’ hands when they were eight years old. After all, in just a few short years, they will refuse to hold my hand. They will individuate, go to college and raise a family of their own. And holding daddy’s hand for their protection will, by then, be as distant a memory as the day we brought them home from the hospital. Thereafter, I think, the next time our hands will be as tenderly locked will be when I’m old, infirm, and in need of that same nurturing reassurance that only the tender hand of your child can provide.

This led me to wonder, how often do you really hold your kids hands for no reason other than to simply show a fathers’ affection? As a daddy, we must “act” affection and not simply preach affection. We must touch, hug, kiss, squeeze, embrace, and yes, hold hands tenderly. This is one of the greatest gifts a daddy can give a child -the ability to give and appreciate affection.

Many fathers would instinctively believe that being a father means showing one’s kids how to do math, how to say “please” and “thank you,” how to pick up the clothes off the floor, how to do their homework timely, how to hit a baseball, and perhaps, if he’s enlightened enough, how to finger paint.

But remember, there are many people in your child’s life who can teach similar skills. There are many teachers who will demonstrate multiplication and reading skills. There is no shortage of coaches who will teach your child the mechanics of hitting a baseball or the proper shading techniques used in impressionist art. But your child has one daddy. This is the closest, and in many cases, the only male figure from which your son or daughter will ever learn the life long gift of affection.

When you, as a father, show the slightest affection of the held hand, you’re teaching your son how to show affection towards others. You’re teaching him how to love, how to cherish and how to hold preciously in his own hands what is truly “dear” to him. One day, he will find a life partner who will love him not for the money he makes or the humor he imparts to others, but for the love and tenderness that he is willing to expose and share with others.

When you, as a daddy, show the slightest affection of the held hand, you’re teaching your daughter not only how to show affection to others, but also the type of affection that she deserves and should expect to receive from her own life partner one day. One day, she will find a life partner who’ll appreciate, not the money she makes or the humor she imparts to others, but the love and tenderness that she is able to give and receive.

These are the formative years for our children. These are the few precious years that our actions as fathers will have the best chance of having a lifelong impact. I urge you, as a fellow daddy, (or any parent for that matter) to hold your child’s hand today for a few minutes in the movie theater. During the football games on TV today, demand that your son come across the room to give you a hug “just because I asked”. Require that your daughter hold your hand for 4 minutes at the mall today. When she asks why, simply tell her that it’s your way of loving her more.

And one day, many years and decades from now when the roles are reversed and your old age needs your child’s TLC more than they need yours, their hands, will remember the lessons you taught and the lessons you actually showed when they were eight.

Their minds may not remember, but their hands forever will.

Len Haberman is, with his wife Lindsay, the father of twins, 8 year olds Jacob and Riley. Born in northeast Philadelphia, Len went to the school of hard knocks, and graduated with a degree in fatherhood. He currently serves as vice-president of his home in Bryn Mawr.