Quick synopsis if you’re in a hurry: On video, Tom Brady suggested his son owed him a kiss for a favor regarding a fantasy-football activity, the son gave him a quick peck right on the lips, Brady implied it wasn’t enough, and the son gave him a longer one. Some people who saw the video got upset by this. Other people didn’t.
This hit a little bit of a raw nerve with me, because I’ve witnessed cases where it has gotten out of hand—like vegetarian or homeschooling families getting CPS called on them. I’ve been informed by feminists that “it’s rape” and “an act of violence” if I put my arm around my daughter to comfort her when she’s distraught. Some women tend to view any affection initiated by men or even boys as being unwanted sexual contact, regardless of the nature, or whether the recipient thinks so.
There’s also a meme going around feminist circles that you should “respect” other people’s bad moods and not try to help them out of them, as if neurotic and irritable personalities were a good thing.
I do not think I need their permission to raise my kids according to my own good judgment regarding what’s best for them.
Is it OK for a man to kiss his son on the lips, or not? (same rule for daughters? or different?)
If the answer is “no”, that’s what psychologists call a “taboo”. The word originates among the Polynesians, but similar concepts occur in other cultures, such as “haram” in Muslim cultures. English borrowed the Polynesian word because it didn’t already have a word for the concept of something that is socially unacceptable even without a specifically communicated rule prohibiting it. In fact, it might even be a taboo to so much as talk about the taboo!
Taboos are unconscious judgments. People don’t consciously analyze whether we need any particular taboo, or what its functional purpose, if any, is. Some of them have purposes, like taboos on asking people how much money they make, or asking women how much they weigh; you’re trying to save someone’s feelings. Many taboos have no purpose than anyone can credibly explain. For example, food taboos are common in various cultures, and some of them derive from completely made-up cultural fables, like a character in the story ate something, and something bad but completely unrealistic happened to them. Sometimes the taboos last longer than the story, so that many cultures have taboos that they can’t explain why they exist, because there’s no objective evidence they can point to that it causes any problem.
That brings us to the next question:
What is the basis for deciding whether a given action is taboo or not?
Complete this sentence, and then show me the data: Tom Brady shouldn’t kiss his son on the lips because it will definitely cause this specific problem: _____.
Taboos are not necessarily rational, because they’re not the end result of rational processes. To make a long story short, a few are innate, most of them are learned, and a few such as regulating affection tend to be a bit of both.
When they’re learned, they’re learned unconsciously. It’s not your mom telling you were naughty to ask a woman her weight or her age, it’s the horror you sense in her mood when she tells you. You become upset that she got upset over what you innocently said before knowing any better, and then you start reacting the same way she does. It’s a little more complicated than that, because the whole process of sensitizing you to her reactions doesn’t happen all at once, but that’s the process.
Lip contact is potentially taboo because aside from the possibility of cleanliness taboos (germs!), they are very sensitive. Sensitive parts of our body are more likely to be associated with taboos.
For whatever reason, Tom Brady didn’t learn a taboo against kissing his son on the lips.
It might have to do with being a football player. Masculine men tend to be more affectionate with children, including sons, than less masculine men, contrary to a common assumption. First of all, he probably has strong biological impulses generally, including affectionate ones, due to high hormone levels, second, he probably doesn’t react much to other people’s moods and feelings so he’s less prone to internalizing other people’s taboos , and third, he is probably very secure in his own masculinity and sexuality.
The boy is 11. For most dads, the taboo against kissing him would tend to kick in at puberty, when he starts displaying secondary sexual characteristics like a deeper voice and facial hair. It’s normal for fathers to cuddle and kiss their baby sons, and then get progressively less affectionate as their sons develop more masculine characteristics. I do know some men who still kiss their adult sons. I don’t, but I can’t think of any rational objections. I think it’s normal and natural for human parents to form lifelong bonds with their offspring, and some amount of affection tends to strengthen those bonds.
The next question:
Who gets to decide what’s taboo?
I’ll leave that there. If they’re not harming their kids, I don’t feel the need to police other people’s parenting practices, especially not on subjective criteria.
One important aside comment:
Last question, and maybe the most important not because it’s a big deal, but because it was probably triggered by something that IS a big deal:
Was it wrong to give the boy the impression that the kiss was expected in exchange for favors?
Instead of criticizing Brady, what would make more sense to me would be to address his likely motives for doing so:
- fear of being taken for granted.
- fear of not being loved by his kids.
As far as I can tell, most fathers seem to have the same fears. Not without good reason too.
Imagine a rich man who hires nannies to raise his kids, and dispatches them off to boarding school once they’re old enough. That by the way is the exact pattern of most of the very rich. It’s not good for the kids, but in all fairness, the fathers are under pressure to produce wealth, some of it on their own account, and some on other people’s. Imagine for example having the responsibility to manage a multi-billion-dollar transnational corporation. It would probably work better if management responsibilities were allocated in a less hierarchical way, so that super-human expectations aren’t made of any one man, but we’re only starting to figure out how to do that.
Those kids don’t bond to their father. If they bond to anyone, it’s their nannies, but even that gets thwarted with various behaviors of jealous parents. It’s a common problem among the very rich, and causes them to grow up with emotional problems.
It’s not a conscious transaction. The kids don’t think, “well, dear old dad foot the bill for the nannies and room and board. He paid for college. So I guess I owe the old boy love and loyalty.” Uh-uh. Not going to happen. “Love” is an unconsciously-learned response.
Love, by the way, is not an emotion. It’s a complex of other emotions, like being happy when someone is in your presence, or sad when they’re away, or worried about losing them. Your kids won’t be sad when you’re gone if they were never made happy by your presence. Footing the bill for their lunch is too abstract to trigger that feeling.
Fathers are still expected to be breadwinners, but nothing about breadwinning per-se will endear you to your kids. The only reimbursement is genetic continuity; there’s no emotional pay-back.
Instead of granting a favor involving something he does on his own, it works better if you share an activity you both enjoy. Like tossing a football out in the yard together, or wrassling with him, teaching him a skill he wants to acquire, or anything else you might do together that would make him associate his own happiness to your existence in his life. Same applies as regards father-daughter activities.
As a dad, you have to provide for your offsprings’ material needs. You’re under social pressure and legal obligation to do that; any way about it, it’s going to get taken for granted, and there’s nothing you can do about it. But it will contribute to your own happiness and satisfaction with life if you participate directly their happiness and satisfaction with life. You might run into obstacles from other people when you try to do just that, because they want you to optimize economic production, not your own happiness. Resist. You’re welcome.
Taking care of someone else’s material needs won’t make them love you, as unfair as that is. It’s not that the beneficiary is being ungrateful; it’s that love happens through unconscious processes that your behind-the-scenes efforts won’t trigger.
Supplying someone else with perks above and beyond their needs won’t make them love you either. Don’t give kids “stuff’; give them your attention.
Taking care of someone else’s emotional needs is what makes them love you. That’s just the way it is.
Here are some feelings that are natural for your offspring to associate specifically to you: feeling protected by you because you were mindful of their safety and talked to them about it. Having fun with you because you spent time playing with them.