Today as I drank my morning coffee, I was reminded that it is Fathers Day. The tears came suddenly as sweet memories of my dad flooded my soul. I decided to re-post a blog I did six months ago. I would be very honored if you would read it. Then, if your dad is still living, say the words, “I love you.” If he is nearby, hug him. If he doesn’t like to be hugged, do it anyway. Someday you will long to do so. And if you are a Dad, say the words a hundred times to family and friends today, magical words, words we were created to hear. I love you! I love you! I love you!
This one is for you Dad! Can’t wait to see you again.
As we pulled into the driveway to visit my parents I was angry. Still fuming over how it all started several months before.
I had just returned from a ceremony where I had received the gold medallion award for my book Jumper Fables. The plane had leveled off at 35,000 feet and I tipped my seat back to catch up on some sleep. My eyes settled on the baggage compartment where the engraved placard commemorating my accomplishment was safely stored. Then suddenly, I was sobbing. Not the quiet respectable sobs of an adult but the choking, uncontrollable, snot yielding sobs of a child. Tears streamed down my cheeks. The man sitting next to me handed me the cloth that lay on his seat back tray. I used all of it. Evidently, before the emotion that triggered this reaction had entered my conscious mind it lived for a long time at some subterranean level of my inner soul. When it was finally exposed to the light it was not a wispy apparition. It was full grown, HD quality, focused and clear as crystal. In that moment I recognized what it was that had wandered below the surface, silent and unresolved for so many years. I wanted my dad to see this plaque. I wanted to hear him say, “I am so proud of you.” I wanted to hear my dad say. “I love you.”
I grew up during the changing of the guard that controlled a man’s expression of emotions and feeling. My dad’s generation expressed love by putting food on the table and a roof over the families head. Real men didn’t outwardly express love or sorrow with spoken words. Those were signs of vulnerability and my dad survived three and a half years as a prisoner of war where vulnerability meant death.
I don’t think I ever doubted dad’s love. I just needed to hear the words.
I pulled a piece of paper from my briefcase and quickly wrote the first and only letter I ever wrote specifically to my dad. I poured out my heart. I told him what I had just experienced. I confessed that much of my driven personality came from my desire to please him and make him proud. I expressed my deep love for him and with trembling hand confessed my desire to hear him say the words, “I love you” in return.
I can still see the mailbox and smell the aroma of that morning. For days after I mailed the letter I would jump for the phone each time it rang. It might be dad. He had read my letter and now I would hear the words I was born to hear. Days became weeks and weeks stretched into months. Anticipation was replaced by disappointment and disappointment degenerated into anger. And with anger an ominous ghost of doubt sulked nearby, begging to be embraced. What if he doesn’t love me? Maybe I have to do more, be more, achieve more in order to gain his respect and love.
Now as we pulled into the driveway after 12 hours of butt numbing travel, anger once again summoned the ghost of doubt. I could feel him probing to find access to my heart. Why didn’t Dad at least acknowledge getting the letter? Did he even get the letter? What will I say when I see him?
We entered my parents home without knocking and were immediately greeted by my startled and surprised mom. Mom startles easily. She would have been startled even if we had called from the front porch to tell her we were about to open the door. Dad came and gave us each of us his trademark wrestler hug. I am sure I was stiff and unresponsive but he didn’t seem to notice. After the initial greetings he disappeared into the garage where old lawnmowers, oily chainsaws and beat up snowmobiles stood in testimony to his master skill of fixing the unfix-able.
Immediately my mom pulled me aside. “I want to show you something,” she said, motioning for me to follow. She led me into their bedroom and with a flair of pretend annoyance she said, “Stop sending your father, stuff. He is turning our bedroom into a shrine.” The room was dimly lit by a small candle sitting on a table against the wall. Next to the candle was my college graduation picture. The wall above the table was covered with dozens of newspaper clippings. There were interviews and reviews of my shows sent to dad by friends and relatives. Nestled among the clippings was an article with a picture of me receiving the gold medallion award for “Jumper Fables.”
Then a small homemade frame caught my eye. I moved closer to see the picture in the flickering light. It wasn’t a picture at all. Dad had framed the letter I had written at 35,000 feet. My knees buckled as I reach for a place to sit on the end of the bed. Tears, snot and sobs made their dramatic and unexpected entrance again.
That dimly lit wall screamed to me, “I LOVE YOU, SON!” YOU ARE MY PRIDE AND JOY!
With an audible groan, the ghost of doubt disappeared never to be seen again.
I have scavenged my brain to remember if there was a time my dad ever verbally said, the words “I love you” unfettered by qualifiers like “I love you but with a Godly love.” I just wanted to hear I love you from my dad. If he said it, that memory is lost somewhere. I couldn’t find it.
Life had not taught my dad the verbal language of love. I believe he wanted to say “I love you” but didn’t know how. He knows how to express it now, because he is with the ONE who expressed it best of all. At my fathers memorial, I made two resolutions I hope might be helpful to you.
1. I resolved to confirm my love to the people I care for with WORDS. Your family, friends and Savior long to hear “I LOVE YOU”…… Say it! Say it often!
2. I resolved to strive to understand the unspoken language proclaiming “I love you.” Scour the candle lit walls. Read the note from your child. Feel someone squeeze your hand. Even if you don’t hear the words, read between the lines and believe that you are loved.
Am I alone here? I would be honored to know how the words “I love you” or the lack of them has affected your life. Has someone built a shrine that screamed “I love you,” into your life. Did you read between the lines? Your comments are valued and anticipated.