There were exceptions of course, but life not that long ago was more about survival than prosperity or the pursuit of our ideals. Due to that, psychological management was not even considered; raising children was largely seen as an exercise in teaching them to survive by the time they no longer had a parent.
As I’ve noted in pieces I’ve written before, up until the 1960’s it was common for parents to be taught that open love or coddling would result in weakness, and that a parent’s job was to prepare children for the harsh realities that go with dealing with a society filled with humans, all learning how to be better people as they go.
If someone survived and improved the world rather than made it worse, a parent was seen to have succeeded. This didn’t mean people were cold or uncaring, but they were often more practical than emotionally supportive. If painful things happened, most kids were just told quite matter-of-factly that life included pain because that’s the truth.
On top of the generational zeitgeist that focused more on the practical than the emotional, my own father had a father who was apparently quite abusive and threatening. My Dad’s response was to want to be the opposite of his father –and he is.
But despite him being so awesome, he still was not raised with a language for love. His love is expressed by giving others his full attention, which feels wonderful to experience. But turning his feelings into words is as weird for him as it would be for us to try to find words to describe the colour red to a person who had been blind all their life. But that doesn’t mean we haven’t found a way to communicate.
When I say “I love you” to my fantastic Dad, he answers “Good.” It took me a while before I realized that he had found a better exchange than I had intended.
I was assuming we were trading ‘I love you’s,’ but he answers ‘good’ because –if I love him– then that means he’s not like his Dad and his greatest fear was being like his own father. I got to be the one to tell him he wasn’t. I get to confirm that his most important goal in life was achieved. How lucky is that?
He might be 93, have dementia and be super challenging in various ways, but we still find numerous times a day where our love for each other is softly and beautiful displayed in ways that make a hard job still feel entirely worth it. Every time I get worn and let him down it makes me a better person, and spending the majority of my time making this great man feel safer in his most vulnerable years is a powerful privilege that I am honoured to fulfill.
Remember, no matter how things appear, there is always room in life for more love.