I vividly recall the one time I was hugged by my father. It was 9:05pm. Why do I know that? Because I was 5 minutes past curfew. I was already on uneven ground with my parents because they didn’t approve of my high school girlfriend.
It’s pouring down rain and I’m standing at our front door waiting for my parents to come to the door to let me in after being late returning from dinner with my girlfriend’s family.
I received the initial scolding of being late.
“There are rules for a reason.” Yada yada yada.
So how did this lead to a hug?
My brother nor I heard “I love you” from our parents until well after college. My family expressed love through their time and gifts. As a teenager, I didn’t have the presence of mind to appreciate quality time as an act of love. They were my parents – they were supposed to be around. <- Spoken from a truly privileged viewpoint.
All the while, I experienced my friends, my girlfriend and others in my life express love through their words and their hugs. In my teenage mind I equated it to this: Their parents say I love you, so they are loved. My parents don’t say I love you, so am I loved?
So there I am, standing on the front stoop of my childhood home. Dripping wet. Shamefully waiting to be let in the house. 5 minutes late. Wondering if I’m loved.
After some stern words from my father, I let years of pent up emotion release. In my long diatribe, I said eight words that I know brought pain to my father: “I don’t even know if you love me!”.
I stopped after I said it. Not because I was done talking, but because his expression changed from anger to hurt. He said “What do you mean? Of course we love you.”
“You never say I love you. You never hug me. How do I know?”
To my father’s credit, he grabbed his drenched son and hugged him while saying
That was the first hug I can remember from my dad.
Expressing love openly is hard if you didn’t grow up with it.
A few years later, I met a friend, who said I love you to basically everyone. Family, friends, girlfriends – anyone whom he cared for. I thought it was crazy, borderline disingenuous. Within weeks of meeting me, he was telling me he loved me. Is he serious? What did I do to deserve love that quickly?
I heard ‘I love you’ more from him 3 months than I did from 18 years with my parents. It actually irked me on occasion. I don’t even say this to my parents!
Deep down, I believe it irked me because I was uncomfortable with the word. I thought it was reserved for one of the few times in your life (yes, life) where you really meant it.
Funeral of a loved one
And here he was, telling me he loved me as he hopped on his Razor scooter on his way to History Class. This guy must be nuts!
Then, I began to notice things. Each time he ended a phone conversation with a family member: I love you. Each time a friend was leaving for the weekend: I love you. Each time he felt love: I love you.
The more I got to know him and how deeply he cared, I came to appreciate and even envy his ability to outwardly love. I still had a fixed mindset about love, but at least now I wasn’t irked. I would do my best to absorb his love, but I was still too uncomfortable to say it back.
You’re probably thinking: He is one of your friends and you can’t say I love you back? Messed up, dude.
It all goes back to the household I grew up in. I didn’t get that first hug and ‘I love you’ until I shared my frustrations at the age of 17.
I didn’t get my 2nd until I went off to college.
The 3rd? When I got married.
Consistent words of affirmation and hugs didn’t happen with our family until 2018. What changed in 2018 is my dad was diagnosed with ALS.
It took a literal death sentence for our family to adapt.
Don’t wait for a death sentence to openly love who you love.
Say I love you to the ones you love
Love openly through hugs and words of affirmation
Be outwardly grateful to the people you hold special in your life
The best way to learn is by doing. It’s why one of our principles for raising children is to “let them slam their finger in the drawer”. Literally.
When our oldest was 13 months old and pulling a drawer out and closing it shut – we could have stopped him.
Instead, we watched patiently.
Waiting for the inevitable.
As it so often does, inevitable showed up: in the form of a smashed finger and 20 seconds of hysterics.
You know what happened 90 seconds later? He ventured over to that same drawer, opened it, began to close it and simultaneously lifted his tiny fingers out of the way. He wasn’t going to make that mistake again.
It is quite literally short-term pain for long-term gain.
It is also about creativity
Kids hear no40 times more often than they hear yes. There is no better way to stifle creativity than to discourage trying.
Of course, don’t let them dart across a 4-lane highway. But find the times to let them slam their finger.