Bud was sitting in the backseat of the car as we pulled up to his mom’s house. He said goodbye to my friend in the front passenger seat, and looked at me. “I love you, Dad.” “I love you too, Bud. Do you have your keys?” He waved them in the air so that I’d see that he did. Then he got out of the car.
As he walked away my friend turned to me and said, “Wow. Did you hear that?” “Hear, what?” “He told you that he loves you! He’s almost fifteen for Chrissakes! When you were his age would you ever have told your Dad that you loved him in front of one of his friends?” He paused, long enough for me to realize that the answer to that was an obvious no, then added. “You two, have done a wonderful job with your kids, you know?” I nodded, and smiled. “He’s a great kid.” Pointing with his index finger, my friend waved his right hand the way I remember his father doing when he wanted to make a point. “They both are.” We sat with the stillness of that for the short ride to my home.
Sometimes I think telling me she loves me is Sweets favorite thing to say. “I love you Daddy.” “I love you, too, Sweets” is our typical exchange repeated through the day, every day. It’s said frequently enough that it’s like a mantra. I used to wonder if she was checking to see if I really did love her. As if there was a possibility in her mind that I might not respond, or say, no. Now I think it’s just the air we breathe. She’s rich and full. Like a good mantra, “I love you” grounds us.
Sweets is young enough, that her “I love you” comes from a cup that only remembers that love overflows. The wonder of Bud’s “I love you” is that he is old enough to realize that not everything works out in the end. He loves the repeated phrase from the Hunger Games books, “May the odds be ever in your favor…” and is discovering that life, like the game in the book, is unfair. The world can be hard. At the same time, he is also learning to identify his needs. It’s the coolest thing. Something like that can only happen when a person begins to understand who they are. Neediness, in contrast, comes from our emptiness. From the way we feel that we’re lacking, and so, we need approval for example, to know we’re okay, or we need to be in a relationship to feel whole. He’s growing up. He’s beginning to have a sense of who he is. What a kid!
I love them both. I would do anything for them. When the kids were younger it was easy to see cause and effect between what I would do as a parent, and the impact it had. Just think of the game “peek-a-boo.” Adults don’t play peek-a-boo with kids because it makes the adult feel good, though it does that in a marvelous way. We do it, because we see the joy the child experiences from the play of the game. I think it’s one of the ways we are reminded what it means to love another person unconditionally. Sebastian Moore reports that Marshall Rosenberg–who works in conflict resolution–says that “what we want above all things is to be the cause of joy in each other.” We want to love and be loved. Not for any reason or because of anything we do. We want to be loved for ourselves, as we are.
The kids and I have all the disagreements parents have with their kids, of course. The way I make them happy is different today than it was when we played peek-a-boo. Then, many games brought the cry “Again Dada, again!” Seeing them happy remains something precious, as does seeing them become individual selves. When I told my son that I didn’t like the Hunger Games movie, he didn’t take offense. He didn’t receive it as a rejection. Instead, he calmly suggested that I read the book. That is exactly what my friends said. That sort of thing is happening more and more. Still, I wonder, am I leading them anywhere good? I worry, even though I know it doesn’t matter how much I want to try and see down the road of their lives. Anything I think I see, is an illusion. Heck, I have a tough enough time seeing down my own road. Anyway, that’s my head trying to control, a richness my gut knows only comes when I am true to the love in my heart.