To my Wife: I’m Sorry it’s Hard for Me to Say, “I Love You”
A story about my father and me
My decision to write about my story took a while. I realize that once it’s released to the ether, I can’t get it back. Despite my apprehension, I know other people may have suffered similar challenges. I’m not sure why we all live in a facade while suffering underneath. This phenomenon seems to be the norm since social media has so effectively proliferated our lives.
I’ve also struggled with the prospect that my father will read this. Because my relationship with him has strongly influenced how I interact with my wife, kids, friends, and family. We don’t have a relationship aside from the occasional text a few times a year. I fear he may think I don’t “forgive” him. Maybe, he thinks I hate him. I’m not sure.
Forgive or forget?
There is a difference between forgiving and forgetting. You can forgive somebody, but the things that shape who we are will not be forgotten — they may still be painful.
It’s possible to forgive but not forget.
The truth is, I eventually came to terms with my relationship with my father and our rocky past. It took a long time, but through therapy and support from my wonderfully patient wife, I’ve released any burden of psychological and emotional weight from our relationship. I’m at a point now that I feel sorry for him and hope he thrives wherever he is.
I do love him. I’ve reached contentment 38 years later. That’s good enough for me.
I don’t want people to think this is an excuse to explain my strained relationships with my wife or kids — it’s not. I merely want to help them gain an understanding of why I am the way I am. We’ve talked, but I tend to express myself in a more articulate way when I write. Hopefully, this will be here forever for them to see. Maybe my children can read this later in life to gain clarity and understanding of our relationship. Maybe my wife can read this to assure her that I love her, despite my struggle to express how I feel.
Lastly, I know other people out there struggle to cultivate and nourish their relationships because they went down a similar path. I’m not saying I understand their life story — everybody is different because of the spectrum of experiences we all face. To them, I want them to know that I understand. I also want people who have friends, spouses, or significant others who seem emotionally empty to know that they may not be — they usually aren’t. Maybe they don’t know how to express their emotions because they weren’t taught or allowed to. They also may not have received nurturing relationships from their parents.
People wonder why therapy tends to focus largely on your relationship with your parents. These relationships can profoundly change the course and quality of your lives, your significant other’s lives, and your children’s lives. It can affect generations.
This is a story about my father and me.
A rough childhood
Everybody’s childhood experiences are different. Some may read this and say, “Eh, I had it rougher than he did.” That’s fine. We are all affected by our experiences differently. In the past, I’ve done the same thing. I’ve looked at friends and family and thought, “What’s their problem? They act like their life is hard — you didn’t grow up as I did.”
This thought-process could have been borne out of observations I thought were entitlement, a lack of resiliency, or even my kids complaining about something insignificant. But now, I never judge anybody’s situation. My life’s journey has led me to become somewhat of an Empath. I’m more in tune with my emotions and recognize the emotions and struggles of others. It’s been very beneficial. I’m still working on it, though.
Growing up, my living situation was very confusing. When I was young, I remember living with my grandfather, then my father and his last wife before they divorced, back with my grandfather, with my grandmother and great-grandmother on my dad’s side, and a few random people’s houses of whom I didn’t know.
From birth to about the age of 14, my life was very chaotic.
Then my grandfather came to pick me up one day, where my dad left me. During that time, my dad was using drugs heavily, drinking, and whatever else he was doing, I’m not sure. But, he asked some lady to watch me, saying that he would be back soon. I didn’t know this lady. I know she was very old and paid a male prostitute to live with her — They had sex…a lot. It was a weird dynamic. She was living off of her late husband’s life insurance money, so she had cool things to do like play pool, or foosball in the garage, which was cool I guess. I was there so long the lady started to take me to school, feed me, and take care of me.
She asked me where my dad was, but I didn’t know. At that time, we were homeless and had nowhere to go. He could have been anywhere. Honestly, I just assumed he was “high” somewhere. I once thought he could have been dead.
As soon as she grew tired of taking care of me, she asked if somebody could come and pick me up. The only person I knew was my grandparents. So she called my grandfather, who came to take me to his home — my new home. When somebody asks me where I’m from, I tell them Ponca City, Oklahoma, where my grandparents lived. From the age of 14 to 18, I was taken care of by him and my grandmother. My grandparents were the best thing that ever happened to me.
There also was a brief time I went back to stay with my dad after a couple of years with my grandparents because I missed him. But, after resorting to sleeping in the back of my truck on the side of the road because he had no place to stay, I decided I needed to go back home. Nothing had changed.
