Point of View: A Hug for Joe

The other night, as we talked of Joe Biden’s predicament, it occurred to me that I, a diffident WASP not programmed to show much emotion, was at first bemused when men began hugging men in America — about 40 or so years ago, I think. 

“Did you say that you were ‘uncomfortable?’ ” asked Mary, who has wondered why the women now accusing Biden of unwanted attention in the past didn’t say so if they felt so at the time.

“No, I didn’t,” I said. “Anyway, perhaps because I’m a WASP, I’m uncomfortable using the word ‘uncomfortable.’ Nor was I reaching out in those days.”

“You reached out to me. . . .” 

“Indeed I did, and have been forever blessed for having done so.” 

The hugging custom must have made its way from abroad to the younger generation, for I don’t remember anybody with whom I grew up doing it. I don’t remember being hugged by my father, or by my stepfather. We shook hands — that was the manly thing, especially at an all-male boarding school where, I think it’s fair to say, we were not, most of us anyway, in touch with our feelings. 

I’ve since come around, and though I generally don’t initiate them, I’m touched when hugs come my way, whether from sons-in-law or grandchildren. They hug me, I hug them. I’ve become much more comfortable with the practice, much more at ease with openness, with intimacy. It’s a sign that, at least when it comes to human interaction, we’ve evolved. 

So, I think politicians, pressers of the flesh by profession, ought — especially nowadays when “personal space” has, and with reason, become such a touchy subject — to be given some benefit of the doubt when there is doubt, as is the case with Biden, who seems surprised (and chastened) that in some cases he, a layer-on of hands guy, has given offense. 

Karen Tumulty said the other night on the “PBS NewsHour” that she didn’t think what he’d been accused of doing was so grievous as to pre-empt redemption. Uncle Joe says he gets it, and for that he deserves a hug.