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PDA Could Save Your Soul

President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama walk after arriving at Sidwell Friends School, where their seven-year-old daughter Sasha is enrolled, in Bethesda, Md., Thursday, Jan. 29, 2009. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

I don’t think I’m in the minority in saying this, but my parents are not super affectionate.

Sure. They love each other intensely. They’ve been married for more than thirty years. They are, as my sisters and I once joked, “Black: United As A Force.” They take care of each other. But they don’t hold hands. I’ve only seen them kiss twice (once on the Super 8 footage of the wedding, the second when I was an adult and my father was leaving to catch a flight to Texas). My father is more of a “doer.” He shows his love by setting up all the accounts and debts so if he meets an untimely demise my mother won’t have to worry about the money. Or he drives her to her doctor appointments faithfully and fusses over what makes my otherwise “Steel Magnolia” mom quite delicate.

But they’re not lovey-dovey. Never have been. My mom saves up all her displays of affection for my sisters and myself, who have been showered in hugs, praise and kisses from day one. Just the other day, at age 31, I found myself walking around Macy’s holding my mother’s hand just beacuse.

The Obamas, who are openly affectionate in front of apparently everyone, are outwardly tender and kind towards each other and their children. Scenes of this public adoration have become a regular topic of discussion between my mother and me. About how we crave it. About how we can’t look away. About how much we love it.

Mother, like me and a lot of other women, grew up with fathers who were/are doers. Who loved, protected and took good care of you, but were not openly affectionate. In fact, her father, my beloved Grandpa, R.B., wasn’t affectionate towards her as a child, but softened up in old age.

I remember him as an exceedingly loving man who hugged and kissed me, talked to me for hours and took me everywhere he went in Newport, Ark., often introducing me to people as his “smart, beautiful granddaughter from St. Louis who looked just like him.” My mother was always grateful that my sisters and I experienced that from Grandpa, and she got to enjoy this affection she once didn’t receive both through us and through him, now a more mellow man wanting to love and be loved.

My mother’s family, circa the mid-1970s. My mother is the one who is all “Get Christy Love” with her hand on her hip and the afro. My grandmother is wearing sunglasses, sitting on a log, holding my big sister Denise and Grandpa is sitting off to the right, alone.

My mother spread her affection to her brothers (all seven of them), her mother and sister. Not to mention her many aunts, uncles and cousins. Just because her childhood had consisted of being the oldest, of hardwork and of little time for affection, she saw no need to waste her adult years being cold. Her family even in those tough, poor years, were close and remain close. And we are all a happier, huggier and a more loving family for it.

Grandpa passed away in 2001. We all still miss him. And I can’t look at the Obamas and my mother can’t look at them without thinking how good it is that they are so openly affectionate. How this is a light black people are rarely seen in and that black people, most of all, need to see these images. We talk about how sad it makes us to see black women and children out, alone, the husband or father almost never there. To see other non-black families out together, having fun together, being affectionate. To go to the mall and see doddering old white men wait patiently for their doddering old white wives while the black grandmas either shop alone or with their daughters. To see black parents be relatively cold to their children, reaching out for their affection, but only being told to act like a “man” when the “boy” is only six years old.

Some of this is left-over “survival-mode” behavior from our history as an oppressed people. The poor and the enslaved, after all, didn’t always have the “luxury” of human affection. If your number one concern is just making it through the day, cuddling the baby and telling him or her that they are loved becomes secondary. But this toughness persists today when it’s about as necessary as a bursting appendix. 

Black women don’t have to pretend to be super women anymore. We should get to be “women.” We should get the full spectrum of emotion that we were once forced to supress or deny. The mythology of the “strong black woman” needs to roll over and die so that black women can find their sensetivities and become free to be fully-functioning emotional beings, accepting of all their feelings — from love to fear. Not just acting out the pantomine of sassiness and chippy attitude that is practically encouraged in society and popular culture.

And black men shouldn’t have to pretend that they don’t need love. That being alone, both physically or emotionally alone in a relationship, is “the norm.” That being disrespectful of each other, or just accepting disrespect is “the norm.” And it shouldn’t be seen as weakness if you have opened your heart fully to your partner or your children. There should be no shame in attending the dance recitals, history plays, Easter pagents and PTA meetings. There should be no shame in telling your daughter she is beautiful and helping your kids with their homework and guiding your son through the bumpy paths in life while always letting him know your love will be there.

