“I love you.”
Those three words I’ve longed to hear from my father my entire life. Those three words that I’ve never heard from him. Three simple words, with the power to change my whole world. And he never found the time to say them to his one and only daughter.
Maybe he was incapable of saying them. Maybe it just never clicked in his brain that those were words every child needs to hear. Or maybe, just maybe he never loved me and that’s why I’ve been deprived of those three words for so long.
It wasn’t just me he couldn’t show love to though. It seemed to be everyone he should love most, that he lacked love for altogether.
Regardless of the cause, intentional or not, the absence of that known love, created an absence of knowledge on what love truly is. I wish I could write about all the things my dad taught me about love, but I can’t. Instead I can share what I’ve learned about love on my own, and all the things my dad never taught me about what it means to love.
He never taught me that showing love was and is important. Not just verbally, but through any love language at all. It was like his love language was the absence of love all together, but his children and his wife were left completely love deprived due to the lack thereof from him. I never saw him show any form of affection. Through words, actions, gifts, time… anything. Not at all. I never once saw my parents kiss, or even hug each other as I was growing up. I thought that was normal. The norm to me was abstaining from physical touch. It wasn’t until I got much older and started staying the night with friends when I realized that that wasn’t really “normal” for lack of a better word. At friends houses I would see parents express love and affection and I thought it was the weirdest thing. I not for a second thought that it could possibly be my parents with the unhealthy relationship.
And then I got older, I started dating. And my relationships were all kinds of awful. I didn’t understand why at the time but now I know- it’s because my dad never taught me anything about love.
Yes, I felt love, and maybe he did too, but because of his lack of showing love I learned to suppress my feelings of love, and when I tried to express them it was always in an unhealthy way. Let me elaborate, the ONLY time I ever felt even something remotely close to love from my father was when I was in complete and utter anguish, pain, suffering, or despair. I began to associate love from my father with me having problems. So naturally, because I so desperately longed for his love, I would do anything for it, even if that meant destroying myself.
You name it, I tried it. Every maladaptive behavior in the book. And it worked, for a split second. I would catch his attention, under awful circumstances, but still, at least he noticed me. At least I wasn’t invisible anymore. And in that fleeting moment where he acknowledged my existence, I almost felt loved. I almost felt worthy of being loved. And then the moment would pass and so would the love. The moment I wasn’t in the midst of catastrophe I was suddenly the invisible girl again. So in my mind I came to the conclusion that the only way to be seen or loved, was to be so desperate that my life was at stake.
So that’s what my dad never taught me. He never taught me that I am worthy of love just as I am. He never taught me that I can be healthy and whole and lovable all at the same time.
My dad never taught me that love isn’t meant to be manipulative and destructive. I never knew that love wasn’t about keeping score, or finding some reason to trick someone into staying in your life.
My dad didn’t teach me that love is patient, and love is kind. He didn’t teach me that love is beautiful, or that the power of love is more powerful than anything else on this earth.
The picture of love I had painted in my head was that love was made to be painful, it was full of loss, and it was destructive. What I believed to be true, was all backwards. My dad taught me the opposite of love. Not hate. Oh God, I wish it were hate, at least then I would have felt something. No, the opposite of love is indifference as many say. It is the cold numbness of not feeling anything at all.
My dad never taught me about love. He never taught me how to receive love, or how to give it. He never taught me how to feel love, or to let it be felt. My dad never taught me, that I was worth loving.
Years, and a million counseling sessions later, I am able to write this article. Not from a place of bitterness either, but a place of acceptance. I am not angry at my dad for not teaching me about love. Parents aren’t perfect, no one is perfect actually. And I am happy to say that once I came to accept the lessons my never taught me, I was able to heal, and with healing came the ability to start over.
My dad never taught me the lesson of love; some might say the most important lesson of all. But my dad did teach me something- something I consider to be the greatest lesson I’ve ever learned. Because my dad never taught me how to love- he taught me how to forgive. And because I learned to forgive him for his humanly shortcomings, I am finally, finally in a place in my heart where I am able to learn to love.