I found a gift tag left over from the holidays. “We love you,” it said. It was such a nice thing to hear. I can’t remember the last time I heard those words said to me with sincerity. It was even more remarkable that these words came from relatives on my father’s side of the family. The people in dad’s family are wonderful folks with great core values and integrity, but for the most part they are emotionally stunted. The emotional dynamic of most of the family ranges from a frown for displeasure to a pat on the back for encouragement. Any more feeling than that is a waste of breath.
A younger cousin asked me a few days ago, “Was my dad (my uncle) a cheerleader in high school?” I responded that males in our family aren’t capable of expressing that much excitement. We both got a good laugh at that. Its sad but true. Our fathers grew up in a time when the All-American man was strong, solid, steady, stable, sober (and a whole lot of other power words that start with “S” I’m sure). The last thing they were expected to be was “sensitive”. No matter the emotional trauma, “real men don’t cry.” If something really outstanding happens to excite you, a mild expletive like “damn” (pronounced with two syllables for emphasis, “da-yumm”) might be appropriate. Anything more than that and you might be told to “settle down”.
Our fathers love us. We know that. They told us so. They knew it was the right thing to say and do. They just couldn’t look us in the eye when they said it. I can remember my dad mumbling the words “luv-ya-son” very quietly with his eyes pointed at his shoes as he would quickly sling one arm around my shoulders and then let it slide off. The hug was over almost before I knew it happened. With the right camera angle and editing I’m sure it would have made a great comic scene on “how-not-to-hug.”
I like to look back at that attitude with as much humor as I can bring to the situation. Remember that during the “free love ’60’s” when I was born, the words “I love you” meant “I find you attractive and I want to have sex with you.” I guarantee you that after that little cultural perception occurred, no man in our family was about to say those words to another man. It just wasn’t natural. Believe me, a psychologist tried for quite a while to convince me that the reason I am “this way” is because I’m still searching for affection from a man as an adult that I didn’t receive as a child. Hmm? I disagree.
I feel that some of the most overused and abused words ever spoken are, “I love you”. These simple words can cause such joy and pleasure when spoken in honesty and cause such suffering when spoken with deception. These words, when spoken by a lover, can sustain one for a lifetime, and when spoken in betrayal, can inflict the most painful wounds. No words are more often used for the purpose of manipulation. No words are more often used to inspire guilt.
I said all that to say this. Its nice that the young people in my family (and I include myself in that) are trying to overcome the emotional absurdity of the past generation. We are finding that the word “love” means nurturing not seducing. Perhaps our family will achieve some emotional balance eventually.
I’m finding it difficult being in that bridge generation between the baby-boomers and the “metro sexual” males. I like to hear people express affection toward me but I forget to return the sentiment. I argue with myself about who is a close enough friend to demonstrate affection and who is merely an amicable acquaintance. If I show affection to someone who does not share the same feeling about me, will they consider me too forward? But, I am at the right place at the right time with the right people to teach me that. I’m with family and I’m with “family” who have no problem expressing those feelings. Little by little I’m losing my touch-me-not complex that I have had since high school. My personal space is getting a little closer. I can be embraced without feeling restrained. I can be touched without feeling fear or embarrassment and hearing “I love you”, means “I accept you.”