These things are not corny. It won’t make your children soft. The opposite will happen. There will be confidence and they will be better people to those they meet in life. They will value the lives and feelings of others. They will realize that black people need to be loved.

And your children seeing you be affectionate towards each other will only deepen that feeling of love, trust and stability. (And it doesn’t hurt your relationship either.)

If we’re going to make it, as a people, we need love. It was true during slavery when we were ripped apart from one another on the auction block. It was true after slavery when relatives searched high and low for those who were sold away. It was true in the 1950s when blacks married at the same rate as whites. It’s still true now in today’s age of fatherless families or black couples who are able to obtain material things through their intelligence and hard work, but don’t know how to build the trust that comes with completely giving your heart to another person.

We can’t presume to know the Obamas marriage. Only two people in the world know the truth in that. But I hope if there is any lasting example they leave it will be that we don’t have to always be hard. There is power in softness. Many of us are capable of giving and receiving love and those who in the past have not can learn.

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30 thoughts on “PDA Could Save Your Soul

  1. Kitadiva says:

    A wonderful post and a very true one. My dad is not affectionate either. My mom provided most hugs, cheers and soft touches on troubled days. I too yearn for that expressive kind of love, that kind of real intimacy that the world cannot enter or disrupt. I do not know if we ( black folks) really understand that THAT is intimacy and that kind of intimacy blocks out, removes, even heals some of the stuff we put up with in a day or that we have faced in our lives. That kind of acceptance, love and support encourages us to grow and go after that dream in our hearts. It lets each of us know that we are seen, we are heard, we are wanted, we are loved. I pray that one day all of us get to experience that kind of accepting, affectionate, cherishing and honoring love.

  2. Julia says:

    It would be nice to see ALL of America become more affectionate towards each other. The lack of honor, love, and affection towards your significant other is not just a problem in the Black community and in Black families. I have a dear friend who is Caucasian and she has the most empty and unfulfilling relationship with her family. Her father and mother were married until the death of her father over a year ago. She has a brother who is so distant emotionally; a mother who is so co-dependent and controlling to a fault; and, she is simply one of the most confused individuals I have ever met. Her family is definitely broken and has been broken all along (even though her family shared nearly 40 years of marriage). She is married with adorable children and if you did not know any better she would be considered the All American family. She and her husband are both educated; her children attend private school; they have the multiple cars; brand new home; and they are very good looking people. Yet, I continue to see an unhealthy level of distance and foreboding in this Caucasian, middle-class family. Being from the South, all I have ever known was that Black families stick together regardless. Now that I have since relocated to the North, it pains my heart to see the high degree of selfishness as it relates to families. There are people that I have befriended that would consider me more of a family member than their own family (and their family currently lives in the same city as them). I find it very disturbing. My family lives in another state and I talk to them all the time so that I can maintain a high level of closeness even though we are apart. It is a shame that we look upon the marriage of our President and his wife as if to cherish your mate is a societal anomaly (sp??). It should be refreshing to look upon their mutual honor and adoration for each other simply to remind us of how we are…not what what we should strive to achieve in a marriage. It does something to the heart of a hopeful romantic such as myself to see a partnership in full effect. These two built ONE life together as a PARTNER. They did not rescue each other from loneliness, boredom, financial distress, abuse/neglect and it shows. Deep down in my heart, I choose to believe that their expression of love is the norm in the majority of marriages. If not, then a lot of married couples are missing out. My prayer is for a secure partner to marry so that I can fully experience an untainted marriage.

  3. Kells says:

    I also believe that the Obamas will also influence how black folks discipline our children. On that Barbara Walters interview, they outright said that they don’t spank. That’s something that we really need to let go of. That spanking is not cool. Telling your kid you’re gonna "beat the black" off of them is just hateful to me.

  4. Of the many things that I admire about the Obamas, the standout for me is this: I love how they love each other. It gives me hope and renewed determination to find the same for myself. Beautifully written post Snob. It made me decide to finally stop lurking and become a participant.

