Since Susan and I got married last April (2016), every morning when we leave for work, my wife hugs me and kisses me and reminds me that she loves me; she does this again when we get home. In contrast, when I was growing up, my parents would say goodbye to me by saying, “Ok, Chihan, go fast and come back soon.” I didn’t think much about this until my mom kissed me on the cheek for the first time on my wedding day in front of several hundred people.
That was the first time I remember my mom kissing me on the cheek. It was uncomfortable for both of us because it’s something we’ve never practiced in my family and in our culture. My mom must have kissed my six siblings and me thousands of times when we were babies but I don’t remember her doing this at all as we grew older. I find myself wondering why it took so long.
I have many memories with my dad when I was growing up, memories of tending the buffalos in the field and in the jungle; fishing in the river; riding the bus to school at the beginning of the school year; cutting firewood in the jungle; drinking tea and having long conversations about the village and the world; evaluating the past and planning for the future; praying together and having discussions about the Bible, but I don’t remember either of us saying “I love you” or even hugging each other. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t love or care for each other; this is just our culture.
My siblings and I love and care for each other. We share our thoughts, our money, our clothes and our food. I happily received my older brother Ningtam’s old clothes and shoes as brand new and would later pass them down to my younger brothers. We were raised to love each other by forgiving, understanding, compromising, sharing, protecting one another and not fighting with one another, but we were never encouraged to confront each other with truth or to show physical affection. I have seen my siblings having a hard time on several occasions and I’ve tried my best to encourage them through words and through spending time with them, but I have never held their hands or given them a hug during their difficult times. Looking back, I wish I would have supported them in these ways, though I am grateful for the opportunity to start now.
I don’t blame my mom for not kissing me until I got married at the age of 30. In my Tangkhul Naga culture (and probably for most of the other Naga tribes as well), kissing and hugging in most cases is considered sexual activity and is never used for expressing love and affection within the family and community.
I loved when my dad shyly approached me with open arms after the wedding and hugged me. I feel more complete when my parents express their love for me through physical affection rather than through only words and acts of generosity, such as giving me the best portion of the meat at dinner or packing food from their field and garden for me whenever I leave my village.
My wife Susan, who is American, grew up in a family who expressed love through hugging and kissing and reminding each other of their love. In the picture of our moms kissing our cheeks, it is easy to see who is more comfortable with expressing and receiving physical affection.
I treasure my mom’s kiss and my dad’s hug. When I become a father, I want to show my kids that I love them in the same way. I am proud of my culture and appreciate many of its aspects, but I think instead of expressing love only through words and through giving, I would encourage Naga families to add the expressions of kissing and hugging as another meaningful way to communicate our love for each other because I feel certain that this important element is missing in our families and communities. Don’t be afraid to kiss more, hug more and spread more love.
Note: I posted a version of this on Facebook last year but I have added to it for the blog.