There is no doubt that my Dad always loved me, and continues to do so. Although he rarely said it. In fact, in my forty-eight years of life, I’ve only recently began to hear those words cross his lips. My Dad, who is now in his nineties, responded “I love you too,” most recently as I gave him a hug while preparing to depart after a weekend visit. My Father is a part of that “John Wayne” generation where your words were few and your actions many. Further, my Dad grew up without a father, so, to be fair, he didn’t have a whole lot of positive male role models from which he could draw inspiration. My Dad’s love language was work. My Dad was always working on something. A car, a tractor, a lawn, a garden. He was forever tending to cows, pigs, and the occasional horse and goat. Preoccupied with a home improvement project or maintenance issue, there was never a moment when my Dad wasn’t doing something. Work is a wonderful trait, and I’m extremely grateful for my Dad’s work ethic, as it insured we always had something to eat, even if it wasn’t necessarily what we wanted. To this day, Dad isn’t one to carefully consider the preferences of those for whom he provides. When it came to luxuries such as ice cream, entertainment, or carbonated sodas, it was his preference that was the priority. Which practically meant that we ate black cherry ice cream, watched a lot of westerns, and learned to like whatever the grocery store had on sale that particular week.
Madeleine L’Engle observed that “the great thing about getting older is that you don’t lose all the other ages you’ve been.” As I approach my fifties, it is sometimes still difficult to imagine life in my nineties, although with every passing day it becomes increasingly more comprehensible. My Dad is hindered by hearing loss, and has lost a step or two, but his mind is still active and sharp, especially when it comes to his interest. On my recent trip home, although he had lost track of what day of the week it was, he was keenly aware of the hour, it was 10 am and time for The Price is Right. Dad was disappointed to learn it was Saturday. At ninety-one, my Dad still has all of those memories of every age in his head, although they may not be as accessible as they once were. I have all of those memories as well.
My Dad was never interested in sports. Subsequently, neither was I, until my late teens and early twenties. A deficiency that I sought to make up with investment in my Son, who I forced to play every known sport, with the exception of cricket. But had I known about it, we would have tried it. I lived vicariously through my Son when it came to many of his activities, but most especially sports. A highlight of which was his brief high school career. As quarterback he led his team down the field and scored a touchdown on the first possession. The defense adjusted, the offensive line crumbled like a cookie, and my Son broke his wrist. He then picked up the guitar and is making his life as a musician instead of an athlete. Well played Son. Literally well played! I’m proud of my Son, and I try to say it every time I see him, text him, or call him. In every interaction I want my Son to know that he is loved. Where my Dad may have said it too little, perhaps I say it too often, as what is often repeated may be underappreciated. But just as I never felt unloved, I hope my Son will always feel that as well.
And although I never felt unloved, I did feel misunderstood. I expect that my Son has experienced this in his life, as I experienced it in mine. Being misunderstood is the occupational hazard for anyone who attempts to do anything differently than those who have gone before them. Which practically exempts no one, with only differences by degree. Without misunderstandings we would have no progress, no change, no variety in our families, communities, or world.
For all the talents and abilities my Dad possesses, there are deficiencies, as there are with everyone. My Dad has always worked hard physically, whereas I have never matched his skill level or production capacity. Few people can or ever will break those records. And my ability to focus physically, for most of my life, have been plagued by an inability to escape my thoughts. A blessing and curse. One that has served me well in the world of words, books, thoughts, but has certainly hindered me in a world that places a lesser value on such things. Our world more often values those who can produce, manufacture, or otherwise relate to the capitalistic demands and desires of our economy. I think this may have been the root of the misunderstandings between me and my Dad, which is no longer the issue that it once was. Time has a way of granting perspective. I’m confident I disappointed my Father on occasion, just as I was disappointed in him. A cycle my Son and I have experienced, and that will be repeated with his children. It is the way of life in fallen world, which is made into a gift given enough time and grace. A desire to blessed by our fathers, fathers who lack the capacity to bless with any degree of perfection. It just isn’t possible. But unrealistic expectations give way to valued, if not impressive pedigrees.
And we discover we can love. We can give love and receive love. We can be transformed by love. I remember when I was younger feeling the need to say those words “I love you” to my Father. Words that I had not heard from him. I found the courage one evening to say them. And I did say them, even though we were not face to face. He was just around the corner in another room. To this day, it is impossible to know if he even heard me. But I said the words. Words that in that moment were unreciprocated. Until now. Time and perspective have a way of transforming disappointing moments into cherished memories. I love you Dad. I love you Son. I love you Scot.
“How far I have to go to find you in whom I have already arrived.” -Thomas Merton