My nine-year-old son, Aidan, already has a few solid friendships. He and his buddies love to fish, hunt, swim, camp, catch snakes, and explore nature. But above all else, they love to wrestle. They remind me of a group bear cubs roughhousing in the Alaskan tundra–they literally snarl and growl as they take each other down over and over again.
This love for wrestling made my son’s comment to me the other day a puzzle.
When I mentioned to Aidan that a couple of his friends were going to play football this year, and asked him if he wanted to play, he said, “Nah…I don’t think so.”
When I asked him why, he said, “I don’t want to tackle kids I don’t know. Or be tackled by someone I don’t know.”
I was dumbfounded. I reminded him that the first thing he does when he sees a friend is try to put him in a headlock. I said, “Football’s no different, Buddy.”
I couldn’t have been more wrong. As Aidan and I talked, he helped me see that there is a world of difference between roughhousing with buddies and roughhousing with strangers.
Wrestling for Aidan and his friends, and for me for that matter, is not merely testing and proving dominance. It’s not primarily about sport or competition. Wrestling with friends and family is about celebrating relationships. In fact, slinging each other around on the carpet is perhaps the safest, most understood, way for guys to make contact. And if we walk away with a good ol’ fashioned rug burn, bruise, or sore back, well…that’s just evidence of relationship.
“Laying the smack down” as a form of intimacy isn’t just a guy thing. I have two daughters, and they love to wrestle with me. They taunt, tease, and do everything they can to “poke the bear” and lure me into the ring onto the living room floor.
The other night, my seven-year-old daughter, missing three of her four front teeth, managed to lisp out the taunt: “Dad, it’s wresthle time!” With that, she jumped on the floor and gave me the stink eye.
I replied, “So…you’re saying you want a piece of me.”
Grinning from ear to ear, she replied, “No, I don’t want a pieth…I want the WHOLE thing!”
The bell dinged, the two of us met head-to-head on the carpet, and, well, mostly snuggled. I tickled her under her neck, raked my beard across her lower back, and then let her pin me repeatedly with her overwhelming strength and prowess. In fact, my kids have coined the word “snussle,” a mix of snuggling and wrestling, to capture this phenomenon.
Aidan and I talked it out, and he’s started to come around to the idea that it’s ok to compete and tackle people he doesn’t know. But we also talked about how great it is that we have each other to tease, tackle, and take down precisely because we love one another.
Dads, let me encourage you to hit the deck for some good ol’ fashioned “go time” with your kids. Laying the smack down is a great opportunity for safe, loving, physical connection.
I’m curious: Do you have memories of wrestling with your dad?