What they don't tell you in parenting books...

This is not Joel and his son

My son kisses me.

Which is a relief, since one of my fears about having a boy was that he wouldn’t be affectionate. But when he was just a year old, he crawled to get a book, brought it to me and sat down in my crossed legs.

But this is not normal father-son kissing. It’s not a tight-lipped cheek peck of thanks for playing with his Thomas & Friends train set with him.

The first time it happened – a few months ago, right after he turned two – I figured it was an accident. He doesn’t have great control of his motor skills. He runs like he’s being pushed and throws a ball by dropping it in front of him. So when he went to kiss my mouth and wound up licking my soft palate, I figured the guy just didn’t have lip smacking down yet.

By the fifth time, I knew this was not an accident. Though he mixes up his style, this is how it usually goes down: We’ll be talking, usually about cars or trains, and he’ll put his face close to mine, somewhat menacingly. Which puts me off guard. Allowing him to do what he wants. He puts his hands on both sides of my face and pulls me until our mouths touch. He smushes his mouth hard against mine and then starts to lick my lips. A few times, he bit my lips gently. Then he pushes me away.

This is Joel and his son

None of the baby books tell me how to do deal with this. Do I kiss him back? It seems weird and a little gross, not just because he’s my son but because he’s got the grooming habits of a homeless man. There’s food on his face. He doesn’t wash his hands a lot. He often smells of urine.

No one has told me how to feel about this ether. I’m sort of freaked out, sort of disgusted and sort of thrilled. I mean, I must be a pretty good dad for my son to like me this much. He clearly wants to get super close to me. Again, I’m sort of freaked out.


Until we had a baby, I did not understand the purpose of touching someone unless it was to have sex. Two decades ago, our culture entered this touching frenzy, turning us all into Europeans, hugging and fake cheek kissing friends every time we see them. No one in Mad Men hugs each other when they meet. Hugging was reserved for returning from war. And only then if you were married.

Joel Stein

I’ve avoided massages for the same reason. I’m going to go into a candle-lit room, listen to Yanni, get naked, get slathered in oil, be rubbed for an hour and we’re not going to have sex? Why don’t we just look at Porterhouses, smell them being grilled, pay a $100 check and leave without eating?

So I’m not very enlightened when it comes to human touch. Which makes all this non-sexual touching with my son deeply confusing.

And I love touching him. I can’t stop. Kissing his cheeks, squeezing his calves, running my finger up the canal in the back of his neck. He hugs me tight sometimes when I hold him and I rub my hand in circles on his soft back. All the things that women failed over and over to get me to do to them.

I think Laszlo and I should stop making out. But I don’t know how to tell him without hurting his feelings. So for now I’m going to just stop him if he tries to touch my man boobs.

Parenting is chock-full of awkward moments. What are the things NOBODY told you about parenting?  What moments (or even conversations) have you found awkward or taken you by surprise?

Joel Stein has covered everything from the serious to the bizarre, including Joe Biden, Michael Jordan, and his wife’s placenta. The TIME humor columnist has written for Men’s Health, Esquire, the New Yorker, Fortune, and dozens of other publications. You might have seen Stein on VH-1’s I Love the ‘80’s (or any other decade they tell him to love), Real Time with Bill Maher, Nightline, Good Morning America, or the ABC Nightly News. Somewhere in between, Stein wrote failed pilots for network and taught humor writing at Princeton. In May 2012, Grand Central Publishing is releasing his first book, Man Made: A Stupid Quest for Masculinity, in which the 39-year old finally learns to be a man.