“Of course I love my son,” replies the abusive father.  “You think I don’t?”
“Depends on what you mean by the word love,” I say.  “Are you talking about a feeling or behavior?”
“I don’t follow.”
“I believe you feel love for your son.  But love’s not just a feeling.  It’s behavior.”
“Behavior,” he repeats.
“A specific set of them, actually:  Attention.  Acceptance.  Approval.  Affection.  The four A’s.
“How good are you at those behaviors?”
He is silent.
“Look,” I say.  “I’m not trying to make you feel bad.  I know something about your background.  I know your own dad used to hit you too.”
He looks at me.
“And it’s pretty hard to give what you weren’t given.  Hard, without a healthy model, to be a healthy parent.”
“I want to,” he says.
“Good,” I say. “Then the question to start asking yourself isn’t Do I love my son?
“It’s Does my son feel loved?”

4 responses to “Love

  • Nyssa

    Thank you for this. I’ve been struggling to reconcile my father’s behavior with his love and this sums it up. I believe that he loves me. He just doesn’t act lovingly toward me and never has. It never occurs to him to ask himself if his daughter (or anyone else for that matter) feels loved, because surely the fact that he feels love should be sufficient.

    • Steve Hauptman

      I sympathize. Hard, especially for a daughter, to have a dad like that. One thought, though. Many women I know misunderstand the problem with men and feelings. They imagine the men in their lives carry all these emotions inside but choose to conceal or hold them back. In my experience most men have been so thoroughly trained not to feel (“big boys don’t cry” is one of the first lessons) that by adulthood they don’t know a feeling from a hot rock. That is, they’ve buried feelings so deeply and for so long they’ve truly lost touch with them. They’re not keeping secrets, they’re numb. And it takes lots of help, motivation and courage to break through that numbness.

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