“I love you,” Mom called to me after I said good-night and turned to step the stairs to my rooms. “Love you, too, Mom.” I love you. Those three little words convey such daring risk, exposing a fathomless aching hope to be loved in return. Two little pronouns with the world’s biggest word tucked between, mediating, welding. Perhaps many children hear those words from their parents. Perhaps few. Perhaps hearing those words does not matter all that much. Perhaps they mean everything. To my best recollection, “I love you” was not stated in my childhood home. My father did not hear these three words as a child, and did not utter them as a father. But Dad’s love and sacrifice for his children are fierce and burning and unstoppable. He says I love you in so many frequent ways that do not use the words. And he employs other words, like “That was such a great meal, Rog!” or “Rog, you did so much work today!” or “Don’t wash any dishes, Rogie—leave them right there and I will wash them!” though he does not wash them because he cannot, not comfortably, not without energy and strength he no longer has, and not without pain which he endures so cheerfully. But when Hannah was leaving today after a few hours’ visit, he called out to her, “I love you, Hannah.” And she responded, “I love you, too, Grandpa.” That is how love works: articulated and reciprocated. Love practiced always produces proficiency. One day I found the courage to utter “I love you” to one of my children, one of my boys, a teenage boy, and how strange and awkward saying those words felt—how I had to choke and pull them out over and around obstructive anxiety—but I got them out, and often afterwards, because I do love my children, so why not love them openly and enthusiastically and say these three little words, why not sing the words unembarrassingly out, out to that boy, out to all my girls and boys. I had to practice saying those three small words over the course of days and weeks and years, and saying them with my voice still feels both compelling and strangling. But I feel that love, deep and real, and I want to demonstrate and verbalize that love, for I know that refraining is avoiding and damaging and sad—perhaps the greatest and most mournful of lost opportunities—while unfettering the words infuses with confidence and reassurance and comfort. As we express love back and forth, love eases and grows. Too often I stammer out a mere “Love ya Bud!” But when John or Caleb or Hyrum or Hannah or the others end every phone call and every visit with “Love you, Dad!” I know they mean it, and I know they have taken a daring risk to express their love for me and to hope to receive love back from me, and I respond with pleasure, “I love you, too, son. I am proud of you. I have complete confidence in you.” And I do.
(Pictured above: yours truly mountain biking with his son Caleb in 2018.)