I believe love is what you do, not something you feel or say. I learned this from my dad.
My dad rarely spoke. Rather than say something he didn’t believe, he would say nothing at all. And to avoid confrontation with those he cared about, there was a lot of “saying nothing at all.” Nor did my dad believe in making a big fuss over behaviors that were expected. There was no praise for getting your chores done, or doing well in school. The occasional nod of the head translated as “good job.”
My dad put his love into actions, not words. When I was little, he built me a swing. It was the best swing ever, with two long sturdy ropes fastened to a two-by-four board and hung from a high limb in a giant oak in our back yard. I could swing out over the creek, lean back and look up through the tree leaves and glimpse patches of blue sky and white clouds. I dreamed the life I would live in that swing.
He put up a basketball hoop on our garage and strung up a net for volleyball and badminton games. We had a croquet set, a ping-pong table, and every board game known to man. All my friends wanted to come to my house to play; and my dad played with us. I don’t remember any of the other dads playing with us.
Once, my dad sneaked me out of school to take me with him to the horse races. It was one of the greatest days of my life. He placed a $2 bet for me on a 20-1 shot that won!
He taught me to ride a bicycle, and later tried to teach me to drive a stick shift. He never said a word about the transmission that I destroyed.
When I wanted to go to a college our family couldn’t afford, he made it happen without ever mentioning the hardship. Four years later he accepted, without commentary, my decision to drop out one month before graduation. Through good choices and bad, his unspoken love never wavered—which gave me the freedom to choose my own path.
I was forty years old before I remember hearing my dad say, “I love you.” It came at the end of a telephone conversation as we were saying “good-bye.” It caught me by surprise, and he had hung up before he could hear me say, “What? What?” trying to confirm what I thought I had heard.
Last spring, just a few weeks before he passed away, I made an off-hand comment about wanting a wildflower garden, but the desert-baked ground was too hard to plant. It was a casual, careless remark; but my dad worked every day on that little patch of ground to make it soft enough to plant.
I believe it’s easy to say, “I love you.” The greatest lesson I learned from my dad is to do “I love you.”