No effort is required to picture the love between my parents. The pictures and scenes were constant companions as I grew into manhood. And continue still. Hands held, kisses given, kind words and the acts to back them up were plentiful.
An example. Christmas mornings were genuine magic in the life of my family. But the presents are not the memories I return to. (Though I remember handing out packages from my dad to my mom with tags saying “To my lover.” I wasn’t ever grossed out. Par for the course.)
After the presents were opened, every year my mom would invariably tell my dad he had done too much. Then he would take his hand, scratch at the white stubble on his chin, grin, look around and get up before saying something was missing. Mom would feign surprise. He would hand it to her and she would place it in the lap of her robe. Now her hands are moving slowly to carefully open the package. Her eyes get misty. She then throws her head back with a gasp. Looks longingly at my dad and then puts her hands to her face – one on each cheek. Almost always it was something she pointed out six months earlier, he had remembered and she had forgotten. Dad Just sits there and smirks enjoying her being loved.
As a young man still trying to fit into the clothes of manhood, all these scenes became focused like a laser on my dad. Watching his ways with mom. Taking them in as some kind of relational vitamin hoping for the very health I beheld.
I have no memory of my father being unkind to my mother. I’ve flipped back through the tattered pages of memory and have come up empty. Nothing is there. This is probably hard for some to believe. And I’ve navigated the rough seas of this culture enough to doubt my memory. Surely, he would laugh at such an idea. No question, my dad is not perfect. At some point in the long line of points they have shared, he most likely was unkind to my mom. But is it not amazing, I remember nothing? The tenor of their relationship has the consistent ring of kindness throughout.
What really struck me early on was how much they liked to be together. By the time I was old enough to notice, they were on into their fifties. And they wanted to go places without me. Just them. They still dated and went on vacations to the beach without the kids. They sat close always angling to be with the other. This lovingkindness has never waned. They still love to be together.
Whatever failures of mine as a man towards my own wife can be traced to my ignoring my father’s example. Whatever kindness, any goodness and dignifying treatment I’ve shown can be traced with a straight line back into their love story.
Thankfully, a story still being written. And still being read.