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Jewish World Review Feb. 19, 2002 / 7 Adar 5762

Evan Gahr

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Hug trees, not men!


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com -- In the 1970s, they fought like men. At their next meeting, Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier plan to hug like women.

Until last year, Joe Frazier had never quite forgiven Ali for Borking him outside the ring. On the 30th anniversary of their 1971 fight at Madison Square garden, however, Frazier suggested the two heavyweight giants publicly bury the hatchet--with a hug. Ali welcomed the olive branch.

Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee and now hug like a lady?

The champ told the New York Times that he had called Frazier an Uncle Tom and even compared him to a gorilla in order to promote their fights. It was nothing personal. But he was sorry. So far, so good. Alas, the champ then agreed to hug his former antagonist.

The hug has not yet materialized, according to a recent database search. At least Ali and Frazier have a good excuse to hug. As for other guys--even the manliest of men, the types who wouldn't dare drink a wine cooler in public, let alone ask for driving directions in the middle of the Siberian wilderness--they shamelessly hug like sorority sisters. Score another victory for our touchy feely culture.

Everywhere you look--from football fields to party conventions--men are hugging men.

The hug has replaced the handshake. These two forms of greetings could not be more different. When days were old and knights were bold, men shook hands to insure neither carried a weapon. Now when a guy meets or greets another guy the only bodily harm he risks is a cracked rib from a bear hug.

Unlike writing with pink magic markers, there is nothing inherently unmanly about one man hugging another.

Just the opposite: a real man can show his feelings in public, at the appropriate moment. The key word is moment, not every minute. It's certainly understandable that men were hugging men at emotional Sept 11 memorials and related events.

Rudy Giuiliani, not usually a touchy-feely kind of guy, seemed to hug everyone within reach when he officiated at these tragic gatherings last year as mayor. Still, the rampant hugging clearly pre-dates September 11.

But this unfortunate trend started more recently than you may think.

When Paul Weyrich, first came to Washington in 1967 to work for Colorado Senator Gordon Allot, hugging was confined to a group of Southern senators, he recalls. "Everybody else was very reserved and they didn't do that."

The unofficial no touching policy continued throughout the Reagan and Bush administrations, recalls Weyrich, now president of the Free Congress Foundation. "We did not hug."

Enter Bubba. Hugs galore.

Robert Reich, the diminutive intellectual giant of the Clinton administration, cites the serial hugging in his memoir, Locked in the Cabinet. Like so many other Clintonesque obsessions, such as "diversity," promiscuous hugging soon infested GOP and conservative circles. Today, even at conservative events Weyrich is besieged with huggers. When the hands go out he wants to "hide," Weyrich says.

So do I. Hugs should be reserved for special occasions. I generally hug another man about every two or three years; the hugs are a function of circumstances, not goals, timetables or quotas. In 1992, I hugged my friend from summer camp at his wedding.

The next hug was in 1995, just days before I left Washington for a new job in New York City. The hug was initiated by my journalism mentor. He hugged to express delight because I had landed a position with a major paper. Then, another hug in 1997 for a college friend at his wedding.

All these guys I've seen quite a few times then since then. We shook hands.

Maybe this is a family trait. We male Gahrs are neither huggers nor hugees.

Keep your hands off us, please.

In 1999, my sister brought her then-boyfriend to a family dinner so he could officially meet the folks. Quite the 90s guy, he ended the evening by hugging my father. Big mistake. My father grew up admiring the likes of John Wayne, not Alan Alda. He recoiled with shock and disgust.

Flash forward one year: boyfriend has just become brother-in-law.

At the wedding I delighted the guests with a sweet and funny speech welcoming into the family. Afterwards, we hugged, in plain view of the guests, the videographer and my father. "You see, he didn't hug me, "my father said with uncharacteristic smugness. Still, the embrace was appropriate for the moment.

Such moments should be few and far between.



Evan Gahr, JWR's Washington correspondent, is an adjunct scholar at the Center for Equal Opportunity in Washington, DC. This piece is adapted from the Winter 2002 issue of The Women's Quarterly, a publication of the Independent Women's Forum. To comment click here.


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© 2001, Evan Gahr