, Gloucester, MA

June 14, 2013

Personal Maters: Loving words are most important Father's Day gifts

Personal Matters
Susan Britt

---- — On Sunday, the third Sunday of June, fathers celebrate their special day.

All across the country, dads will try on new shirts, admire new cameras or camping equipment, exclaim over a book they’ve been wanting to read, and taking long-distance calls from grown children living in countries around the world.

Father’s Day was created by Sonora Smart Dodd in Arkansas in 1910. After a number of failed congressional attempts to make it a national holiday, it was, in 1966, finally proclaimed a day to honor fathers by President Lyndon Johnson. The day was then made a permanent national holiday when President Richard Nixon signed it into law in 1972.

I think the idea of honoring fathers (and mothers) with a national holiday is a good one, despite the incorrect, yet often heard complaint that it is another gimmick of the greeting card companies. It is truly a good idea because it is personally healthy to honor the relationships in our lives, and acknowledge those that are especially meaningful.

Unfortunately, the reality of Father’s Day celebrations often has little to do with thinking about or sharing feelings of love. Rather, it seems to be about buying specific kinds of material goods, and sending somber or cartoonish greeting cards that speak someone else’s words instead of your own.

This year, along with the gifts and funny cards (or perhaps in their stead), why not do something different for your dad? On Sunday, either in a letter, or even better with a letter and directly, tell your father how much you love and appreciate him for all he has given to you and your family.

This might seem like a difficult suggestion to follow if you do not have a relationship with your father that allows for openly expressed feelings. Traditionally, men in our culture have not been encouraged to give or accept expressions of love and affection comfortably. However, as I have noted in many other columns, in the same way that we need food to nurture our bodies, we human beings require love, both the giving and receiving of it, to nurture us psychologically and emotionally. Expressing and receiving love is a necessity in order for us to be well-functioning and healthy.

While it is not true in every case, especially where there has been abuse of any kind, if you do love and appreciate your father, you will be doing something that is deeply emotionally beneficial for each of you if you express those caring feelings.

Sometimes we may look at the quality of parental relationships as solidly defined, unchangeable. You may believe that if you haven’t openly expressed feelings with either of them by now or they to you, it is too late to start. This is not always true, and in my experience rarely true, as the following story, shared with me by someone a long time ago, demonstrates.

George was raised by a good, hard-working father who showed him how to ride a bike, helped him with his homework, taught him right from wrong, and did all those things that conscientious dads are supposed to do. Even as a child, he knew that his dad loved him, although his father never hugged him or told him so.

When George became an adult, he realized that he wanted to express his love and gratitude to his father who was now retired, and since the loss of George’s mother, was living alone.

Although he had never done this before, with much courage and trepidation, the next time he made his weekly visit to his father, he embraced him and said, “I love you, Dad. You’ve been a good father to me.” His father did not return the hug and made no reply.

Again, on his next weekly visit, George embraced his dad and said, “I love you dad.” His father was stiff and unresponsive again.

This went on for many weeks, each time his father stiffening a little less and giving a little pat, but saying nothing each time.

On one weekly visit, George was feeling stressed and preoccupied. He walked right past his father and just began talking about recent events.

His father looked at him reproachfully and with disappointment.

“Where’s my hug?” he asked.

George smiled with recognition and warmth. His father had learned to accept expressions of love, and in time, learned to give them.

Giving love, through behavior and words, creates a loving, emotionally safe atmosphere in which everyone thrives. Even if your love is not returned in exactly the same form it was given, take the risk.

So, on Sunday, his special day, give your dad the gift of loving words. Tell him how you feel. If you do try this, I would love to hear from you.

Based in Rockport, psychotherapist and life coach Susan Britt, M.Ed., a former university director of counseling and career services, teaches individuals, couples and families to resolve relationship conflicts, clarify and achieve life and career goals, and accelerate personal growth. Comments and questions may be addressed to her at and by telephone 978 546-9431.