A lesson I got from my father, years ago, was to make sure that the people I love know that I love them.
It's not an unusual lesson where I grew up. A working-class town where everyone's parents were born poor and spent time in immigrant neighborhoods before moving out to the peaceful, safe and relatively quiet suburb where I grew up. Most everyone's father was a veteran, and most of those had been in combat in Korea or Viet Nam, which probably had a lot to do with it.
The way my father told it to me, he never wanted to deal with a situation where he didn't say the words in his heart simply because he didn't know when he was talking to someone for the last time.
It's a lesson that stuck with me, and, turns out, with my brothers, sister, and friends, too.
I had to go to my familial home up north this past weekend for some very heavy family stuff that I just don't want to blog about. While I was there dealing with B family business, some old, old friends lost their father.
I spent the whole weekend with people I've known since Kindergarten, and their parents, too. It wasn't a fun reunion. Between learning why I was home, and dealing with friends who had lost their parent, it was a chance to reconnect with people I haven't spent much time with since leaving MA.
At differing times, and with differing people, I'd meet with folks, and I think every lunch and dinner I was with differing combinations of friends and family. Each time, it'd end with hugs and I love you's, or 'Love you, man.' perhaps said more gruffly, but certainly meant all the same.
We got a funny look for it once at a local restaurant. I was with my old roommates Johnny Sparks and Spinach, guys I lived with back when I was lobstering and sailing as AB on a tanker- guys I went to grade school with, and went to church with, and have known since we were all 5 or 6. Not guys you expect to be hugging and saying terms of endearment in public, you'd think, right?
Wrong. In my experience, it's the guys who are big, gruff and often reluctant to talk about emotions that are the most comfortable in expressing them under the necessary circumstances. People are pushing their kids to be more sensitive, but they're conflating emotional weakness and fragility with sensitivity. Sensitivity is a middle-aged ironworker, the type of guy who won't stop working to get stitches unless he's going to pass out from blood loss, a guy who normally doesn't finish a sentence without swearing at least once, who drops everything to rush and be with a friend who is in need of emotional support.
And don't get me started with elevating crying to a sacrament. You'd think that the shit is mandatory for any boy now. My wife nearly killed me when I said "quit that or I'll give you something to really cry about." to my kid when he cried about something minor. I felt like an unbelievable shitheel when I did that, but it was an important lesson, and a good one, for both of us.
He jokes about it today with me. He's a sensitive kid, more than I was at his age, and I was a sensitive kid, and that's a good thing. He's also emotionally mature for his age, and no pansy.
I cried a couple of times this weekend. So did my brothers, and most of my friends too. Shit hits you at odd times. My brother welled up in a 7-11 parking lot. I got hit while taking a piss at one point.
I've said "quit being such a pussy" to all of my friends at some point, and meant it at the time. I've had it said to me, too. There's a time to emote and a time to try to bull through it. People overcomplicate it. Mostly pussies, in fact.
All the same, there we were, hugging, saying I love you, in public, and one of us crying slightly. Nothing shaming about it, and it happened more than once. That's what good friends are about.
My son, he knows, and I hear him saying it to me and his mom, when it's time to say goodbye.
50 minutes ago