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The Art of the Gentleman's Handshake

Updated on July 26, 2012

Did you have a father? Did he teach you the art and science of the Gentleman's Handshake?

Yep, that's right, I'm going to tackle a subject near and dear to many an old schooler. I was raised by a tough old schooler and though he died when i was only thirteen I remember many of the seemingly inane things he taught me. I admit there were some things i didn't want to hear. This is one thing i have learned that he was very right about but in another way he was very wrong. I will explain.

One thing my Dad always explained to me was that it was important when meeting another man, another gentleman most pointedly for I was always supposed to act like a gentleman, that I meet him eye to eye and shake his hand firmly. Firmly, did you hear that? Firmly.

In the past, not too distant in the past I should mention, it was a way for one man to measure another. One would shake the hand of a competitor to get a better feeling about him. The results of that handshake would often decide each man's inner feeling about what sort of man he was dealing with. From what I have gathered by poking around a bit the handshake started to lose its importance with the advent of hippies and the like of the lackadaisical. I chuckle at this honestly but as far as I can tell the hippies aren't really around anymore but the handshake still has its place in society.

Now, it is important that I disclose my personal experiences in dealing with this social practice. First let me say I do not have the biggest of hands. Not the smallest but somewhere around the middle, and my father's hands were meaty and thick but he had short fingers. Once his grip closed around something it was like stone! I have never seen another pair of hands like his, although from a child's aspect everything is amplified.

Taking with me this vital knowledge I brought my handshake forth and even practiced it with a friend. I wanted to get it right when I got that important first interview. My first job at sixteen years old was at an Acme market and I met the employer eye to eye and shook their hand. I looked a bit like a rabble rouser but the handshake had worked!

There were occasions then when i would shake someone's hand and feel this limp, sweaty palm I immediately regretted shaking. In fact, more fingers than palm. The dude's just poke their fingers in there and hope to get out alive! I had a hard time with that. Knowing however some of these individuals had lacked true guidance throughout their lives i would say something. On one occasion I even went this far, "My man, hold on a second. Listen to me, alright? When you shake hands with somebody dude, you gotta pull your balls out! Look me in the face and," At this point I am grabbing the kids wrist and forcing his hand into mine. He is struggling between angrily resisting me, knowing he will likely lose any contest of strength, and complacently humoring my uncharacteristic forwardness. It is frigging funny as hell now that I think of it. Kind of my bully moment really. What a prick!

But the point is I taught that kid how to relax and shake a man's hand. He took it well and went on living his life but with a little more social awareness! However I would like to represent this fact for those men who have grown up without manly influence in their lives. Perhaps none of mom's boyfriends stayed after breakfast long enough to bother. Who can say? In this day and age single parent homes are all too common, we all know that well enough. Therefore I would submit that in this day and age the old measures of the Gentleman's Handshake are probably a bit too harsh. With so many young kids with no masculine influence it is no wonder the art has fallen by the wayside.

At the same time I have come across some overaggressive hand-shakers with big old hands and overeager grips. These guys just plain old don't know their own strength, or size for that matter. My old boss comes to mind. He would reach out and grab my fingers and knuckles before i could get a chance to get my hand in there! He used to piss me off a little bit with that because as i have stated I understood the importance of the handshake. One day I reached out and grabbed his wrist and said, "Boss! You keep grabbing my fingers and grinding my knuckles because you don't let me get my hand in there!" I placed my hand in his and finally matched my grip against his! He was stronger. He had a grip like my father and he wasn't all that much older than myself. He had my respect but because i had explained to him what had been happening there he actually felt better about me. he explained that someone else thanked him later for allowing him to properly shake his hand! Apparently I wasn't the only one he was robbing of a good shake.

Now I know there are some of you jack-knife's out there laughing at the absurdity of this, the ladies may even do so now that i think about it, but believe me ladies the handshake is vital to the social abilities of a boy who must one day become a man. There was one occasion that I met one of these handshake blockers during an interview. He took another look at my ponytail and did not hire me. I was only twenty three or so but i was in great shape, sharp as a tack and ready to work my A off but the handshake did not work out so well.

