Tom’s dad was not a demonstrative man. He seldom showed his emotions, and when he did, it was restrained and even awkward. He wasn’t much of a hugger. Likewise, it was not often that he mustered an “I love you.” Words and gestures of affection just didn’t come easily to him. It was his sense of humor and appreciation for the practical joke that humanized him. But still, as a teenager, there were many times when Tom wasn’t quite sure how his dad felt about him.
As Tom’s dad grew older, he became more comfortable with his feelings. Phone calls ended with the more corporate (and comfortable) “We love you.” Then, gradually, a more personal “I love you.” Over time, it became easier to say, and they said it often. And frequently on visits, instead of shaking hands, they hugged.
Experiencing The Discomfort
As dads, we wrestle with the same difficulty. It’s sometimes hard to say “I love you” to our children. Well … let’s back up. It’s easy to say those words to children when they are walking on unsteady legs and sticking their fingers in your ear. As they approach adolescence and enter their teenage years, it’s as if the words catch in our throats. What was once easy to say to an infant can become extremely difficult to say to an ornery, obstinate, sometimes downright rude teenager.
Do we love our 16-year-old daughter any less than our 3-year-old? We don’t think so. Suddenly, however, there is greater risk in saying those words when they are going to be returned not with a giggle but with sullen silence. In trying to express our feelings to our teens, should their expected response matter? Absolutely not. Does it matter? Probably.
Understanding The Need
As we grow older, the risk of love becomes a little less — along with the awkwardness and perhaps the embarrassment. We all go through stages of doubt and uncertainty, and there is room for maturity no matter how old we are.
So, dad, say it early and often. “I love you.” Stop your teenagers in their tracks and remind them of that. Look them in the eye and mean it. Blow their minds and hug them. If this comes easily to some of you dads out there, then you won’t understand why it doesn’t for others of us. That’s OK. Our struggles are not all the same.
If your teenager demands his or her space, back off a little. In return, demand your own space and invite your teenager to share it. If he or she rebuffs your offer, make another offer and another. Nothing says “I love you” more than wanting to share your space, your time, a slice of your life with someone else.
Dad, be the grownup here. If you haven’t told your teenager lately how much you love him or her, do it right now. You may get a funny look, a smirk, even one of those annoying eye rolls — but your son or daughter will remember it.
It will matter.