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Old Enough to Be Your Dad


Those of you familiar with my story know that Touch Practice began as a kind of “hobby” for me, a personal indulgence. It did not begin with the name it has now; instead, I and a few close friends kept referring to it as “my hugging thing,” as though it were a type of fetish, and I suppose, in the beginning, it might have been.

Then, Touch Practice took on something of a life of its own: it became, for me, a genuine spiritual practice, with a mission and values. The practice began to take a particular shape, a form something like a touch ritual, with a beginning, middle, and end, as well a specific set of boundaries. You can read more here about the beginnings of Touch Practice and how it emerged.

Soldier-hugging-soldierAs Touch Practice took shape, I began to sense that it was being guided by a power higher than myself. I notice, looking back, that it has moved through various populations of people. There was one time, for example, when I was holding a lot of soldiers, combat vets who were working through PTSD and combat trauma in their bodies. Then there was a time where, for some unknown reason, I was holding a disproportionate number of Mormons. Then it seemed there was a time when I was holding primarily abuse survivors. There was a summer where I seemed to attract transgender guys.

Without intentionally trying to steer or limit my practice, the moment I decided that I would hold anyone who asked, it seems like I found myself working with clusters of people who had similar attributes, as though I was taking a series of “courses” in a university curriculum, one week studying combat trauma, the next week studying gender identity, and so forth. It was as though something, or someone, was trying to teach me different lessons by having me hold different populations of people.

beaty4My private practice for about the past year and a half or so, through no conscious efforts that I’m aware of, seems to have attracted people who are more or less exactly half my age. I’m in my early 50’s, and the majority of people who come to practice these days seem to be in their mid 20’s. It has been that way long enough that it strikes me as more than coincidence, so I’ve thought and prayed about what might be going on there, and what’s in that “for me.”

Touch Practice ALWAYS involves me getting something back, learning, or being healed; it’s impossible to hold someone without being held back. No matter how selfless I might try to be, or might imagine myself to be, or might convince myself I am, 50 percent of every Touch Practice is for me, and 50 percent is for the other guy. No matter how much I try to be completely accepting, unconditional, holding whomever comes, I always, always, always get something out of the exchange. It’s just the way things are, a basic law of the universe.

So tonight I thought I’d write about this odd relationship between these twenty-something guys and this 50 something guy. What’s this about?

Let me first talk about what is it NOT about. The “daddy” thing is a subject of pornographic fantasy, and it’s an entire subculture among men. There are men who identify themselves as “daddies” and men who identify themselves as looking for one. These subcultures often involve sex and sexualized relationships.

Let me state two things emphatically: first, I don’t have any judgments about what consenting adults do in their private lives. A man can have sex with anyone, of any legal age, he chooses to, and that’s none of my business.  However, the relationships I am writing of here are not sexual or sexualized, and in fact, a good bit of energy in Touch Practice goes into conscious, intentional efforts to desexualize touch, so that we can be close and intimate in a non-sexualized way. Read more about how we do that here. What I’m writing about here are relationships that are intimate and close, but intentionally non-sexual.

What’s in it for me? The period of ages 18-26 was a wasteland in my life. When I graduated from high school, I also left a period of sexual abuse that began in sixth grade and ended when I left for college. No, healing did not begin immediately. 18-26 was a fucking desert. I didn’t feel much. I wasn’t very alive. I studied well, and succeeded in school, but in terms of people, connection, love, affection, emotion, all of that was fairly on hold. I was not terribly alive during those years. I was numb. I got through them.

So on one level, like so much of Touch Practice, there’s an opportunity for me to re-create a part of my life that didn’t go so well, and do it over. Not exactly do it over, but experience it again, explore it, investigate it, by connecting to the body of someone who is currently engaged in that period of his life.

And what’s in it for them? Am I just taking? Or, in connecting deeply to people who are in the 18-26 time of life is there something for them in connecting deeply to a man in his 50’s? The answer to that, both from my own experience and from interviewing people about this, is most definitely “yes”.

dad and teen boy talkingMentoring relationships between older and younger men are powerful. If you look at any indigenous people or mature culture, there are “intimate” (non-sexual) relationships between older and younger men. Young men gain strength from these, and wisdom. Often both the mentor and the student experience great warmth and a depth of love towards each other.

