I’ll never forget the gripping story that Ken Canfield told about his father saying the words, “I love you.”
I will not retell it here, but suffice it to say that Ken’s relationship with his father was virtually devoid of those words; he just didn’t hear them. Much like the song sung by Reba McIntyre, “The Greatest Man I Never Knew” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4AIrDSGyqSw which ends with the arresting lyrics:
“He never said he loved me; I guess he thought I knew.”
My father loved me; I knew that, yes. But seldom was that love spoken aloud. Mother said in those days people were afraid they would “soften” their boys if they were too affectionate. And so they avoided overt expressions like, “I love you.”
Nevertheless, that inaction had a negative effect, too.
But after hearing Ken’s story I began an experiment. The experiment was this: I would take the initiative saying, “I love you,” to my parents before we said goodbye on the phone; I would not wait for them to initiate it anymore.
And do you know what? After a number of weeks, and a number of conversations on the phone, an amazing thing happened.
One day my father said, “I love you,” just before we said goodbye.
My mother had given me a quote years before; it is in the Trackside Truths on this website (they alternate daily, by the way). It said, “The best gift a child can give a parent is to set a good example for them.”
This quotation seemed to coincide with the advice given by Ken Canfield, and so I had tried it. I can’t guarantee it will work in every instance, but . . . it worked for me and my father.
It didn’t change his whole personality, no. And he still never gushed over me. But I saw light breaking through the rough exterior. Progress. And it felt good.
It has been written about profusely by other writers, but I will recount the notion here: there comes a point in every son’s life when he must decide who he wants to be, and how he wants to live his life, regardless of how his father lived his life. In other words, I had to decide to stop waiting on my father to lead the way for me; rather, I had to lead the way for him in this one regard.
“I love you.”
Those three words are priceless.