Now that I am forty one I find myself still disappointed by the dead fish in my hand from someone I truly want to like and respect. The soft hand makes me leery, I can't even explain why. Between friends I am familiar with it is always a firm grip with smile of respect. With some I even have a certain sort of handshake that is mostly between us for some reason. We've all seen the fancy handshakes people have invented, I don't really know too many of those but i do know the Gentleman's Handshake. So should your sons and so should theirs. Don't let this art die out.


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    • Windclimber profile image


      6 years ago from my boat somewhere on the Chesapeake Bay

      Hey, Barnsey! It's true, a handshake is a measure of a man - maybe not his integrity, ability, or other inward traits, but definitely his social skills. When another man gives me a firm, solid handshake and looks me straight in the eye, it doesn't mean I automatically want "to introduce him to my sister" but I do feel good at least about doing business with him, but if he tries to crush my hand or gives me a limp fish to hold, my "spidey-sense" kicks in right away.

      And you have to not rush the grip, too, as your boss did, clenching your fingers a split second before you got your palm in there. To this day I remember once when my father introduced me to one of his friends, and the man closed his hand on my fingers like I was a Victorian lady or something! And by the expression that flashed over his face apparently he thought that maybe that was exactly how I thought of myself!

      Yes, a good handshake - firm but not crushing or limp, relaxed but not totally casual. It's sort of like the Oriental greeting, a combination of the bow to show respect, the right hand offered in trust in friendship while covering the left hand held in a fist - "First I respect you, and second I want to be friendly and relaxed, but third don't take me for a fool and f*** with me, 'cause I'm ready to protect myself."

    • Barnsey profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Happy Hunting Grounds

      Thank you, Josak! As my number of hubs go up I find myself searching ever outward for things to write about and I couldn't believe I hadn't thought of the handshake yet. I agree it is a very important gesture if you want to be respected and treated fairly.

    • Barnsey profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Happy Hunting Grounds

      That's right! A handshake was as good as a verbal agreement and Heaven help the man who broke that compact in those days! Thank you for stopping by, deskjockeywriter!

    • Barnsey profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Happy Hunting Grounds

      Thank you Kittythedreamer! Always glad to see you've read something of mine, I know you must be short on time with all the writing you do. I'll be stopping by that hub in a bit!

    • Barnsey profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Happy Hunting Grounds

      Ha! Now that was funny! I appreciate your stopping by, KevinC9998!

    • KevinC9998 profile image


      6 years ago

      Although not having a father to teach me this valuable lesson I did learned it at an early age from uncles, teachers, etc. Subsequently I taught it to my own son. Interesting hub and Voted Up. What could be next- The Importance of Tying a Full Windsor? :)

    • kittythedreamer profile image

      Kitty Fields 

      6 years ago from Summerland

      These are very good points and this was very well written, barnsey. Just so you know, I answered your comment on my How to Find Real Fairies hub. Your story was very intriguing and sounded a lot like an experience I recently had! Voted up and useful. :)

    • deskjockywriter profile image


      6 years ago from Muncie, Indiana

      The hand shake is a test of wills and in some cultures ones business dealings are determined solely on the old fashioned hand shake deal. The history of the hand shake to me is not exactly known, but I believe there is some historical evidence that shows a hand shake was as good as a signed contract as two men would ink their hands together showing that they had a pack, or agreement, and is the earliest forms of contracts in history besides marriage.

    • Josak profile image


      6 years ago from variable

      Too damn right, I have a half written hub on the handshake I am trying to finish, it's more than just the measure of a man (which it is) but also it's a revolution in and of itself, in the past people would kiss a ring or shake hands with one hand on top of another to indicate social rank, the handshake with both hands vertical and looking each other in the eye is an affirmation of equality and respect and it's an important gesture.

      Great hub as ever Barnsey, voted up, interesting and useful


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