“Sometimes,” my daughter muttered, “I just hate this family.”
I smiled a bit ruefully. “Are you sure it’s the family, or just your dad for penalizing you when you fail to do what you’ve agreed to?”
“This whole family,” she insisted, “for lots of things!”
It had been a bad day from the beginning. Gremlins had invaded her room, tearing a newly completed English assignment to tatters. Later, some one had mistakenly informed an anonymous male caller that she wasn’t home. Finally, just as she was ready to take flight for a college song practice, I had advised her that the car, which she had been counting on, would not be available. Reason: She had fallen badly behind on her assignment—the family wash.
The penalty was reasonable; it had been set forth clearly long ago, agreed upon (reluctantly on her part) as just. But the timing was bad—not only because it came at the last moment, but also because the penalty had not been extracted consistently in the past. Instead of training my daughter to do the wash, I had been training her to try outguessing me.
“That’s one word—h-a-t-e—I wish you’d eliminate from your vocabulary,” I said. Again, a good idea, a reasonable one. Again, poor timing. It was not the moment for criticism, added emotional burdens, or even mild suggestion.
“I don’t care,” she replied, “it’s what I feel.” Moments later, she banged out the door to ride with a friend who had come to her last-minute rescue.
“Maybe I should extend the penalty, just for that door slam,” I told her mother. Foolish thought—error number three. It would take a very self-controlled daughter indeed to restrain her emotions under such circumstances, especially one in a hurry, late for practice, possibly facing ridicule from her peers.
Afterward, with a little perspective, I tried to make amends. Knowing she might arrive home late, I wrote her a note.
“I’m really sorry about the tough time you had today and for the way I added to it. I think you’ll agree that the penalty itself was fair, but I’m sure that I must be more consistent so that you will always know exactly where you stand. What I’m striving to do is foster more responsibility on the part of everyone, myself included. But often I don’t do very well at it.
“More importantly, though, I want you to know how much I love you. You’re a great daughter and doing an outstanding job in lots of ways. I really and truly do LOVE you!
I taped the note to her bathroom mirror, knowing there is no swifter means of conveying a written message to any teenage daughter, short of presenting it in person. (Notes to sons and younger children go on the refrigerator, of course.)
Typing away in my loft hours later, I heard the door open. I glanced up to see her standing there. “Hi,” she said shyly. “I just want to thank you for that note. It really means a lot to me. And … well, I’m sorry about the way I acted today and everything.”
“Hey, c’mere,” I said, and motioned her over, slipping my arm around her waist. “I’m sorry about the way I acted. It was a lot my fault. But one of the neat things about being human is that we can recognize our failings and repent. We can improve and, best of all, help each other.”
“Right,” she said, “and I’m going to try lots harder.”
“Me too,” I replied.
“I’d better get to bed now,” she said, and gave me a kiss on the cheek. “Love ya!”
“I love you too,” I told her.
I have reflected upon such experiences often, each time becoming more certain that no single utterance is as fundamental to our happiness, sense of self-worth, understanding, spiritual rapport, or harmony in the home, as those three simple words: I love you. This is one of those eternal truths we can never learn well enough, emphasize too strongly, or perhaps master completely.
As fathers, heads of households, we have a mandate to use the word love often and sincerely, to epitomize it in all our acts and relationships. Love is the key requirement in the first and second great commandments—love of God, love of others. Indeed, as Paul informs us, without love we are nothing. (See 1 Cor. 13:2.) John tells us that “God is love” (1 Jn. 4:8), meaning that our Heavenly Father personifies that most esteemed of all virtues in its fullest and most perfect sense.
Surely no man—or woman—can hope to progress very far along the path toward godhood who is not saturated with love to overflowing, who is not committed to an expansion of that particular attitude everlastingly.
Love, more than anything else, is a feeling that increases with sharing. The more generously we give it, the more swiftly it is returned and the more fully it abounds. Following are three suggestions that can help ensure a growing harvest of love.
As husbands and fathers we must look to ourselves very honestly and objectively. How often do we actually say “I love you”? Many a good bishop and countless other Church leaders have heard with sorrow the lament, “My husband never says he loves me.” Husbands sometimes try to justify such emotional stinginess with the excuse that their wives already know they are loved and “don’t need to be told.” Refusal to say “I love you” with the excuse that one’s love is already obvious is like refusing to say “Thank you” on the assumption that those who give are automatically aware of our gratitude.
Wives, mothers, sisters, brothers, and children are sometimes guilty as well—a fact once amusingly dramatized in certain LDS radio ads. In one of them, for example, a daughter away from home phones her father to confess that she truly loves and appreciates him. The father exclaims in amazement, “Who is this?”
But while it’s true that expressing love is a mutual responsibility, those children who have the greatest difficulty saying it are usually those who have heard it least.
Years ago I heard a story about a man who was having family problems because of the worries he carted home nightly from work. Without intending to, he had begun to make his family scapegoats for his anxieties and frustrations. Fortunately, he became aware of what was happening and repented. His desire to change was so sincere that he purchased a large urn and placed it on the front porch of his home. Then, before entering each evening, he would pause, mentally extract any ill feelings, and place them in the urn. Thus liberated, he could make his entrance with a smile, emanating happiness and love.
A front-porch urn may not be the answer for all of us, but the principle is sound. A father who returns home with a cheerful, charitable outlook is better prepared to give his family the love and attention they so greatly need.
A father can show his love through plenty of wholesome physical contact. Few activities, for example, can bring a man closer, literally and figuratively, to his children than simply wrestling and rolling about with them on the carpet or back lawn. In our family we also have a tradition known as “prayers and hugs,” and that’s exactly what it entails. How many nights, forgetful of the hour, have I been alerted to my parental responsibility by the rallying cry, a child’s voice calling, “Come for prayers and hugs!” Few occasions furnish a more natural opportunity for the pat or squeeze, the rubbing of shoulders, and afterward the rib-crunching embrace, along with words of devotion.
Surely, there are many other ways of showing our love. Service—freely given—is perhaps the best means of demonstrating it in the long run. Whatever the form, however, love should become such a basic part of our spiritual-emotional metabolism that its expression is as natural as our breathing, as the very beating of our hearts.
“More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of,” Tennyson once wrote. Over the years I have become convinced that any attitude, feeling, or outlook we desire can be strengthened—and strengthened in some measure immediately—if we pray for it earnestly and selflessly. Do we desire better control of our tempers? Greater faith and courage? Peace of mind? Less pettiness? Added determination? Purer thoughts? Increased love?
Of course we do, and we should pray for such things often. We must let our Heavenly Father know that we are truly committed, willing to go many extra miles, and that we desire assistance for the great purpose of serving him better.
Any blessing of the mind and heart approached in that spirit, especially the blessing of growing love, will be realized.
After reading “Love, Dad,” you may wish to consider some of the following questions:
1. How did the author strengthen himself by apologizing to his daughter for his part in the disagreement they had?
2. While a father should be an exemplar in showing love in the family, how can mothers and children do their part to help love flow unchecked?
3. What behaviors must little children see in the home to learn the principle of harvesting love through sowing it?
4. Do your children (or parents, or spouse, or extended family) frequently hear you say you love them? See you show it?