September 16, 2016 by T. Gregory Argall
Earlier this week I was thinking about handshakes (because that’s sort of random topic my mind settles on after a spontaneous round of brain-dominoes) and it occurred to me that, on the topic of handshakes, I may have failed my son.
The things that fathers teach sons (or more generally, that parents teach children) are important to their success in life, whether either of them are aware of it or not. Mostly it’s things like how not to be an asshole, but also practical knowledge how to give a proper handshake, or the responsibility that comes with riding shotgun.
But like I said, often neither party is aware of the lesson at the time. I have no specific memory of learning many of these skills from my father, but I have the knowledge so I must have learned it at some point. (As a youth, I was too busy being the center of my own universe to notice what I was being taught. Thankfully I outgrew that and remembered the important stuff.)
One weekend afternoon about twenty years ago, I was running some errands and my son was tagging along. At one store, after making a purchase, as the gentleman behind the counter handed me my change and receipt, I said, “Thanks, my friend.” As we left the store, young Robert, about five or six years old, asked me, “Daddy, is that man really your friend?” I replied, “He’s done nothing to make me think that he isn’t.”
That might seem like a rather esoteric and abstruse concept to lay on a five year old, and I doubt Rob actually remembers it happening, but watching him interact with people as an adult I know that the lesson stayed with him.
But I don’t specifically recall teaching him about handshakes, and that had me worried because there are so many bad handshakes out there, wielded by people who don’t understand the importance of this simple gesture.
There are two kinds of bad handshake and they’re at opposite ends of the handshake spectrum.
A/ The Dead Fish – This is the sort of handshake that just sort of lays there with no effort. It’s a handshake that, more than anything else, says, “I surrender.” Surrender to the other person, to life, to the idea of ever achieving anything ever, no matter how insignificant. If this is your handshake, you’re better off just leaving your hands in your pockets and standing alone in the corner.
B/ The Bone-Crusher – This is a vise-grip handshake that serves no purpose other than to assert imaginary dominance over the other party. It’s the sort of handshake that crops up when meeting the ex-wife’s new boyfriend, but regardless of who starts it, it’s a dick move and has no place in human society.
You see, a handshake is not a competition. There is no winner or loser. A handshake is a mutual understanding. It’s a truce. A proper handshake is an acknowledgement of equality.
Both hands should meet at the base of the thumbs and the fingers should curve around the pinky-side of the the back of the other hand. A single, subtle up-down shift of the hands completes the handshake.
In perspective, it’s a relatively simple action, but it carries great weight and significance which can easily be futzed up by apathy.
All of these thoughts (and more) flashed through my mind as I worried that my son lacked this essential knowledge, and worse, that I was responsible for that lack.
So this morning I shook his hand. Good news; he instinctively returned a proper handshake. Damn-near flawless. There’s still a possibility that I failed as a father in the teaching of the handshake, but through observation or intuition he managed to figure it out. He’s a clever lad.
With a solid handshake.
Try to be nice to each other.