As I sat at the foot of his bed in the hospital, I looked up at him and saw him looking right back at me. With his bright blue eyes, eyebrows lifted, he mouthed to me, “Hi.” “Hi Dad” I replied, smiling back at him. “I love you,” he mouthed to me. My heart swelled. Even in his last week as he lay there, fighting his last fight, there was no shortage of love from him. My dad passed away a few days after this interaction and as I reflect back on him as a man, a husband and a father, two things really stand out that I want to share with all you men/fathers/parents out there. 1) There’s never too many I love you(s). Never. 2) Love/respect your children’s mother. It matters. Dads, YOU matter. More than you know. Your kids are watching, feeling, responding to these relationships, whether they are 5 years old or my age now, 50 years old. It’s transformative.
My father adored my mother. Adored her. When he would come home after work or from a long business trip, which he had many of; we kids would be clamoring to say hi to him and if he had his suitcase, oh man. To find out what he brought for us was more than we could handle! Even still, he would push through the mayhem, put his suit jacket and briefcase down and find my mother. It was she who he greeted first. Every. Single. Time. If she was at the sink, he’d hug her from behind giving her a smooch on the neck. Or maybe she was downstairs, or in the den. Didn’t matter. He’d find her and we would wait. As excited as we were, we knew to wait. I loved this then, as it provided such a sense of security and I love it now, as I can see now how it affected my life today. It’s what my husband has done and continues to do with me. That modeling of love and respect shown then became my own reality in my life. I also know it has been influential for my kids and that they are watching their father. Just recently, my son asked me if papa and I were ok. I was a little taken aback and said, of course, why do you ask? His reply stunned me. “Because he doesn’t kiss you when he comes home anymore.” During a time when my husband was personally having a hard time, what I viewed as giving him space and room, my kids were viewing as something wrong because they noticed a change in such a small, yet significant daily gesture. Dads. If there is anything you take away from this, know your kids are aware. They are paying attention. They notice how you treat their mother. Whether you are still together or not, how you treat their mother, it matters. I watched my father, my kids are watching their father and someday, their kids will watch them. My hope and prayer is that they, as parents, will carry on that same gesture, or some sort of gesture of their own, perhaps, that emulates love, adoration and respect to the mother of their children.
After the love for my mother, there was never any shortage of I love you(s) to us kids. He modeled this in so many ways and I know it has shaped who I am to my children today. These expressions of love would be given without circumstance or reason. It could be as random as a stop in the hallway to pull us into a hug, look us in the eye and say, I love you. It would feel like nothing else mattered as much as you did in that moment. The ghost kisses at night as he would put us to bed. By the way, if you don’t know what a ghost kiss is, let me tell you, as a kid, they were the best! The squeeze of the knee, while he drove you to someplace you needed to be, or like I mentioned earlier, the silent gaze with bright blue eyes, the rise of the eyebrows and a simple whisper, “I love you”. There was never, ever, a shortage of I love you(s) from this kind, gentle soul. And to that I reply, I love you too, Dad. I love you, too.