Nothing like the Valentine season to get people, even kids, talking about love. We all know that love means a myriad of things to a myriad of people. There are cultural definitions, with some languages having multiple words to express the levels of the emotion, unlike our English language which offers only one. And with just one little word to convey and explain meaning for such a big expression, no wonder it can be challenging to teach and show our kids what real love is. I mean, I love my wife and I love peanut butter. But, I can tell you that the love for my wife better bring a whole lot more with it than my love for the creamy, jarred substance. So, when our kids hear us using the same verb for so many, different things, how can we break it down for them? How do we show young children, and even grown ones, what love really is?
Obviously, the younger the child, the less complicated love can seem and the easier love can be to display. But, no matter the age, it seems that just taking time with our kids shows love in ways that mean more to them than we could ever imagine. And I know how a lot of dads are, the idea of spending time with their kids is great, as they truly love their kids…but the idea of initiating deep, loving, meaningful conversations is daunting. Sometimes, downright scary. How grateful most of us find ourselves when we realize that words are not always required to show our kids the great love we have for them.
I had, and have, a great dad. But, he was definitely from the generation of non-verbal expression within the family unit. That is, unless one of his young was in trouble. However, my own wife and kids have a hard time envisioning this, as my 76-year-old father is now one of the first to bear hug a family member and emphatically declare an emotional, “I love you!”
That stated, I don’t dwell on the number of “I love yous” I received growing up. Instead, I dwell time spent with my dad. He worked hard, and moments with him were great commodities. Some of my favorite moments, and moments in which I saw and felt love most expressed, were when we worked on my old car. More tools were passed than words, but standing side-by-side with both of our heads under the hood of that classic 1965 Ford Mustang, I felt it. I felt my father’s love.
Fast forward to my own days of dad-hood. No more perfect than any father before me, I had shining moments and colossal failures. But, one of the things that my now-grown sons remember to this very day, is either me coming home from work and simply throwing myself on the floor for them to climb around on, or me putting them to bed at night—on the nights I was home in time to do so.
I would like to think it was my stories they remember best, or my deep nuggets of shared wisdom, but no. They remember the climbing back and forth over me, the wrestling around, the being thrown onto lots and lots of cushions onto the couch, the tickling, and the laughing. (I promise no children were injured in the filming of our life story!) If one really investigated it, there were weeks when these loving memories were made in a matter of 15 minutes a day. I wish it could have been more, but I was young, they were young, and we all needed to eat. How grateful I am that love doesn’t always have to be expressed with flowery words, extravagant gifts, or costly trips. How grateful I am that love can sometimes be best expressed in just being there truly engaged.
I am now a grandfather, and am trying to show love in the same ways to my grandson and granddaughter as I did to my own sons. It takes me a little longer to get down and get back up, again, but the responses are the same. The minute I finally get my old football injury knees to bend, my grandkids are right there, ready to receive and exchange some love. Nothing could be sweeter.