The power of unspoken love
I told him that I loved him. It wasn’t completely awkward. It wasn’t completely comfy.
I had just spent most of the day mowing the lawn, pruning the trees, sprucing up the gardens, clearing out the gutters and generally taking care of things around the outside of the house that had been neglected for a while. It was the kind of work that for those who don’t do it often makes them feel renewed and makes them remember that strong, healthy bodies are better used to sustain civilization rather than running 5Ks or holding advanced yoga poses.
He had been there almost the whole time watching me. I kept expecting suggestions for doing things better or possibly even commands to do what wasn’t getting done as the hot Texas sun rose and flexed its muscle above the oscillating waves of air rising off the asphalt shingles where I worked. But he kept his peace and composure, happy just to be outside in the fresh air again.
I was emptying mulch from my shoes, sitting on the decorative brick wall behind the hedge out front.
“You know, I really appreciate this,” he said.
“Don’t mention it,” I said. “I’m happy to do it.”
“You’re my son-in-law. You have to do it.”
“That’s true,” I said. “But I did it well because I love you.”
It was the first and only time I recall saying those three words to him. They never came up during our many rounds of golf or political arguments that seemed to constitute the bulk of our quality time.
I figured he had it coming. A couple of months earlier, he had been diagnosed with lymphoma and was now nearing the end of his chemotherapy treatment. The guy had overcome a lot in his life, including a heart attack, two melanomas, glaucoma, deafness in one ear for most of his life, Oklahoma during the Great Depression and World War II, but this cancer thing and its treatment really laid him low. A proud man not giving in to an insidious disease explained why the yard work needed catching up on.
He was definitely feeling vulnerable, and seeing him like that made me realize that not feeling vulnerable is a great deceit. I think that’s why I told him I loved him.
It’s the oldest cliche that those are the hardest words to say. To most I can say them easier than “Is the coffee ready yet?” They can mean everything from “You are a great friend” to “I can’t believe how lucky I am to be spending the rest of this incredible life with you!” With a range like that, it’s not that hard to say them if you use the right tone.
It’s the vulnerability thing that keeps fathers and sons-in-law from using them much; at least I think that was the case with Dick and me. He’d shake my hand with both of his and I’d put my other hand on his shoulder when we greeted. We both knew how much that meant.
The last time I saw him was a month ago at Christmas. And that was the way we left it. He was just coming down with a nasty case of the flu, so we expressed our affections rather haphazardly. I would like to honestly say that I wished I had known what was to come, but the truth is that we all know what is to come each second of our passing lives. There will be a last time for everything, and we need to respect that more.
We could have told each other that we loved each other lots more times, but I’m not convinced that it would have had any more impact than that one time two years ago.
You see, he helped bring my wife, his only precious daughter, into this world. He and Jane raised her to be the beautiful person she is. Then, he gave her to me! I took her faithfully, to love and protect as long as I will walk the face of this planet.
You see, there was no room for vulnerability in our pact, in our chain of commitment to this treasure and, thus, to each other. Our bond was one whose strength required no words. I loved him for his gift to me. He loved me for taking care of it. Words disappear. That never will. Still, I’ll never forget the look on his face when I told him that I loved him.
Roger Marolt loved his father-in-law and prays God holds him tightly in his arms. Email Marolt at email@example.com.
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