February 14, 2014
Certain memories from childhood stand out as if under the lights of a museum exhibit while the rest tend to recede into the shadowy corners of our mind until called upon.
One of those memories for me is sitting with my dad in the kitchen and talking with him about the nature of love. I was in first grade.
But my dad was a coach and a teacher, and never more so than with his three boys. So, when I asked him how do you get a girlfriend, he took the opportunity teach me a valuable lesson in love. As he suppressed an overly eager smile, he said, “You just walk right up to the girl you really like and say, ‘Will you be my girlfriend?’”
I remember feeling anxious, but somewhat relieved because I assumed it was a much more onerous and painful process. But this seemed quite simple and direct. Not sure why it seemed so much more complicated on TV.
So, the next day while Ms. Jones’ first grade class was washing up after arts and crafts time, I walked up to Beth Watson, a cute brown-eyed darling with shoulder-length brown hair, and told her I had a question for her. I leaned over and whispered in her ear so no one else would hear. As I pulled back to see her reaction after posing the question I had carried with me all day, she simply smiled and nodded.
And boom, I had my first girlfriend.
But as I was to learn later, young love doesn’t always last. Beth and her family moved away during the following summer, and I was left with a 7-year-old broken heart. The talk with my dad had covered this ground, too, but I wasn’t old enough to understand or appreciate the lesson. Some lessons are taught best through practical application.
But what he said stuck with me. As I sat there on my dad’s knee in the kitchen while mom washed the dishes from dinner, my dad looked up at his wife and said, “I love your mom more today than the day I married her. I love her more every day than I did the day before.”
That was hard for my 7-year-old brain to understand, especially in light of the deep and meaningful love I felt for Beth Watson. How could such feelings grow more strongly than this?
I’m older now, and arguably maybe a little wiser from experience in some areas of my life. Today, I understand what my dad tried to tell me when I was younger. For the last 12 years, I’ve been married to the love of my life, my best friend, my defender, my challenger, the mother of our two girls, my partner in life, and what Cat Stevens described as my “hard-headed woman, one who’ll will make me do my best.”
I know now about how love grows with every experience, every challenge, every new adventure, every argument and even the mundane daily routines we each follow. Our love has grown together. So much of “us” is inextricably woven together so you cannot quite separate the individual parts.
To loosely paraphrase 1 Corinthians 13:11, when I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child. I believed the Disney fairytale that falling in love was the happily-ever-after end (OK, so I adapted it a little.). But when I became a man, I put the ways of Disney behind me. I realized that Disney’s love story should have started with the falling in love and followed the real love story, the one that shows love age, mature and grow in the fertile soil only a messy life full of trials and triumphs can provide.
So, on this Valentine’s Day, I wanted to explain what “I love you” means to me now. Christine, you are my new definition for love, a relationship that continues to grow and bear fruit. And I look forward to the days when we are both in rocking chairs talking about how naïve this letter was and how much our love has grown since those youthful days when we were in our 40s. Because I know now I will love you more every day than I did the day before.