So when I was getting to be twelve or thirteen I started to feel a little uncomfortable kissing my dad on the lips three or four or five times a day. (I think my brother must have just stopped doing it.) Finally I screwed up my courage and broached the subject. Of course, it’s all embarrassing for pubertal boys.
I don’t know who or how we came up with the solution, but my dad and I agreed that in circumstances in which we used to kiss on the lips, that instead my dad would pat me on the head. After a while it became know as “taps.”
I would lower my head toward him, definitely a submissive posture, and my dad would tap, sometimes with this fingertips, sometimes with the flat of his hand, the top of my head. Each instance had an unpredictable number of taps or pats, and they would be delivered in unpredictable rhythms.
It was an unspoken joke—that the number and rhythm of the taps was somehow tailored to the meaning of the particular situation. Sometimes two taps, sometimes twelve, sometimes major delays between taps. I knew the session was over and I could lift my head when my dad would say, “Now be a good boy.”
This ritual endured for the rest of my dad’s life.