As a Philadelphian, defending Tom Brady, quarterback of the New England Patriots and our city’s football Xenu, feels deeply distasteful. But with a big win comes a bit more perspective so it feels natural to come grudgingly and half-heartedly to the defense of the supposed G.O.A.T., who stumbled into a parenting controversy a few days before stumbling on the gridiron by kissing his son on the lips and on video.
Let’s be clear. There are many reasons to hate on Brady. Kissing his son on the lips is not one of them.
Here’s what happened in case you, for whatever reason, happened to be in a cave at the time. About a week ago, on an episode of Brady’s joyless Facebook documentary Tom v. Time there’s was a scene in which Tom’s son, Jack, approached his father, asking to check his fantasy football standings. His dad, who is getting a massage, asks from the table, “What do I get?” and his son gamely gives his dad a kiss on the mouth. As he walks away, the massage therapist says, “You know Jack, everything comes with a cost, bud.” Brady chimes in, “That was like a peck.” So the kid comes back into the room and kisses Brady again, this time longer. Many argued that the three-ish second kiss went on too long. Others argued that Brady might be a pedophile. Twitter gonna Twitter.
A few things are missing in the tempest. Firstly, the interpretation of the kiss’s duration is just plain wrong. The kid, Jack, was being somewhat teasingly pressured into kissing his dad. We’ll get to why that is problematic in a second. But the kiss was meant to be too long. Anyone who has kids with a modicum of attitude, which is to say, anyone with kids, gets the dynamic. So, in this case, I would say the length of the kiss is almost satirical. As one can clearly see from the initial kiss, Brady and his son normally do not kiss for many seconds at a time.
Secondly, there’s absolutely nothing inappropriate or untoward about a father kissing his son on the mouth. Again, in this case, that is irrelevant since what is pictured isn’t a father kissing his son but a son kissing his father. Nevertheless, the appropriateness of this type of physical affection is commutative. Since when have kisses on the mouth become exclusively erotic? We use our mouths for many things: talking, eating, breathing, kissing. It is not a single use organ. Nor should kisses on the lips be reserved for lovers. If that were the case, then kisses on the mouth would be inappropriate regardless of the child’s age and I don’t think anyone is making that absurd claim. (Well, some idiot probably is.)
The idea that fathers should not be physically affectionate with their sons and daughters is not only grossly incorrect but actually harmful. Research has shown the positive benefits of physical affection from one’s parent include reduced rates of depression, fewer struggles with mental health and increased compassion. To sacrifice that because we simply can’t wrap our head around the idea of non-sexual affection does a grave disservice to our sons and daughters as well as our fathers.
Still, Brady doesn’t come across great in the clip. He and the massage therapist turn an act of physical affection — a kiss, or as Brady dismisses it, “a peck” — into currency. Jack wants to check his fantasy football standings. Brady demands a vague toll. Jack gives him a kiss. OK, well, already that begins to establish an unhealthy construct in which the boy trades physical affection for personal gain. A kiss becomes something to barter, to trade, to sell and, by extension, to buy. The massage therapist implicitly grasps the dynamic. Thus the “everything comes at a cost, bud,” which Brady doubles down on.
The shittiness of this interaction has been largely overlooked. Not only is Brady ganging up on his son — he should have stepped in to say, “Actually, Jack, that’s fine.” — and making it seem as though affection should not be freely given, he’s making a loving interaction into a transactional interaction. And he’s being coercive. That’s bad. The mouth kiss is fine, but all that baggage is not.
I’m not saying Brady is a bad father. In fact, that Tom Brady is a great father may be his sole redeeming quality as a human being. But even good fathers can create bad dynamics. No one wins all the time.