Is This Love?

June 17, 2012 at 8:15 am (Life) (, , , , , , )

I always have had mixed feelings about father’s day.

I don’t (usually) send my father a father’s day card. I struggled for years over this and how to sign the cards when I did send them. I couldn’t, for years, sign them Love – I wasn’t sure I loved him and I couldn’t lie about it. Saying/speaking the word Love only when meant was too important.

My father left us when I was around two and a half years old. I didn’t see him again until I was eleven. He didn’t support us financially and the system didn’t make him (he had another family to support by the time everything went through the courts).

I don’t have any childhood memories of my father’s love. For years, I questioned whether or not he loved me or if I should love him.

Loving my father felt like betraying my mother.

My father didn’t teach me to fly a kite; my younger brother did.

My father didn’t teach me to ride a bike; my older sisters did.

My father didn’t feed and clothe me; my mother did.

My father didn’t teach me to swim; my mother’s parents paid for lessons.

My father didn’t hold me or hug me or love me; sometimes it felt like no one did.

I could easily write pages of what my father didn’t do and struggle for hours to tell you what he did do (besides leave).

I know my father left; left not just me but left all of us to struggle and survive.

And I can’t hate him for it but I’m not sure I can love him for it either.

What is love?

Is love never having to say you’re sorry.

I spent years wanting him to apologize.

I spent decades waiting for him to say “sorry.”

Even though, as I grew older, I could see how mismatched he and my mother are.

Somewhere along the way, I stopped waiting for him and I stopped questioning love.

All I ask for, in my relationships, is honesty.

I’ll be honest with you and you be honest with me.

(Anyone, want to ask how that’s been going.)

If only love were simple.

I think that my father thinks love is simple, that love is easy and that love is in the showing not in the telling.

I first met my father when I was eleven and spent my first time alone with him (with his family; far away from my mom) when I was twelve. At his house, I discovered a book of “Love Is” cartoons.

Love Is… is a single-frame comic strip. (Click here to read it at gocomics.) The upper left-hand corner starts with a simple phrase which always begins with the words “Love Is…”, the drawing appears in the middle and the remainder of the phrase is at the bottom.

My father bought the books for my stepmother.

Years later, when I was an adult living in his house as I transitioned out of university and in to a job, I discovered that he kept the two small Love is dolls in his workshop where he could see them every day.

I don’t dispute that my father loves. I just don’t know if he loves me.

I could rant on about all the inequalities in his relationships with his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

But I’m trying not to be that petty.

It shouldn’t matter if my father loves me.

I love me.

“For the first time in a long time, then, it felt uncomplicated. It was just love, after all, that I felt for my father, and that wasn’t so hard.” (p. 166)

The Sentimentalists
by Johanna Skibsrud
2010 Scotiabank Giller Prize Winner (1st Novel)
Toronto: Douglas & McIntyre, 2009

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