  5. Noelani says:

    A wonderful post and so true, I love how you put things in a bit of context. It would be great if some of us/all of us let go of that hardness we carry around everyday, always prepared for battle. Kids especially need to be shown affection, their minds are so pliable and emotions so fragile. The seeds we sow in them now will blossom later and I sure as heck want it to be of the affectionate positive kind rather than the alternative.

  6. Julia says:

    Kells:I agree. Spanking is not necessary. I always get accused of "acting like a White parent" because I refuse to spank and threaten my daughter. Beating a child to "keep them in their place" is nothing more than having a slave mentality. I could not live with myself as a parent if my daughter was terrified of me. That is unacceptable. Noelani:Kudos for your post. All of that chest-thumping mentality that Black Americans tend to carry around is beyond non-sense. There is nothing wrong with being a soft and gentle soul. It is beyond time for Black Americans to come out of survival-attack mode. It is played out (like drugs and gangs).

  7. Robert M says:

    Great Post. I think all the hating you see towards the Obamas is a result of their actions. To openly see a valued AfricanAmerican relationship is the last break linkin the chains of bondage being broken.

  8. Danielle Belton says:

    @ Robert MFreedom to love one another without limits is just another step in our long march to mental emancipation from the tortures of our past. Self-love and loving each other is sooo key. I won’t solve every problem, but if black people could remove that chip from their shoulder (a chip built out of being knocked down so many times from society and their own), I think we’d be on our way to psychological emancipation, realizing that everything in this world is available to us if we reach for it.@ KellsMy parents also were against spanking. Mama Snob will tell you in a minute, they beat slaves and it never stopped them from wanting to be free. My parents usually dealt with us discipline wise by 1) treating us like children and understanding our minds work differently from adults and 2) making their rules and guidelines firm and clear. They rarely wavered and always backed each other up. Plus, I could never say that I didn’t know what my parents expected of me. I swear, they were whispering "go to college" in my fetus ears nearly 32 years ago.

  9. Kells says:

    Snob,Your parents sound like mine. So many of us think that it’s a good thing for a child to fear their parents. I was always afraid of disappointing my parents, but I never had a fear of them. I knew that if I did something wrong and found myself in trouble, I could go to them. Beating a child will make that child do crazy things. I knew a girl in high school who was at a party she had no business being at, and got into a car with a drunk driver all so she wouldn’t have to call her mom to get her. All of this to avoid getting bead down "to the white meat". SMH.It really bothers me that spanking is still so prevalent in our community.

  10. SaS says:

    I haven’t even finished reading this post yet, but I just had to stop and leave this quick message:Your. Mother. Was. FLY.

  11. Powerfully composed. Ironic too, watching Michelle and Barack sparked much of the same thoughts in my head. It is quite unusual to see a black couple so openly affectionate toward one another. Certainly didn’t see it and still don’t see it in my own family. In fact, in a way they’ve begun to inspire me to open up my own heart and begin to manfiest affection toward others which I haven’t been able to do of late. They are a wonderful example from which to follow in this respect.

  12. The A says:

    Bravo Snob!If the ONLY thing Obama does for this nation is to continue to demonstrate true love in this public and "as if ordinary" fashion for his wife and his kids,The world will be a much better placedare I say some of the other issues we the world now lay at his feet would no long be issues to address.

  13. princessbutterfly says:

    I’m about to break down and cry snob. I so glad others feel that way too. I especially like what you said about women being women. It reminds me of a Mary J Blige song. Instead of demonizing President Obama, I wish James Dobson of Focus on the Family would appreciate this aspect of the first couple.

  14. rikyrah says:

    Snob,this is a great post. Daddy wasn’t very affectionate with Mama, but adored his daughters. Mama was the same. I never saw them be overly affectionate with one another either. But, my father was Old School: opening doors for her, pulling out her chair. My father was the cook in my house. If there were 100 meals fixed in our house, Daddy fixed 95 of them. Daddy did the shopping- always. He was a man ahead of his times. While I appreciate The President and First Lady being openly affectionate with one another, many of us saw, with our own lives, Black men who respected their wives. In all the years that my parents were married, I NEVER heard my father call my mother ‘our of her name’. The respect that my father showed my mother is something that sticks with me today, and Daddy’s been dead for years. That quiet example of how a man should treat a woman has never left me.

