My son, N, is so full of love that he cannot contain it. He is constantly giving kisses and monster hugs (much to the chagrin of his baby brother). His displays of affection make me smile, but they also make me want to protect him from those who would take advantage of his loving nature and crush his gentle heart. I was not like N as a kid. It was difficult for me to love myself let alone anyone else.
My mother tried her best to put love in my heart, but her efforts were not enough to save me. Without a strong, male figure in the home, I had no one to emulate, no one to show me how to love. I’m not saying that women cannot be role models for young boys because that’s not true. What I am saying is sometimes a boy needs a man to talk to.
As I grew into adolescence, I started hanging with some of the older neighborhood boys, fighting, drinking, and getting into all sorts of mischief. If someone we didn’t know stared at us for too long or (God forbid) touched us in any way, we felt compelled to attack. It sounds pretty silly now, but back then it seemed like the right thing to do. I really don’t know why I felt threatened by these young men. Maybe I saw things in them that I hated about myself, maybe I was venting my frustrations about my father’s not being around, or perhaps I was simply insecure. Whatever it was, it kept me on the defensive.
Sometimes I would see men embracing, shaking hands, or otherwise displaying emotion towards each other. Of course, I would always label these men as sissies or punks, but in reality, they were neither. Unlike me, they were secure in their masculinity and could express themselves without foul language or violence. They felt safe in the presence of other men because they knew how to love.
Fortunately, a conversation with my father turned my life around. We hadn’t spoken in years, but something made me pick up the phone and call him. The conversation was heavy with silence. We had so much to say, but didn’t know how to say it. Then out of nowhere, he said, “I love you.” I was stunned. This was the first time that I had ever heard him utter those words to anyone. Hearing him say them to me was almost surreal. I almost cried. I felt confused, happy and relieved all at once. For years, I had been hating my father for not being around when I needed him, but those three words eased the tension of several years. It was as if I had been in the dark for several years and someone had finally turned on the lights. On that day, I told a man “I love you” for the first time and it felt good.
Though it took several years, I can finally tell another man that I love him, and mean it. But more importantly, I can believe it when I say it to myself.
So dads, hug your sons, give them a kiss, and let them know that you love them. You and your sons will be better men because of it.
Join the conversation: Have you ever had trouble expressing love? If so, how did you overcome it?
photo by Leland Francisco