Learning To Love By Being Loved
Almost three years have passed since my wife, Katie, and I moved into our house. It’s an old Victorian that was built in 1880 — only 15 years after the Civil War.
The house, our first, needed a ton of work. Worn wallpaper needed to be steamed and scraped off the walls. Every square inch, inside and out, needed new paint. Old, dirty carpets needed to be ripped out. (To our surprise, the original pine floor had been hiding underneath.) Holes in the wall had to be patched. Doors needed to be replaced. The kitchen needed a new ceiling. A small addition in the back was literally falling apart and needed to be completely rebuilt.
The house had “good bones,” as they say, but this place needed some love.
Its shabbiness was actually the only reason we could afford it. And we felt comfortable enough taking the plunge because my dad is skilled at all things related to building and fixing, and he said he would help us restore the house whenever he had time to make the long drive up. Luckily for us, he retired last year — but even before that, he made numerous full-week or two-week trips to help us with major projects.
Our most recent project was building a deck. A few weeks ago, Dad drove his big white truck for 13 hours to our house, which is in a quiet town a few miles north of Boston. Our two-year-old son had been excited about his imminent arrival for days.
“Poppy coming!” he’d shout. “And,” he’d add with a smile, “Poppy’s truck.”
As soon as Dad arrived in his big white truck, he started toiling away. He demolished the old deck, which was old and poorly built. He graded the freshly exposed ground underneath so that rainwater would stop leaking into our basement. Then he started measuring, cutting, and hammering away.
He worked solo most of the time, because, well, I had to be at work. However, on the weekends and after work, I was able to help him with the heavy lifting: building the footings and foundation.
As we worked, the spring weather here in New England was unsurprisingly fickle. Sunny and warm one minute, drizzly, cloudy, and cool the next. We made numerous trips to Home Depot, and we worked side-by-side while Katie, who is pregnant with our second child, herded our first, who would occasionally come out and use his plastic hammer to help us get those nails down, and from the driver’s seat in his Cozy Coupe, repeatedly announce his imaginary trips to Home Depot.
At the very end of the weekend, after our son had gone to bed, we finished laying the deck boards. It actually looked like a real deck. Katie came out and joined us as we stood on top of this new structure we had put together and admired it. The sun, which had been hiding for most of the afternoon, came out and stayed out until it set. Its light shone on only the tops of the trees surrounding our house, most of which were either flowering or showing off their new leaves. The air had a warm, orange, almost surreal glow to it — the kind you can only experience at sunset.
I looked over at my Dad, and we smiled and nodded at each other. Then I looked at the various tools and scraps of wood sprawled across our backyard, and I felt a surge of gratefulness. I was reminded once again that building things together with him is immensely gratifying, not because I enjoy construction, but because he simply loves to be around me.
In her book, Jesus Feminist, Sarah Bessey writes, “You learn how to love by being loved.” This has proven true in my life. I have been reflecting on the ways in which my Dad loves me, because if my Christian faith has taught me anything, it’s that love is an action verb: it involves activity, development, vibrancy, and the motion of the Spirit.
First and foremost, my dad loves me by being present in my life. He doesn’t let the fact that we live 13 hours apart keep him from me and my family. When he’s with me, he’s clearly happy just to be around me. I cannot overstate the importance of this simple truth. This is what I want to show my kids, too: that being near them, and knowing them, is what’s most important about being their parent.
Dad also loves me by building things with me and for me. Our old house, which we’ve worked on together for countless hours, means infinitely more to Katie and me because it has truly been a labor of love. I may not ever be as skilled as my father at fixing and building, but because of his way of loving me by creating with me, I want to do everything I can to enable my kids to create whatever it is they want — and/or need — to create.
Finally, Dad loves me by always making it clear that he delights in being around me. This is what I felt most acutely when we stood together on the almost-finished deck that night. The way the sun came out at the end of our workday and glowed that otherworldly, extravagant glow seemed to be the universe mirroring the delight Dad clearly took at being with me.
For moments like this, I’m eternally grateful. And I’m inspired to do everything I can to be likewise uninhibited in showing my son and my daughter-to-be all the ways in which I delight in them. This is what I’ve learned. This is what I know. And this is what I aim to pass on.