A couple decades ago, my wife gave me an engraved doorknocker for my birthday just like the one pictured here. It bummed me out and I wasn’t very good at hiding my feelings. I’m still not. It was a feeble swing and a miss at life that day. I didn’t get it. I do now.

I know I could be wrong; we likely don’t remember out childhood literally as it happened. As we look back, we probably get some of the foundation right, but many of the details blur as they hurtle down our creaky neural pathways. Still, in conversations I’ve had with my brothers, none of us can recall hearing “I love you” from our parents. I don’t need to get into the “why’s” of their silence, but I don’t judge them. Through the years I’ve pieced together much context of their lives and understand from where they came. Suffice to say, neither of my parents heard “I love you” much, if ever, during their childhood. I don’t know if they ever spoke it to each other. I do think some of it was a generational thing, especially for emotionally repressed 1950’s dad.

In spite of the emotional vacuum from which my youngest breath was drawn, I don’t recall ever having trouble saying it to women. Not that I spewed it like Cupid’s fountain, but when I felt it I could say it, so when we had children they heard that affirmation constantly, and still do. That was easy, unconditional love. An interesting phenomena I’ve witnessed over the years has been the crumbling of those old walls built to protect the heart and keep pain locked away. When Megan was about 3, or Maddy’s age now, she’d bop her little blonde pigtails toward her Nana and let fly with a carefree, “I love you, Nana.” Early on, my mother would choke up, unable to speak. She’d hug the tiny child, snap off something jokingly sarcastic, and sniff herself back to composure. Today none of us ever end a phone call or visit without telling each other, “I love you.” Even my dad says it now. Every call. Every visit. We still do “man hugs” though. Let’s not get carried away.

On Sunday, someone I love received his 90 day “chip” to mark a milestone of sobriety. He’s confronting emotions soberly for the first time in over 30 years and it’s both painful and exhilarating to observe. He gets choked up easily these days, but he’s allowing himself to feel; to experience this life across its entire emotional spectrum. He’s no longer hiding in a safe corner, anesthetizing himself to emotional deadness with drug or drink. As we said goodbye after Sunday’s call, I encouraged him to just focus on the success of day 90 and the hope of day 91. Then I said, “I love you.” I know his recovery will never be complete, and he will have moments of no light. When those moments come, I want him to know he is loved. There was a painful pause, and then a tear choked, “Yeah… I love you, too.”

Love Is Spoken Here