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Saying ‘I love you’

December 22, 2011
The Fatherhood Journey: Saying ‘I love you’
as published in the Daily Hampshire Gazette

Finally, it’s 8 p.m.

The pre-supper meltdowns, dinner-table antics, rambunctious post-dinner play, bath time, pajamas, toothbrushing and story time have come to an end – for today. The kids are finally in bed. The house is nearly silent. My wife, Lori, heads to the bathroom for a steamy shower. I’m off to the computer to read email.

In my in-box is a message from my father. This is probably the fourth or fifth time he’s sent me an email.

No one has ever accused my father of being an early-adopter. He greets new products, gadgets and trendy ways of doing things with great suspicion.

He has never owned a computer. Never will. My old-school, self-reliant and frugal father, who ardently believes that public schools and libraries are unnecessary burdens on his inflated property tax bill, is a regular at the local public library computer station.

The email was one of those electronic chain letters with a long list of positive, heart-warming comments ending with a passionate plea that you forward it to everyone you ever knew and cared about so that you can be rewarded with evidence of your extensive network of friends and family when it circles back to you.

If it had been from anyone else, I would have hit “delete” without reading more than the subject line. My father’s note was brief: “I thought you would like this and might use some in your column.” The letter included 32 statements attributed to the late Andy Rooney, each beginning with the words, “I’ve learned … ”

One of the lessons: “I’ve learned … that I wish I could have told my Dad that I love him one more time before he passed away.”

My throat knotted. In recent years my father and I have mumbled “I love you” to each other a few times. The most recent occasion was when I dropped him off at the airport following a five-day visit with our family. Like a young boy preparing to jump off the high-dive platform, I had to work up the courage to speak these three words.

The list of mothers and daughters, as well as mothers and sons, that routinely say “I love you” to each other is much longer than the list of fathers and sons who do the same. As a child, like many of my peers, I was not accustomed to hearing those words from my father. I have no doubt they were even less familiar to my father and his peers.

One lesson fatherhood has taught me is that, words aside, fathers love their children just as much as mothers do.

Among my favorite baby photos is a black-and-white image of my father fast asleep in a recliner with me dozing on his chest.

During his recent visit I did not hear him say “I love you” to our children, Adam and Zoe. But in the middle of the night I found him kneeling at my son’s bedside, despite a replaced hip and an arthritic knee, whispering reassurance when Adam cried because of a nightmare.

Ready to join Lori for pillow talk about the day just ending, I powered down the computer and shut off the lights. I crouched next to Adam’s bed, watching the rhythm of his body as he inhaled and exhaled, and said, “I love you, little buddy.” Then I snuggled alongside Zoe, brushing back the wisps of hair that covered her eyes, and said, “I love you, sweetie.”

And as I headed to bed, I wondered what sweet things my father had whispered to me while I was sleeping.

One Comment leave one →
  1. January 30, 2012 6:58 pm

    Hi John. As a grandfather of a 3 year old who just spent three days with us, I have great empathy for what you experience as both a son and a dad. It is good to read your account of life on the parent fast track and I am glad you have taken this initiative. I am constantly in awe of how Carolyn handles all of Miriana’s request and I can only obediently respond to her requests of me even when she says NO and don’t do that. Mothers and grandmothers seem to have a knack, especially with little girls, to anticipate their needs and also know when to draw the line. It is such a delight to have a young one around in our lives and to experience her wonder and joy at exploring her world. Incidentally, one of my favorite pictures is the one you took of Derek and me asleep, head to head, at the McNamara Hut. Fortunately, we say I love you every time we talk. I am blessed in this way.

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