Those Three Words

My parents  loved me — I just didn’t realize it



by Ken J.

Shortly after my second A.A. anniversary I was faced with making an amends I dreaded. To my father. Due to the circumstances I had to do it over the phone. The call began as superficial as always. We talked about the crops, the weather and Nebraska football. With him being the epitome of a banker, the conversation was pretty much one-sided, with me doing the talking. I knew that my father was sitting there listening, stoically staring into space.

The conversation was pretty one-sided

Running out of things to say, I got down to business. I did a thorough 4th, 5th and 9th Steps. I don’t think my father said a word. It felt like I talked forever. Finally I was finished. And then I did something I had never done. I said, “I love you dad.” There was this deafening silence on the phone. And then my father said, “I love you son.” And hung up. And one month later my father died. I never saw him or spoke with him again.

The last words I heard my father say were the three words I had waited to hear my entire life. Those three words. A year after my father had died, my sponsor asked me to explain something. He said that before my father had died I had usually spoken about him negatively. I had often talked about his shortcomings, his failures as a father, his rigidity and his coldness. But in the time since he passed, I tended to talk about him in a much more endearing way. Iadmiringly referred to his strengths, acts of charity and support. He told me that rewriting the past is not the same as reconciling it.

Tomorrow, November 6, 2018, is my 33rd A.A. anniversary. My father has been gone 31 years. I was 28 when he died. I have replayed that phone call hundreds of times, hearing his voice crack on those words. It was somewhat surreal because he just wasn’t someone who showed or expressed his emotions.

My father did not say a word

I have often wondered how we would have interacted in person after he said “the words.” Would it have changed how he acted around me? Would I have been more understanding and patient with him? Would we perhaps even have hugged? I will never know. And I get very frustrated by the insane “what if…” game. It’s one of those mental exercises in futility, usually playing out in unrealistically happy or disastrous scenarios. That game has no place in my toy box. For me the events of the past are static. I can work to understand and accept them and their implications. But I cannot rewrite them and make them something they are not.

A long time ago I accepted the reality that my perception of the relationship with my father will change daily. I have learned to accept the good and the bad. I know today that my parents never sat at the foot of the bed in the morning and planned how to make my life miserable. They did the best they were capable of doing. My father showed he cared for me in the only ways he was comfortable with. I resented him for not showing me he cared for me in the ways I wanted it shown.

So, those three words. I have put so much time and energy into them that I never fully understood and appreciated the concept behind them. I have probably said them recklessly and desperately thousands of times in my life, trying to compensate for not hearing them as much as I wanted. I have discounted or ignored love and acceptance so many times because it wasn’t expressed on my terms. Words definitely do matter. But in A.A. I have found the language of the heart is much louder.

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