I started using the words after years of frustration with my dad, who as a result of his second marriage and living in Florida, seemed to be drifting away from me and my siblings.
I can’t remember the exact occasion, but I do remember his pause and stilted reply.
I ended a phone conversation with Dad with a simple, “Love you.”
A couple seconds of silence followed. “Love you too, son,” he replied.
I know there are plenty of families out there that hug and tell each that they love each other whenever they get together or talk on the phone. My family was among those who didn’t.
That “Love you” moment marked a change in my relationship with my father. In time, every conversation with him ended with a sincere, “Love you.” He was often the one who said it first.
I made a point to go fishing with him more often when he was up from Florida for the summer. We both made more of an effort to call and keep in touch throughout the year.
The change in our relationship culminated with me taking off from work a couple of years ago to visit him at my stepbrother’s place in West Virginia. It was the first time I’d ever been there. It was during that visit that we got even closer and he related his funeral and burial wishes to me – and promised me that we’d get together the following autumn and go deer hunting together.
He died three weeks later of a heart attack. He’s gone, but I’m at peace with myself knowing that Dad knew how I felt about him.
I didn’t stop with my father.
After years of marriage, those words were often absent in my conversations with my wife. I didn’t say it much to my two children, Katie and Alex.
Seeing the impact on Dad, I started using them often with my kids. I made it a point to say it at least two times a day with my wife, Laura – first thing in the morning, and just before falling asleep at night.
Life is fragile. As a newspaper journalist, I’ve reported on all sorts of tragedies and unfortunate turns of events of people. Over the years, I have often found myself thinking: “There but for the grace of God go I.”
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come home after writing about horrible happenings and ended the day giving my wife and kids a long and sincere hug before going to sleep.
I know. Some may say they’re only words and that “actions speak louder than words.” They’ll say that those close to them should know they’re appreciated and loved. The truth is, things are constantly changing in life and in relationships and sometimes communication breaks down along the way.
My advice is if you are not already doing it, give it a try.
Start sprinkling “Love you” at the end of conversations with loved ones at the end of the day, or when you say good-bye on the phone. And damn it, give them a hug.
I don’t care who you are. It’s a comfort when they reciprocate.
It’s great to know that you are loved, too.
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