For years, I found that same question popping into my head – roughly every four minutes – as I would endure one battle after another with my rebellious younger daughter for household supremacy. I fondly recall that satisfying period when I was in charge and my word was law. But then she turned two.
Parenting is exhausting, with long stretches during which you wonder if your children will ever show you a glimmer of respect or affection – and by “long stretches” I mean from age two to whatever age they currently are. If you’re feeling anxious that perhaps your child doesn’t love you, despite all the hard work and sacrifices you’ve made, it’s understandable. But there is hope she’ll get through her awkward, narcissistic phase, and the day will come when she shows you her devotion. Admittedly, when I say “there is hope”, I mean in the way that there’s hope my Seattle Mariners may someday make it to the World Series, or how astronomers hope someday they may find intelligent life elsewhere in the universe.
The signs are obvious if you just know where to look. Here’s how I know my daughter loves me:
Over the years, I’ve sent my daughter hundreds of emails with subjects like “A great life lesson” or “Why drinking alcohol is dangerous to toddlers.” And I would never get a response. I started to wonder whether she was even receiving my communiqués. And now I know she was – because she told me she’s set up a special SPAM folder called “Emails from Dad.” How thoughtful.
When she was younger, she expected me to drop everything to attend to her far more important needs. She’d shout, “I NEED YOU TO HELP ME NOW!” But in recent years, she’s really matured. Now she will always add “PLEASE” to the end of her command.
When she was a teen, she struggled with saying the words “thank you” after I’d done something nice for her – like the time I refrained from killing her when she crashed my car just after obtaining her learner’s permit.
But now, whenever I do something kind for her, she routinely says “thanks” – cutting me off as she’s walking out the door to hang with friends. At least I think she’s talking to me. It’s possible she’s talking to her best bud Meagan on her cell phone.
In the past, she used to do that eye rolling whenever I’d say something annoying like “good morning” or “I love you.” But she has really matured. Nowadays she takes that extra second to turn away from me BEFORE she rolls her eyes. That’s just plain courtesy, if you ask me.
There were periods when I sent my daughter a time-urgent text and she’d ignore it completely. I’ve seen glaciers melt in less time than it took to get a reply. On those rare occasions when she lowered herself to thumb a response – usually after my sixth request – it was typically just five letters: “dunno”. But these days, things are much better. Now she occasionally responds after only three requests. Once, when I wrote, “Do you plan to come home for Christmas?” she actually typed a complete sentence: “I don’t know.” If you ask me, the extra millisecond it took her is proof of her love.
For years, my daughter would never admit that her dad could possibly be right or that she could possibly be wrong. In her eyes, for example, I was totally lame to be concerned about a sleepover, sans parents, at Meagan’s, whose drug-dealer boyfriend was supplying beer kegs. “No worries, Dad!”, she reassured me. And she should know – after all, she was eleven.
These days she realizes I’m often right – almost 15% of the time by my latest estimate. Just last week, she acknowledged my wisdom by humbly texting me the following heartfelt phrase: “Whatever.”
I realize these may seem like small gestures on my daughter’s part. But underneath it all, I know they’re her way of saying, “Hey dad, you were an amazing father and I don’t know how to thank you for all your sacrifices. I love you more than words could possibly say.”
Okay, so technically she never actually says the words “I love you”. But I know, from the way she mumbles “uh, thanks” with no eye roll or exasperated sigh, that deep DEEP down, my daughter really loves me. And I’m going to cling to that firm belief the next time she texts me at 2:17 am, “Dad, come pick me up at Meagan’s house NOW – please.”
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Check out Tim Jones’ latest humor book: YOU’RE GROUNDED FOR LIFE: Misguided Parenting Strategies That Sounded Good at the Time