Love

love

I have come to realize that my sons do not say “I love you.”  I am trying to train them to at least respond, “I love you, too.” But lately, I’ve shied away from doing so.

One night, a while back, I was tucking Hayden(7) in to bed and I said, “Goodnight, buddy, I love you.” Silence filled the room. His face was buried in his pillow.   Frustrated, I said, “I love you, too, dad.” Still nothing. I tickled him. He relented. “Sort of”, he mumbled into the pillow. “Sort of?” I shouted back. “Yeah,” he said, “it means a little.'”

For a time, this incident made me sad. He knows I love him, I’d think. I hug him, kiss him, tickle him, and show him affection daily. And I know, deep down, deeeeeeeeeeeeep, deeeeeeeeeeeeeep down, he loves me, too.

Lately, though, I’ve changed my attitude about the lack of “I love yous” I hear.  I’ve had to search for why this affected me so much. There’s the obvious need to love and be loved, but I knew it ran deeper than that.

Why do we say “I love you”? What purposes does it serve? Certainly, it varies from relationship to relationship. Ultimately, however, I think it serves to remind people how much we care about them. But, as I consider this spoken gesture more, I also think it’s a way for us to remind them that they love us, too–or they SHOULD, we think (we hope).

Whenever I tell Owen (9) I love him, I do not get a response, but I feel a sense of acceptance. If I could read his thoughts, it seems they would say something like, “Of course you love me, I’m your son. I’m your first-born. I’m a good kid…but you don’t need to say it all the time–it’s a given. Relax.” Yet, often, when I tell Hayden I love him, there is almost a defiance in his reaction. His mouth turns into a half-smile/half-frown–a frile, if you will. I’m not sure I want to read his thoughts. I think he fights my love–I feel him rejecting this level of emotion because either he doesn’t feel worthy of my love, or he doesn’t want to care about me so deeply–or maybe a little of both.

But the love my boys identify with today, they will remember decades from now.

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I still remember the lunch my mother packed me for my first grade field trip to the Philadelphia Zoo. I walked home for lunch everyday, so packing a lunch was a treat. The bag was stuffed with all kinds of deliciousness: a ham and cheese sandwich, potato chips, a soda, cracker jacks AND a candy bar. I knew I had the best lunch in my group. I wanted to shout for joy from the top of the monorail. That day, that lunch made me feel so  special, so loved.

I still remember the time in second grade when I came home with a bad grade on a spelling test. I was so nervous to show my parents. And even though I was supposed to get it signed, I decided to hide it where no one would find it–under the clothes dryer. It was someone’s birthday that night and my grandparents were over for dinner. Towards the end of the meal, it dawned on me that the dryer gets very hot. As a junior neurotic, I decided that my spelling test would catch on fire and burn the house down. I began to cry. “I’ve done something bad–really bad.” My whole family, grandparents included, marched down to the laundry room. My dad laid on the floor and fished the paper out from underneath the dryer. He was not mad at all–about my subterfuge or my poor spelling. He smiled and said, “Next time, just tell us, okay.” “Okay,” I said, whimpering. As we ate our cake, I felt oddly elated–my dad loves me even when I make mistakes!

Both of these memories evoke times when I felt wholly loved by my parents. A very pure, somewhat magical feeling.

I grew up in a house where “I love you” was spoken a lot. Ours was a large family in a small house. Day-to-day, amid the chaos, it was hard to sense the love, but the words were uttered. As we left for school each morning, these three words would be part of the exchange between the seven of us and our parents. And each night, before bed, I would kiss my mom and dad, and say, “Goodnight. I love you. See you in the morning.” My mother would respond with her now-infamous “God willing,” leaving me to conjure her death as I laid down to sleep. My father? I don’t remember his response. I think it varied. But, I marvel at the fact that I kissed him goodnight throughout my childhood, and with every hello and goodbye as an adult.

For me, for my past, love was a spoken reminder. Perhaps the words were said in an attempt to add calm to the fray. Yet, those words hung like an albatross around my neck for much of my life. Often, love felt heavy, sad, anxious, chaotic. Often, love felt conditional.

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To this day, my mother says “I love you,” to me every time we speak. If she calls me four times in a day, she says it four times. In an attempt to not become obsessive about this (which I think makes me more obsessive about it) I purposely do not respond with an “I love you, too” every time she says it–I shoot for fifty percent of the time. I am aware that my mother takes note of this.