  15. chenna says:

    i absolutely LOVE seeing the affection these two have for each other and their children! i remember as a child i got affection from my family whether they liked it or not, lol=o) i remember semi-attacking my parents and sisters with huge hugs and kisses, and i still do! i’d like to think that ‘i brought affection back’ (said like ‘bringing sexy back’, lol) to the family with my crazy antics. I decided a VERY long time ago that whomever i’m with has to be ok with open affection. that whole ‘hard’ stuff is not sexy. at all. *newsflash!*=> LOVE is back in style (not that it ever should have left)!

  16. Throws Sunshing In Air says:

    Wow…your post is resonated something in me. I am adopted…was adopted by a single woman who couldn’t have children. Financially I was well taken care of and was placed in private schooling. My mother had a gay male friend….they were like brother and sister. LOL I liken them to the original Will and Grace…but black. I recall when I was very young, my mother being very affectionate to me. This stage lasted from when I was 2-5 years old. I was adopted when I was 22 months old. My mother’s gay male friend became my father figure. He was a day care/kindergarten teacher. I received all of my physical love and affections from him. He held my hand, braided my hair every week, hugged me, and told me that he loved me. He even pierced my ears when I was 12 years old. He was in my life everyday. I was his shadow. My mother was the total opposite. She was the discipinarian (all beatings came from her), she was not loving or affectionate to me…but rode my arse about my education. It is so weird that my mother and father’s roles were reversed. I will admit that I doubted her love for me…and still to this day, 14 years after her death I still wonder if she really loved me. My older sister (adopted as well) and I discuss this at length. We understand why she was the way she was. Her mother died when she was 2 years old. She was raised by her grandmother along with 12 other aunts and uncles. There was no room for coddling a black baby in 1939. There was only room to feed them, get them as much education as possible, and beat your child if the neighbor said they saw them doing something they shouldn’t be doing. My mom was raised in the south as well. My mother went to Spelman College when she was 14 years old. Very very intelligent woman but not the touchy feely type. At 31 I have no children…but I do have nieces (my sister’s children). We are very affectionate to them. I smother those little girls with kisses and hugs. If some one said, "your parents don’t love you, your auntie doesn’t love you", my nieces would look them dead in the eye and say "you are the devil and you are a lie". It warms my soul that these girls have roots, and they are caring beings, adjusted and well behaved (as much as a 7 and 10 year old can be), highly intelligent, and secure. All because we tell them that they are truely loved, they are worthy of it, and they are capable of giving it. When and if I have my children, my future husband and I will follow this formula and break the cycle of our parents. We will take the good that they did but disgard the bad down by the riverside.

  17. arieswym says:

    this was a great post..it really captured another way that the Obamas resonate especially among black people and it touched on expectations within a relationship

  18. starrie says:

    the ice around my cold black heart melts a little more each time i see the obama’s pda.i’ve never been one for pda’s myself but i just love this family…wonderful post….

  19. Skywalker says:

    Great post.No my parents are not affectionate either – they like to cut each down via teasing than kiss each other. No wonder I don’t like to be touched. I think we can learn as a community from the Obamas example.

  20. Felecia says:

    You are speaking to me. This should be motivation for black women to put the superwoman mantle down. It’s hard though, many black men aren’t raised to take care of house and family in the traditional way. They are spoiled by their mothers or not given any responsibility so it doesn’t translate into adulthood. I know I was married to that brother. My father is a doer. It took him having a stroke and reflecting on life, before he could utter "I love you" to my sister and I. He still can’t bring himself to say those things to my brother, son and nephew–because they are men. But he is present and accounted for most of the time, so we see his love in action by the effort he puts into family time.

  21. Stacey says:

    Well written. That whole man up/woman up thing for a child is foolish. Little boys are just that litle boys, little girls are just that little girls and not letting them be children is partly why our family structure is so broken. But I believe that we will become family units once again. When we start expecting more from ourselves, our children, our friends and families as well as others, things will start to change. We are starting to see it a little, very little but its happening when I hear some of the youth talk, especially since Obama hit the national scene.

  22. pioneervalleywoman says:

    What a lovely photo! This image brings back memories of my family from that time in the late 1970s, similar pictures and all! Your grandma looked so young!!

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