With five grandsons, I feel it’s my responsibility to provide advice in the area of early romance. I know all five kids will be huddled around their laptops, eager to read what their grandfather has to offer, particularly the oldest, Jack, who is about to enter high school.

My key message is this: Focus on the art of holding hands. Do not give in to the pressures of kissing until much later.

Advanced handholding requires algebraic precision. And from my years of study, I’ve determined it involves two distinct techniques. The first is the Interlocking Finger Grip, which shows confidence and temerity from the get-go. Interlacing each finger with someone else’s can be challenging, particularly if it’s after dark. Personally, I prefer the second technique: the reliable Palm Clutch, in which your fingers stay together to create a more uniform contact surface. This method also allows your thumb to roam unencumbered, which provides numerous benefits, based on your dexterity and the size of the targeted hand.

My first close encounter of the romantic kind was with Mary Watson. She was the daughter of Dr. Harold Watson, an upstanding physician in Ames, Iowa. The year is not important, suffice to say I was inexperienced and attending a Catholic grade school. Meanwhile, Mary was at a junior high school, where children magically matured earlier and knew stuff like how to dance to rock music. But I felt Mary and I had built a romantic relationship, albeit from a safe distance.

One evening, I caught up with Mary on her way home from baton-twirling class. I’d been planning this “spontaneous encounter” for weeks. “Ca-ca-can I walk with you?” I asked. Mary glanced over at me, still moving. “I guess,” she said. No more words came to my mind. Mary began to walk faster. I kept up.

I considered holding her hand, the one without the baton, but my own hands felt all sweaty, and puffier than normal. We got to her big white house on the corner with the white picket fence. It was almost dark. I wanted to tell her how I watched her practice twirling her baton in the Dairy Queen parking lot and how she never once dropped it. Nothing came out.

Then suddenly, at the front gate, I had this crazy notion Mary was waiting for me to kiss her. She looked ready. (She wasn’t.) I bent toward her, eyes closed, lips in a position they’d never been before. Not really a pucker…but almost.

Mary turned her head at exactly the wrong moment. I hit the corner of her glasses with my nose. Hard. I felt a drop of blood fall from my left nostril. For the first time in a long time, Mary Watson dropped her baton. Then the porch light was coming on and Dr. Watson was opening the front door. I slunk away before any medical attention could be offered.

I did not attempt to kiss another girl for a long, long time. Instead, I focused on becoming an expert at holding hands. It’s what I still know best. And I’m passing it on to Jack and the others.