Love, Kansas Style

Love, Kansas Style

 

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My father showed love in his actions. You had to look for it.  My dad rarely, until he was much older, told me that he loved me in words except in his terrible handwriting, scribbled on birthday cards.  I think he expressed his love for me much more directly than he did for my brothers as he was the type of dad that believed in toughening up the boys and relaxing just a bit with his girl.

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My  brother, Mike,  his wife, Debbie and me. My brother was able to say I love you.

My dad expected me to mow the yard, learn to drive a truck, fix flat tires and shoot ten free throws without missing.   I don’t know what he expected of his boys, but the bar was higher, for sure. Being soft or in touch with his feminine side was not in his character except he liked to dance the waltz and the cha- cha- cha- and he could mix up a mean Caesar salad dressing from scratch.  OK, he was conflicted and raised a Baptist so I give him a bit of a break.

My dad was homophobic which unfortunately got worse as he aged.  The first time he commented that a man was “light in the loafers” was when I was with him in a men’s department store in Topeka and he was trying on a yellow leisure suit with white stitching on the lapels.  The ultimate 1970’s American kitsch in male fashion. The presumed gay man was helping to fit this unfortunate suite to my father’s 6 foot 4 inch frame.  I was along for the ride as it was summer and my mom was at work.  In my fading memory, the sales guy did seem to take his time measuring the polyester-infused inseam on my dad’s long legs but I think he was only going for accuracy not intimacy.

My dad had a commanding presence with his tall. lean frame and booming voice.  He had a good head of hair that turned gray in his early 30’s. It suited him well for his career as a high school principal and public school educator — straight out of central casting.

My brother one time commented that dad had a “big man on campus” complex and he was probably right.  Dad played basketball in high school in the tiny railroad town of Newton, Kansas, when they were in contention for state champions nearly every year. His picture was plastered on quite a few small town newspapers back in the day.  He played ball at a state university, went on to serve in the Air Force, and then started his career as a respected teacher, coach, counselor, principal and administrator in small towns in Kansas.   He was a big fish in a little pond and he loved it.

My dad was super affectionate with me, as he read a self-help book that told him that his role in raising a healthy girl was to provide praise, support and unconditional love in order to give me the gift of confidence and high self-esteem.  He actually told me this when I was a teenager.  What dad tells their kid this?  So he hugged, squeezed, and rubbed my shoulders but never did he actually say the words “I love you” until he was sick and dying.  Yes, I cried.  He gave me tons of compliments about how I dressed, or my cute, new hairstyle, my good grades, my “people” skills as he called it or on how I “was a natural” at raising his grandkids just no verbal commitments about love.

His parents, my grandparents, didn’t say “I love you’s“ either.  They were very practical, thoughtful people who valued education and did not suffer foolishness.  They were caring but I think they thought if they said, “I love you” often it became meaningless? Or something along those lines.  It was inherent in our family’s culture.  Maybe it is a white, Protestant, Midwest characteristic? Growing up, I did hear some friend’s parents telling their kids they love them before we skated out the back door for small town fun but not very many. And rarely did I hear other dad’s using loving salutations beyond a grunt or an eye roll.

As parents, we are not going to get it right all the time.  But I do think we need to tell our children in words, that “we love them”.  RM and I should probably say it more often to our three C’s.  RM is much better at expressing his feelings than my dad or me for that matter.  It is probably one of the reasons he is so attractive to me. I love it that he cries along with me as we watch sad movies or how he tears up when he says, “good bye, I love you” when one of us leaves home for an extended time.

So, this Father’s Day, if you are lucky that your dad is with us, please try to utter, out loud, the words, “I love you”, to him even if it is excruciatingly painful for the both of you.  It gets easier, the more you say it, and in my opinion, no less meaningful if said a lot.

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