Perhaps my refusal to overstate my love stems from the fact that, even now, there seems to be an unspoken obligation with those words, as if love can magically erase all the burdens of our past, or is the antidote for all that ails the relationships in a family. Love cannot. At least the words cannot. As cliché as it sounds, “Actions speak louder than words.” I love my mom, and I know that she loves me, but I’ve realized in life that saying I love you and doing I love you are very far removed.

When I first became a part of my wife Pam’s family, I marveled at the fact that they rarely said “I love you.” It is written in cards, but not said at the end of every encounter. It was as if I were finally connecting all the dots: Hmmm. They don’t go around saying they love each other all the time, but I know they do. They are kind to one another, and respectful of each other’s opinions, and they do thoughtful things for one another–DING! Oh, you can feel it but not have to say it every day, every phone call, every exchange. I found this to be very refreshing.

Pam and I do say it often–even several times a day, which I appreciate, because she is the most important person in my world–my life partner. In that case, I find it strengthens our bond.

As for the boys, I find I say it often to them, and usually there is no response. At first, this made me feel angry, worried. Then it dawned on me–they feel loved. They feel my love. Their needs are being met daily. They want for very little and we spend a good deal of time together, interacting or just in each other’s presence. I believe that structure, that sense of stability, makes these words seem unnecessary to them.  Thus, there is no need for them to say it back to me. For now. For now, they just need to know that they are loved and feel they are loved. And in the end, all of us need to accept that we are worthy of the love we are given.

Once again, having children has taught me valuable life lessons. Kids may be the result of love, but we cannot create life as a way to force someone to love us back. Love is cultivated over time. For a parent, it seems that love begins with an ultrasound. For a child, that love manifests itself in stages. It is our job to teach children how to love, and the best way to do that is to show them. In short, to love them. Unconditionally.

“I love you” can serve as a reminder that you love me, too. Or it can serve as a reminder that you are loved. As a parent, I choose the latter, and I know what the answer is, even if it is unspoken.

Now, I seem to ponder the concept of love more. Whom I love. Who loves me. Not, who I have history with, or who I am in close proximity to, but who I have an abiding emotional connection to and for. It has been a very enlightening journey–emphasis on the lighten. I DO feel lighter. I used to think of love as something that anchored me, like a rock. Now, I try to view love as a feather, as a breath. Light and soft.

 

 

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24 comments

  1. Like you, I grew up in a family of “love-rs,” and my mom and I always say it at the end of visits, whether by phone our at our weekly coffee. My wife and I say “I Love You” many times a day, and for us it’s not so much a validation as it is a sign of appreciation. Both of us spent many years in bad marriages with unaffectionate people. To say it now on a daily basis to each other feels like a gift, and one that brings as much enjoyment each time it’s opened. Each of our teenagers (13, 14 and 15) has entered into the “it’s not cool to say those words all the time” phase, but will repeat it back. Your piece gave me an interesting perspective on this, in that it’s enough that I know in my heart that they feel loved. But I will continue to tell them because saying the words isn’t as much a requirement as it is a gift. Whether they realize that or understand it doesn’t matter to me, any more than I understand the way their teenaged minds work sometimes. :

    Really terrific post, Dadicus.
    As always, my friend.

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    1. Thank you, Ned. I really appreciate your insights as I know we have similar past experiences. I like the way you refer to saying “I love you” now as a gift–what a perfect way to look at it now that you are on the other side. Please keep in touch, I will need your insights and support as my boys become alien species–aka teenagers–in a few short years.

      Hope you are well. Thanks again for the comments.

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      1. It’s always a pleasure, Dadicus. You’re a good man and father, not to mention a terrific writer. As for your boys, I’m more than happy to share whatever insights I’ve gained. It shouldn’t take long… 😉

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  2. It’s true that when someone says “I love you” there’s an expectation of a response. For me, that can be awkward depending on who says it. When I talk to my parents on the phone Mom always says “love you” at the end of the call. Dad, not ever. In fact, the only time I’ve heard him say those three words were probably when he was on some kind of painkiller in the hospital years ago. It’s just not something he SAYS, it something he DOES. And I, and my siblings, all seven of us, have had to come to terms with that in our own way and time. It doesn’t stop me from telling him, directly and indirectly that he’s loved.