Because the relationships between older and younger men can be very affectionate and very intense, there is sometimes a natural instinct to sexualize these relationships. The ancient Greeks, as one example among many, had a culture which tended to sexualize the powerful mentoring relationship between older and younger men. My practice is the opposite of this: by intentionally taking a sexual relationship “off the table,” making it off-limits, there is a safety for what I call “the child” to emerge. Or, to be more specific, “my child,” the one that needed a non-sexual but intimate connection with an older man. I can pursue a different sort of powerful relationship, one that is of great interest to me, which only emerges if the relationship is not sexualized.

Another thing that young men do in these relationships is correct for parenting that they didn’t get, or got wrong. In the same way these relationships offer me a chance to correct 18-26 in my own experience, to explore and experiment in ways that I didn’t have the opportunity to do then, they offer my partners a chance to have a non-sexual relationship with an older guy that is based on care, support and nurture. They get to recreate their relationship with their Dad, or some older guy who stands in his place, and I get to recreate my relationship with my kid. And we get to practice, experiment, and try things out.

What I initially found surprising is the number of guys who crave a warm, intimate, non-sexual relationship with an older guy, a guy old enough to be their Dad, and how supportive they find it. Many of the guys I hold are in college or grad school; they’re in hard-working times of their lives, times when they are facing big challenges and finding themselves, and I can totally understand the attraction in having support and nurture behind them.

What they do while being held, more often than not, is just fall sound asleep. They’re not looking for a hot physical experience; usually, they’re looking for nurture and safety, and they fall asleep the minute they find it.

And what I’m looking for, in return, is an opportunity to hold the 18-26 year old piece of myself, that part that was so battered and beaten and lonely, to be a safe haven for him, to offer him warmth and support that isn’t sexualized, and create a place where he’s comfortable enough to fall asleep in my arms.

Have thoughts you’d like to share?

Touch Practice is a sacred practice for me, and part of that is keeping confidences sacred. While a name and e-mail address are required to post a comment, feel free to use just your first name, or a pseudonym if you wish. Your e-mail address will never be seen by or shared with anyone. It is used to prevent spam and inappropriate comments from appearing in the blog. I’d really like to hear from you!



  1. Weldon

    I enjoyed a two year friendship with a young man ,(31years my junior,). and even though we didn’t hold or touch a lot, the hugs were fantastic.

  2. James

    Since I discovered in spring of this year, my experience and understanding of touch has been greatly transformed. Though I’ve not expericed Touch Practice, per se — which I’ll not do until I participate in a TP workshop — I have been inspired by it in my own way. I’ve cuddled with friends in explicitly non-sexual ways. And I’ve talked with men (mostly men) about our “touch histories” and social/cultural observations about touch.

    The most foreground thing I’ve been discovering is that there is something very messed up in our culture concerning our way of being with touch. And that most of the guys I know did not have a healthy, wholesome relationhip with touch as young men and boys. Many of us have been touch starved at times in our lives when what I call “extended touch” (touch for more than a few seconds) was something we profoundly needed. But we grew up in a culture in which non-sexual (or any other) “extended touch” was basically taboo, especially between guys. For most of the men I have discussed this with, there was simply no healthy way for us to incorporate exteneded touch into our young lives. And this lack left a kind of wound in our hearts and souls.

    We’re all grown up now. But it does make sense that when we hold one another in middle age, or older, we are holding also the touch starved kids we once were. Thanks, Kevin, for helping us let that be okay. For honoring this fact. And thanks for helping, in your way, to shift the cultural attitude toward touch. This is urgently important, valuable work.

    • Kevin Smith
      Kevin Smith11-02-2014

      James, yes, I think you’ve nailed it on the head. The landscape in between “let’s not touch each other for more than three or four seconds, lest it become somehow improper” and “it’s a free country; let’s all fuck; stop discriminating” is the distance in between the Earth and the Moon. There is an infinite landscape in between “firm handshake” and fucking, thousands of intermediate points, and the landscape of non-sexual touch is vast enough that it can thrill virtually anyone who cares to explore it.

    • Rafael

      You’re right! How I have craved that non-sexual touch for years. I’m still looking opportunities to experience the full effect Kevin (James) is taking about. I do get to hug men ages 18-26 on a weekly basis but its only for a minute or less. It feels so great!

  3. Rafael

    It never cease to amaze me the healing power of your words and practice. I am very fortunate to experience some of what you’re taking about. I have the change to hug men in that age range of 18-26. They feel loved and secure with me, I in turn feel that tender love that a father has for a son. The hugs are not an hour long, I wish they were, but up to a minute or so. That’s a very long time for some of them but it feels great. I am still working on the sexual energy but its getting better every week.
    I realize that this the real connection I’ve been looking for to heal from the injuries or earlier days.

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