The Typical Motions of Love


I had to return a birthday card I bought for my dad to the store. The reason? He died before I could give it to him for his 98th birthday.

Returning the card was hard. I didn’t say anything to the clerk about why I was returning it, and she had sense enough not to ask. If she had asked, I might have started to cry.

I’ve been unusually unemotional through the death of my father. Part of it is due to being busy with funeral details and all the other things that go along with the death of a parent. But I suspect another part is because I realized long ago that my father didn’t have it in him to demonstrate his love to me in the ways that I needed, or recognized.

Sure, he loved me in his electrical engineer sort of way, but it wasn’t enough for me to form a strong connection with him.

Even his own mother begged him to demonstrate his love to his children more. She did so in a letter I found in a family scrapbook. I remember feeling so exonerated when I found that letter – so free. It wasn’t just me who noticed the absence of the typical motions of love.

But you know what I received instead? A father who asked me to jog around the neighborhood with him. A father who told me it was okay to get a low grade in college, or even to flunk a class. A father who stuck by my mother although she broke their wedding vows. He was a husband who missed being apart from her even when he was in his 90s and his brain was beset by Alzheimer’s. He always knew who she was and who his children were up until the end.

He wasn’t the father I needed, but he was the father I got.

These are the things I was thinking as I returned his birthday card.

Okay. I am getting emotional now.


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