    Thanks for such a thought-inspiring post. Your honesty about your relationship with your sons always opens up insight into my relationships with my children.

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    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Kami. It is interesting how individuals in large families need to come to terms in their own ways. Where do you fall in line? I think birth order has much to do with how you handle experiences. I feel I am able to be more candid about my childhood because I am fifth in line.

      I hope you are well and enjoying summer.

      Michael

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      1. Thanks, Michael. Good summer so far. I’m the oldest daughter, 2nd child. Not sure if I’ve hit the “able to be more candid” stage yet. I think I see things through more forgiving and perhaps even rose-colored lenses lately. Your childhood feels similar in some ways to mine, though. So it resonates in uncomfortable ways. Isn’t that what good literature does?

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  3. Love radiates from within, most often wordlessly. Love both frees us and connects us.

    It’s shared by way of our intentions, words, and actions, in each moment of life. As I read your post, I wondered if the words “I love you” involve a little more ego/expectation than the natural compassion and the kindnesses that soon follow it, and the shared joy and the sense of peace it brings to us all. We show and share love just by being loving toward ourselves and others.

    It’s essentially simple enough, cultivating our capacity to love, save egotistic attachment.

    For me, your post is a lovely description of how we come to know and love ourselves too.

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    1. Each of your comments is like a daily reflection for me–there is such wisdom and beauty in your viewpoint. I want to make a booklet out of them:)

      Thank you for pointing out that the underlying message in this post is how I’ve come to know and love myself more.

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      1. I’ve seen people carry little booklets around, reading from and writing in them and then tucking them away in pockets. I think I might want to keep a booklet as well.

        Of course, I could use my little iPhone, but I’m all thumbs on that contraption. Plus, every time I attempt to read from it, I remember to schedule an optical exam. Sometimes it’s simpler just to wield good old pen and paper.

        Dadicus, this is such a lovely post. I’m going to read it aloud to the spouse-ling tonight. Our eldest, who flew the nest a few years ago, sent me a text message last night, at the end of which she included “love you too”, which melted my heart. Sometimes the words work, right?

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  4. What a beautiful post. There is something about having kids that completely changes our conception of love. It is fascinating how the love you feel as a child is so different from the love you feel as a parent. Having kids has changed my idea of love–before I thought of it as something somewhat limited, whereas post-kids I feel our capacity for love is limitless. I’ve never thought about whether love was light or heavy–interesting thought.

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    1. Thank you very much. I know exactly what you mean. I once heard someone say that when you have kids your love is multiplied, not divided. Having twins, I’m sure you can attest to that.

      I appreciate the insights:)

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  5. “I love you” is an unnecessary necessary. You are right that actions speak louder than words and we should focus on what those actions are saying. But still I need to hear those three little words every now and then. Not as the throw away line at the end of every conversation, at every bedtime, but spoken meaningfully in moments of happiness and in moments of trouble.

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  6. NO DOUBT!! YOU ARE THE BEST FATHER ON EARTH!!! THEY ARE VERY PROUD OF YOU AND LOVE YOU TOO!!! I STILL REMEMBER HOW HAPPY THEY GOT WHEN YOU ARRIVED HOME!!!

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    1. Ahhhh, Mariana!!! You are too kind. I know that you were a part of many special moments in your time with us. I am honored that you were here for many of the boys experiences–and your light still shines through them:) We miss you!!

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  7. Wow, what beautiful insights and what a beautiful piece of writing, Michael! I enjoyed the idea of love as a feather, ‘light and soft’. It reminded me of Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Thanks so much.

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  8. Oh, and by the way Michael, I have been meaning to put you onto a blog i think you will enjoy. It’s by an Australian lady called Eden, who has had a hell of a life and writes a ‘mummy blog’ with a difference. She is a fabulous writer, very courageous and vulnerable and raw. You can find her at http://www.edenriley.com

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  9. This is so wonderfully leveled with the boys vs you / you vs your parents / your family vs Pam’s which makes for a fascinating, warm,and honest read. You are SO good at this type of thing. You made the complex look so simple, which we all know is hardly the case. It took me back to my therapist’s couch and my own questions about feeling love from different directions. Bravo and many thanks.

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