The relationship with my father
From birth to the age of 14, I can’t remember my father saying, “I love you.” He probably did, but I don’t remember it. Is it normal for somebody to never remember when their father told them, “I love you?” More importantly, I don’t ever remember having an in-depth conversation with him most of my life. Once I reached adulthood, our relationship improved, but at that point, I think the damage was done.
Is it normal for somebody to never remember when their father told them, “I love you?”
When my grandparents took care of me, which was about four years before I joined the Army, we hugged, cried, talked about my aspirations, and hobbies. I can go on, but you get the point. It was nice to have people in my life who I know loved me and cared about my future. They cared about “me.” Not just providing me a place to stay and something to eat, but they cared about cultivating my values. They wanted to instill a sense of work ethic, personal responsibility, kindness, and a sense of family. I never experienced this much attention until they decided to bear the responsibility of raising me.
I’m not sure what’s more damaging, having a father that’s physically accessible, but does not care, or having a father who is completely inaccessible in every sense of the word — physically and emotionally absent your entire life. At least for the latter, one could justify why they aren’t present in some weird self-preserving way. For me, I couldn’t justify his emptiness. I didn’t know why he didn’t love me. I didn’t know why he didn’t care. There wasn’t a way I could justify our relationship away. It was somewhat torturing.
Forgiving to let go of pain
My understanding of my relationship with my father has changed over the years. Before the age of 14, I hated him. Until my mid-twenties, I yearned for him — I still deeply wanted him to express that he loved me. Now, I’m at a point that I feel sorry for him. If I dwell on it, I get angry — not as much as in the past, but it still happens. I get angry because our dysfunction has affected my relationship with my wife and kids…it’s unfortunate.
I’ve arrived at contentment with our relationship by understanding why he is the way he is. My grandfather apparently was not the best father to my dad. I’ve been told he was mean-hearted. I realized that my father went down the path that I was going down — A father who didn’t express his love for his son. My grandfather viewed our relationship as a second chance to correct the wrongs from his relationship with my father, so I got the better end of the stick.
It’s a tragedy.
At this realization, I knew I had to let go of the pain I was holding on to for so many years. So I forgave him. Not only for me, but for my family.
“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” — Lewis B. Smedes
It was then I started to feel sorry for him. I can’t say the pain was replaced with love — it was replaced with empathy. I think my dad loves me, but I know we didn’t connect in a way that my dad connected with his younger son, my brother. That’s okay. Your feelings are something that you can’t control.
Because my grandfather expressed his love for me better than he did with my father, and my father connected more with my younger brother, is why they say, “life is full of second chances.” We rarely get things right the first time.
Since I’ve been married, It has been difficult to be vulnerable with my wife. At times, this has led to intimacy issues. At the beginning of our marriage, I struggled to express my feelings. Aside from the short four years I spent with my grandparents and my Aunt Kim saying, “I love you,” these three words were somewhat foreign to me. I felt like I didn’t deserve love. I also felt like I didn’t deserve to express love to anybody else, so it was difficult to say it.
Raising my children has also been a struggle for me. Even today, it has been difficult to let them know I love them. I view the words “I love you” as something compelling and meaningful. I don’t think it should be thrown around aimlessly. Ironically, being in my wife’s family who say the words often has enabled me to be more comfortable saying them. It has also shown me the importance of why kids need to hear it. Although I still don’t say it often, I want them to know when I say it that it means something.
My wife’s family is probably the second-best thing that has happened to me. The family is filled with so much love. Love is expressed openly. Of course, all families have “issues,” but they’re authentic…I appreciate that. I can never repay what our family has provided me — clarity, the meaning of family, and love.
So, I want to tell my wife, “Honey, I’m sorry it’s so hard to say, ‘I love you.’”
To all the people out there who are struggling with expressing your love, try valiantly to demonstrate empathy and forgiveness. Break the cycle. It may be a painful road, but your family deserves it. Just know, it won’t be perfect. You’re not perfect. But, you deserve it, and so do your loved ones.
If you take anything from my story, take the lesson I wasn’t able to learn until my mid-thirties. Don’t hold on to the weight of your past. It can be a weight that will eventually be too heavy to bear. Anger can be a motivator if used in a productive way, but it also can lead to destruction. Destruction to yourself and the ones you love.
Because I empathized with my father’s pain, I was able to release mine. I began to understand why he struggled to express his love. I had to make a choice — a choice to love my family. It provided me clarity on what is important in my life. The energy I used to expend being angry at my father is now used to love my wife and children.
By demonstrating empathy and forgiving, I’ve broken the cycle. Now I can show my sons and daughter how to love their children relentlessly.