Joe Biden and I are the same age, 76.

Based on recent news reports, the former vice president and senator from Delaware who was born in Scranton is a touchy-feely guy.

So am I — but with differences.

Biden, who might run for President in 2020, is being criticized these days because he likes to put his hands on the shoulders of women while standing behind them and then nuzzle or lightly kiss them on the head.

Some women object.

I would object if the former vice president nuzzled me in that fashion. For that matter, I would be heebie-jeebied if anyone nuzzled my nearly bald scalp from behind.

I just don’t like people, men or women, coming up behind me and intruding into my space.

Now, facing each other ... heck, my grandparents immigrated from southern Italy. They imparted a hearty enjoyment of embracing, hugging and kissing — regardless of gender.

A late, great uncle, Albert “Rico” Bonavita, was known to imbibe a “bing” and a “bang” at a local watering hole. The “bing” was a glass of beer. The “bang” was a shot of whiskey, taken and occasionally taken again and again and so on.

I would visit that watering hole after midnight, en route home from second-shift work at the local newspaper. I would be sober. Uncle Rico would be ... umm ... lubricated.

So he “lubricated” me, with a hearty exclamation and an effusive, some might say liquefied, kiss on the cheek. If he had been there long enough, I got kissed on both cheeks.

I would righteously decline his offer to buy me my own “bing” and “bang.”

Did not matter. Denials meant nothing to Rico at that stage, so we quaffed, and chatted, and reminisced.

Other uncles, aunts, grandparents, cousins, hugged enthusiastically, especially at weddings, at funerals, when it was daylight, and when it was dark outside.

All those hugs were good hugs, mutually acceptable.

But when I moved from an 18-student Catholic grade school to a 1,000-student junior high school, I learned that not everybody acted that way. In mostly western European, Protestant Warren, Pennsylvania, most people did not act that way.

So neither did I.

I should not write this next paragraph, but what the heck; I am 76. Telling tales won’t change my reputation. Back at age 13 or 14, I and some boy chums developed a testosterone-overloaded habit of hugging budding (literally) girl classmates face-to-face, head-on, enthusiastically. We called it “anatomical research.”

We got slugged.

We quit doing that. We turned to bootleg copies of National Geographic and Playboy magazines to satisfy our hormone-fueled curiosity without incurring blackened eyes or bruised arms. Did I mention that, at age 13 or 14, many girls are bigger and stronger than pencil-thin geeky boys?

Today, I still hug enthusiastically — with affection but no ulterior motives. Three marriages and six children have more than educated me in boy/girl anatomical differences.

I do try to “scope out” the situation with what looks like a Sugar Ray Leonard boxing move from the 1950s.

My left hand dangles at my side. My right hand is outstretched, with my right arm making a hooking motion, just for a nanosecond.

Is my “I’m thinking about hugging you” gesture reciprocated? Hoorah. We hug.

Is the gesture ignored or met with a frown? No hug. We might shake hands, or just say hello, with no contact.

These days, I am reading about women complaining about Joe Biden’s hug-nuzzles. I don’t read about too many men complaining.

But as a kid, I sure did complain about a hug.

“Go give Aunt Mary a hug,” my father would say, on holidays at family gatherings.

Aunt Mary was a patient at the Warren State Hospital. Lurid tales of her supposed violence, including a pitchfork stabbing, had made her a fearsome legend. When Dad and his brothers brought her to Grandma’s house, her hair was usually wildly uncombed and she often left her “store teeth” behind. She looked, well, weird, though looking back, I now would say she was just a confused old lady.

“Give her a hug!” Dad would say again, sternly.

I did not want to hug Aunt Mary.

With Dad, however, the choice was stark. Either hug Aunt Mary, which always turned out to be harmless, or answer to Dad for having disrespected his sister in his mother’s house. That latter choice involved whaps, yowls and bruises.

I hugged Aunt Mary.

But yes, I do understand how men as well as women are uncomfortable at being hugged.

I think we should reassess our social greetings in this time when what is acceptable seems to be changing.

Hugg-ees need to speak up politely and tell hugg-ers, “Please don’t; that makes me uncomfortable.”

And hugg-ers who get that message by word or by body language ought to respect each other’s comfort zones.

I bet that, by now, former Vice President/Senator Joe Biden is doing just that.

[Denny Bonavita is a former editor at newspapers in DuBois and Warren, and former publisher of The Leader-Vindicator. Email:]

Recommended for you