One morning when my husband Tim was leaving for work, we went through our standard “goodbye” script: “Bye. I love you. Have a good day.” I happened to be holding our 9-month-old at the time, and I said, “Okay, now tell Charlie you love him.”
Tim rubbed Charlie’s funny, cowlicky hair and laughed a little. “He knows, don’t you buddy?” he said.
“No, tell him,” I insisted. “If you can’t get in the habit of saying ‘I love you’ to your baby, how are you ever going to be able to say it to your 15-year-old?”
“Does your dad tell you he loves you?” Tim asked. Zing. He got me there. “And do you know he loves you?” Zing x2. If there’s one thing I’m completely certain of in this life, it’s that my dad loves my siblings and me with an unswerving, unceasing, almost pathological devotion.
But I kept at it. “Come on. Look at this guy! He’s waiting to hear that you love him.” Sure enough, Charlie was gazing at Tim with his enormous eyes wide open and a wide, toothless grin. Finally, Tim rolled his eyes and raised the tone of his voice to sound like an old British lady and said, “I looooove you, Chaaawlie!” And he was out the door.
I don’t know why I’m so intent on establishing a verbal confirmation of love between my son and my husband. Sure, if you tell my dad you love him, you’re likely to get a response like, “Okay.” But everything I can ever remember him doing indicates how he feels about his brood. Why else would a man learn the rules of women’s lacrosse just because his quasi-athletic (and that’s generous) daughter had joined the team, and then make a fanatical study of passing and running strategy, attending every single game, home and away? Why would a guy rent a U-Haul and drive the six hours from Buffalo to Manhattan—a big-city area he instinctively mistrusts—in order to load up his 24-year-old daughter’s 32 boxes of books and move her to Rochester on the very next day? Why else would he call that same daughter whenever he had business in Rochester and treat her to a Portobello mushroom sandwich from his favorite sandwich vendor in the park across from the theatre where she worked? I can think of no reason, other than paternal love, why a lifelong baseball fan might agree to leave a Phillies game after the seventh inning stretch just because his pregnant daughter was feeling a little peaked, thereby missing the one homer in the otherwise scoreless game. And I certainly can’t credit anything but love for the Mother’s Day card I got in the mail during the first week of Charlie’s life … in September, four months after the card was purchased.
Given my history, I should be content to come home after a run to find Tim and Charlie crawling around on the living room floor, saying “AAAAAAA!” at the top of their lungs. It should be enough for me to listen to Tim reading Charlie Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?, using his “Australian” voice (which sounds a little like a South African Crocodile Hunter eating a lollipop) for the purple cat. I definitely know what Tim’s really saying when he tells Charlie, “You have the world’s biggest head!”, his voice oozing with pride.
All the same, I’ll keep pressuring Tim to spell out his affection for his son. And sure, I can foresee a day when Tim’s not the only one resisting the mushy talk. (Me: “Charlie, tell your dad you love him.” Charlie: “Mom, I’m 35. We’ve been over this.”) There’s just something internal that compels me to do it. After all, I’ve got a mom to emulate.
Happy 35th Father’s Day, Pops. Happy 1st Father’s Day, Tim. You’re both … well, you’re okay.