After receiving a Gold Medallion Award for my book, Jumper Fables, I sped to the airport to catch a flight home. Tucked under my arm was a plaque engraved with my name commemorating the honor.
When the plane leveled off at 35,000 feet, I tipped my seat back to catch up on some sleep and glanced up at the overhead bin where the plaque was stored.
Without warning, I started sobbing. Not the quiet, respectable sobs of an adult but the choking, uncontrollable, snot-yielding sobs of a child. Some deep emotion that had been hiding for years in a subterranean level of my soul evidently decided to come up for air.
I recognized what it was. It was the desire to hear my dad say the words, “I love you.” I wanted my dad to see my Gold Medallion plaque. I wanted to hear him say “I am proud of you.” I know I am not alone.
My dad’s generation expressed love by putting food on the table and a roof over our head and for that faithful expression of love I am grateful. But real men men didn’t outwardly express love or sorrow with spoken words. Those were signs of vulnerability. My dad was a super hero. He had survived three and a half years as a prisoner of war where being vulnerable led to death, it was almost impossible for him to open up and confess his feelings for another grown person. I don’t think I ever doubted my dad’s love for me, but at that moment, at 35,000 ft, surrounded by strangers, I suddenly had a desperate longing to hear the words that heal a broken heart.
I pulled a piece of paper from my briefcase and scrawled the first and only letter I ever wrote specifically to my father. I confessed that I wanted him to be proud of me. I expressed my deep love for him and with a trembling hand wrote of how I wanted to hear him say the words “I love you.”
I can still see the mailbox, I can hear the metallic sound the little red flag made as I tipped it up so the postman would be sure to take this special delivery. For days afterward, whenever the phone rang, I would leap to answer it. It might be Dad! He had read my letter and now I would hear the words I was born to hear!
Days stretched into months. Anticipation was replaced by disappointment. Disappointment degenerated into anger. An ominous ghost of doubt skulked near me begging to be embraced. “Maybe he doesn’t love you,” the ghost smirked.
Maybe you have to do more, achieve more, or be better to gain his respect and love. The award for your book wasn’t enough. Even your letter wasn’t enough.
Those emotions still simmered as we drove from Colorado to northern Minnesota to visit my parents. As we pulled into the driveway, anger boiled to the surface and summoned the ghost. I could feel it probing for 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?
I walked in without knocking and was greeted by my Mom. Dad came and gave each of us his trademark manly wrestler hug. I’m 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 unfixable.
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. The room was lit by a small lamp on a table against the wall. Sitting on the table was my college graduation picture. The wall above the table was covered with dozens of newspaper clippings—interviews and reviews of my shows sent to my dad by friends and relatives. There was even a picture of me receiving the Gold Medallion Award for Jumper Fables.
Then a small framed picture caught my eye. “Your dad made that frame,” mom said, as I moved closer in the dim light. It wasn’t a picture. Dad had framed the letter I had written at 35,000 feet. My knees buckled. Tears and sobs and snot again made their dramatic entrance.
“Stop sending your father stuff.” My mom said, with a flair of mock annoyance. “He’s turning our bedroom into a shrine.” Indeed for me it was a shrine. That dimly lit wall screamed to me the words my dad couldn’t say. “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’ve 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 it’s with Godly love. I don’t mean to diminish God’s love, but I needed to hear my dad say he loved me with his love. If he ever said it, that memory is lost somewhere. I can’t find it. Life had not taught my dad the verbal language of love. I think he wanted to say it but didn’t know how.
He knows how to express it now. Nine years ago my father was buried with honors in the Fort Snelling National Cemetery.
But he is not there.
He is with the One who said, “I love you” best of all. Ken Davis, Sr., was set free forever on April 18th, 2006. He lives now with the Lord he loved so much. When I see him again I know the first words I will hear…. unless I beat him to it.
At my father’s memorial service I made two resolutions. I challenge you to make the same resolutions with me.
First, I resolved to confirm my love to people I care for—with words. My family, friends, and my Savior long to hear “I love you.” I have resolved to say it often, out loud.
Second, I resolved that I would strive to look between the lines to see love written on a wall or in the note from one of my children. I would hear the words when my wife Diane squeezed my hand. In the sunrise and sudden downpour of rain, I would hear God saying, “I love you. Take a deep breath, you are alive. You have the hope of eternal life.
In this post there is a message.
Can you hear it?
Read between the lines.
You are loved!