Another post in the “Weird Things Americans Say” spirit.
When my brand new American boyfriend T–now my husband for 18 years–first spoke to his parents on my phone in the Netherlands, he ended the call with telling his parents he loved them, apparently in response to them telling him the same.
That was weird to me. My parents and I had never told one another that. My parents professed their love to each other all the time, but never to us kids. Sure, I come from a pretty dysfunctional family, with a mother who was incapable of real love, but I had never heard any of my adult friends tell their parents they loved them at the end of every phone call, and most of my friends had relatively normal families. In fact, I don’t think I had ever heard any of my friends’ parents telling them they loved them, even when they were younger.
It’s my dad’s birthday today. He died when I had already lived in America for several years. Unexpectedly, from a heart attack, and I heard about it by phone. I was almost eight months pregnant of our son B at the time.
I knew my dad loved me. I knew because he had a baby photo of me in his wallet his entire life. Because he always initiated visiting me when I was in college in Deventer. Because during our last days together before I emigrated, he reminisced about being in the reserves in Limburg when I was born, and how he drove as fast as he could for three hours to get to the hospital. Because he wrote me long letters once I lived here in the States.
But he never told me in so many words, and I never told him I loved him, either, although I’m sure he knew as well. Still, I now wish I had.
A month after his death, B was born. And I wholeheartedly adopted the American habit of telling him that I love him. I tell him every day, when I drop him off at school, when I give him a goodnight kiss, and at the end of every phone call. The same with our daughter R.
It is one aspect of American life that I believe is nothing but positive. To actually say the words every day, and to hear them, especially as a child, that is priceless. And to know that if something happens and you never see each other again, then at least the last words you exchanged were the only ones that mattered.