View from the Pew
Love goes beyond holiday and Dad
"Remember when" was the beginning of a story being told at the next table as a Father's Day unfolded one day last week in a comfortable restaurant.
The young father of a toddler was taking his father back in time to a sports event they had shared, and before long they were finishing each other's sentences and topping each other's anecdotes, their joyful laughter making spectators of everyone else in the room.
The little boy's great-grandfather, looking frail and in a wheelchair, seemed content to sit quietly as conversation swirled around him. Mom and Grandma had their own chat going, so the child turned his attention to the old man, teasing him by sneaking morsels of food from his plate.
"That's mine," said the elder sternly, but with twinkling eyes, he pushed the plate into closer range. "No, that's mine," said the youngster, and the exchange went into a repeat cycle as they put dibs on the good stuff on the plate.
It was fun and as the boy got more excited, he got into the spirit of "mine" by claiming great-grandpa's cap and pen, and the older generation kept pace by making claims to a toy, and a boy's ear and a little nose.
So, escalating the game to its extreme, the boy shouted, "Well, you, YOU'RE mine!"
The beaming great-grandpa responded, in an "E.T." fingertip-to-fingertip moment, "And you're MINE ... and I love you."
It was the kind of last word that stilled all the other conversation at the table, and indeed within hearing distance around the room. It was one of those distilled ticks of time that are family treasures, and I hope that family keeps bringing it out to see how it shines.
And of course, it was over in a breath, because little boys have to settle down and eat and not shout in restaurants. And love isn't a word that everyone else is going to chime in on, out of the clear blue sky, especially out here in public.
Maybe that's why we humans invented holidays like Father's Day and Mother's Day, and graduation parties and birthday celebrations and retirement roasts. Our species has a hard time being spontaneously loving. Anger, yes, we are on immediate response, but not so with the love stuff. The culture got so fixated on the hormonal application of the "L" word that many of us get self-conscious about saying "I love you" to family, friends, mentors, supporters, teammates.
Many are relieved that commerce has stepped in to help us deal with our impairment. The malls will be packed today, especially in the T-shirts and tools departments. Florists haven't figured out how to extend the Mother's Day effect to promote daisies for Dad, but supermarkets have done their best to establish that steaks equal love.
People were elbow-to-elbow at the greeting card racks. And nowadays the designated recipient nuttiness -- "for stepson's cousin" -- give us a vehicle to extend love beyond the main target. A friend I discovered searching the racks was looking for a way to tell his grown son "I love you" without using those words. "I'm looking for the right combination of nonchalance and sarcasm," said he.
But if you couldn't afford the power tool, it's OK. If the card with perfectly scripted sentiments can't be found, don't worry about it. If it's too late to tell your father, there's a brother or an uncle or a mentor or a struggling father you know, who needs the message. You can do it by yourself, free of charge. It takes a little courage, but don't falter.
If the family can't be corralled for time together this weekend, or if Dad's out of reach for any of the many reasons, the franchise for "I love you" doesn't expire after the third Sunday of June.
And now that I think about it, that fingertip-to-fingertip thing wasn't that old extraterrestrial's invention. Michelangelo captured the original moment when he painted the Sistine Chapel ceiling. We're all recipients of that almighty "You're mine, I love you" message every day of the year.