For the longest time, saying “I love you” was not something I did to my fellow male friends and family, including my father. Not because there was a lack of love. I find myself very fortunate to have been able to share in great friendships and a loving family.
This simple, yet powerful, phrase is something that is commonly not shared amongst men.
Call it taboo.
Call it soft.
Call it weak.
Call it whatever you want.
Not that long ago, I finally came to terms with the fact that “words of affirmation” was a primary love language for me. Admittedly, I felt guilty receiving any verbal compliment, or any recognition of kindness and appreciation. To say “I love you” was, in my mind, something I could only comfortably share with my significant others, or only playfully with others in a way that almost felt like a joke.
After my father almost died from some complications during cancer treatment, I began a journey of introspection. One of the observations I sat with: “Why don’t you say ‘I love you’ to your dad?”
Was it shame?
Fear of judgment?
This troubled me for a long time. The question that began to arise: “Would I regret not saying it?”
Having been blessed with the gift of extended time with the man who gave me life…
Who worked tirelessly to provide me opportunities to grow…
Who shared insight, wisdom, and kindness that many children could only dream of…
The resounding voice in my heart and mind spoke back: “Do Not Waste this Opportunity.”
So, I decided I was going to change.
During the pandemic, he and I had started to have weekly video chats. Nothing structured or planned, it simply became routine. (For the record, I also used to almost never call home, and I have my wife to thank for fixing that)
One day, I decided that THAT was going to be the day I started ending calls by saying “I love you.”
No expectation for anything in return. Just to share my feeling of appreciation and acknowledgement for my dad. Because I thought he deserved to know.
I could not believe the feelings of anxiety and uncertainty that flushed over me before the call. After all, it’s JUST three little words of the English language. Not that big a deal right?
In any regard, the call went forward. And as the time to end arose, the words quickly rushed out of my face. I smiled, and probably awkwardly hung-up. It’s a bit of a blur. And I don’t even remember if he said it back or if I gave the chance to. But, I did it.
And then I kept saying it. Every call.
Most times that was the end of it (and perhaps I’m misremembering timelines or details). But after some time, he would say it back.
Then, not particularly related, we decided to go on a trip. A two week journey through the national parks out west. He used to use nature adventures as his muse for his artwork. This inspiration was something I always admired and in part I wanted to better understand his life. I believe it was 9-12 months between committing to the trip and setting out, and weekly calls with the same sign-off continued.
To say that this excursion alone with my father was profound, is still understating it. I left this adventure knowing all that needed to be said had been said. That I felt connected, appreciated, and understood by the man who has served as an incredible role model. Spending time in the vast beauty of nature, telling stories, laughing, and just appreciating this unbelievable opportunity to be sharing this experience together.
One specific night on this trip stands out.
We were at the half-way point. Closing out a day in the Grand Canyon that was unique in its own right. It SNOWED… IN APRIL! And we were there for it. Not that we did much nature-wise because it was foggy and not super accessible, but we found a couple activities in town.
At night, we hit up the Mexican restaurant next to our hotel. That was our spot everyday we were there. Great food, great margaritas… but I digress.
Our nightly ritual of sitting down for a meal opened up to great discussion.
On this night, I reminisced on some of my observations of the past. Of my work, my trials and tribulations, my relationships, my journey. And then, I brought up this habit.
The habit of saying “I love you.”
For full effect, mind you, I have tears rolling down my face in our corner booth of the restaurant (everyone who knows is aware that I’m not afraid to express my emotions nowadays). I have never felt so open and honest in speaking with someone I revere and respect and view as an authority in my life. Words don’t do justice to how I felt in that space.
And then he responded. With a gentle smile across his face, and handing me a napkin with a kindness and softness to wipe my eyes, he took a beat and replied…
“You know what?… I noticed when you started doing that. And I’m really glad you did.”
I’m not usually at a loss for words (ask my wife), but this one got me. Could’ve been the entire trip right there and it would have been worth it.
As I look back now, I ponder on what allowed for that moment.
There’s a lyric from Snow Patrol’s “Chasing Cars”...
“Those three words are said too much, but not enough.”
In this world of surface level gratification, most people just say things to get what they want. There is no gravity to their words.
When I consider the build up to this exchange, I think about the lifetime of behaviors. What it took for us merely to be capable of sharing any experience like that. From the financial, time, and energetic resources. To the ability to communicate, to trust, and to understand. We had both known the difficulties of leading organizations, the feelings of heartbreak, and of loss. To appreciate the concepts of persistence and consistency.
And to have CHOSEN to continue to grow our relationship as a father and son, as two men, as two humans.
To have said “I love you” repeatedly in our words and in our actions.
It’s what gave that moment weight and meaning.
As I look to the future, and as I hope to inspire some insight and value to you, the reader, I take from this reflection a simple understanding…
LOVE is a HABIT.
Belief and confidence in the sincerity of your expression of love is built over time. With repeated behaviors. In the reliability that you can deliver when called upon. In your willingness to be committed to growing a connection.
Seek to understand what is important to your counterpart. Whether it is a friend, a family member, or a significant other.
Show up, deliver, and repeat.
You will find something beautiful on the other side.
Until next time…
Love. Every. Body.