If you are unfamiliar with The 5 Love Languages, I suggest visiting https://www.5lovelanguages.com before reading this essay. It will give you context, and you can even take a quiz to find out your love language! (Heads up, the quiz has you select a gender, and there are only two options, so maybe don't take it if that's a triggering thing for you. It was developed by a Baptist pastor, so there is some conservative/religious bias.)
I wrote this essay for my English class this spring, and my professor asked if I had ever considered writing a memoir. Maybe one day, I will.
I. Words of Affirmation
When I was eight, I distinctly remember my father dropping me off at my house. We got out of his compact car, and he walked me to the front door. I said, “I love you, daddy,” to which he responded, “See you next week.” Then he was gone. I can’t remember the day he first said he loved me back with much clarity, but when he did tell me, the phrase was accompanied by an awkward side hug and a shrug.
My dad was raised in a strict religious household. His parents are a solemn and sullen Chinese man, my Pop-pop, and a shrill white woman, my Mom-mom. Mom-mom was raised Catholic and rejected the rigidity of that Church. It has always puzzled me that she rejected one church to attend another that is known for hosting an infamous gay conversion conference in 2006.
I thought that he got his lack of affection from them. Neither of them are very encouraging of one another or of their four sons, but I notice a big difference in their roles as grandparents to my half-siblings and my cousins who range from 9-20 years younger than me. They were suddenly the kind of people who would drop whatever they were doing to babysit. They coo in high-pitched voices to the babies telling them how adorable and smart and loved they are. Maybe they just weren’t ready to be grandparents when I was born, given that their eldest son, my father, was only eighteen, and their youngest was still in middle school. Regardless of the reason, they are considerably more involved in their other grandkids’ lives.
I noticed a similar—though less extreme—shift in my father when my brother was born and then with my two sisters after him. By that time, fatherhood was a choice. He was married and he was thirty when my brother Nathanael was born. He was thirty-two for my sister Alana, and by the time Audrey was here, he was thirty-six, and I was eighteen—the same age he had been when I was born.
II. Physical Touch
I don’t believe my dad was hugged much as a child. His parents aren’t warm and fuzzy, but they do value sports and physical fitness. Mom-mom used to be a health and physical education teacher. She and Pop-pop raised their four sons playing softball. In high school, my dad was on the baseball, football, and wrestling teams. He won ‘Most Athletic’ and ‘Best Looking’ in high school, but he couldn’t care less about those superlatives. I only know about them from looking through my mom’s senior yearbook. She won ‘Best Smile.’
Now he puts his athleticism to use by teaching physical education and coaching my half-brother’s wrestling team. I know that I was a disappointment to him, because I’ve never been skilled at sports.
III. Receiving Gifts
When I was little, my parents would coordinate Christmas presents through a list. My mom would write down everything that I needed and wanted, and my dad would pick a few things that his side of the family would buy. When I was about nine, my parents got me the same gift, and it resulted in a screaming match. Since then, I’ve just wanted money.
My mom will occasionally bring up that story as an example of how little my dad pays attention to me. I think her bitterness towards him is really because of how little he paid attention to her at the end of their relationship. He was in college, and she was raising me. She warned him about Andrea*, his classmate who would eventually become my stepmother. “She likes you, Chris,” my mom told him once on a visit to his campus. He assured her they were just friends. My parents broke up when I was 18-months-old, and my dad and Andrea started dating two months later. They’ve been together for twenty-one years and married for nineteen.
IV. Quality Time
My dad has never once invited me to Disney World. That’s where he and my stepmom went on their honeymoon. They’ve also gone every summer for the past eleven years with my brother and my two sisters.
Last summer, my dad posted a video of my two-year-old sister on her first roller coaster. He had a stupidly large smile on his face, and it made me sob. He has never looked at me the way he looks at his other kids, and in watching that video, I realized that he has never been truly proud of me.
V. Acts of Service
My dad used to cook whatever he wanted. It was always elaborate and nutritious. He would spend most of my court-ordered Monday night visits in the kitchen. When I was five-years-old, I cringed at what he put in front of me—salmon and capers. I was used to eating salmon at my house, but the capers were foreign to me. He told me in his deep and rumbling voice that I was not allowed to leave the table until I ate what was on my plate. I didn’t eat it though, because I knew that my visit with him was almost over, and my grandparents probably had something delicious waiting for me when I got home.
After he dropped me off that night, he called my mom and he told her that I was too picky; I didn’t respect the time he put into the meal. He probably doesn’t remember that night, but it is engrained in my memory. He was so frustrated with me, and I very rarely got in trouble.
Now, eighteen years later, with my three half-siblings, my dad has resorted to indifference. If they don’t eat it, he reluctantly gives them something else.
For most of my life, I’ve pondered my father’s love language. Can I somehow show him my love in a way that makes sense to him? I have replayed our every encounter in my mind, and I can’t comprehend what he is trying to tell me. Maybe he’s not trying to tell me anything. Perhaps at this point, I should be indifferent to the whole relationship, but part of me wants to tell him that I don’t understand him.
I don’t understand why he won’t call me on my birthday. I don’t understand why he doesn’t invite me to Disney World. I don’t understand why he refuses to ask me about my life. Maybe it’s the same reason why he responded, “See you next week.” Maybe he doesn’t really love me.
I sent my dad this essay to read last week before publishing it, and I think we had one of the most productive conversations (albeit over text message) that we have ever had. I've never known how to address my disappointment or frustration with my him other than writing or singing. I'm glad we were able to talk, and my hope is that opening the channels of communication will strengthen our relationship.
I know none of you asked, but if you're interested, here are my results to the Love Languages Singles Quiz. I've taken both the Couple's and Singles Quizzes over the years, and my top three love languages tend to rotate depending on what I'm going through in life at the time. Right now, I am aching for quality time with my friends.
*I would like to add my mom warning him about Andrea is a misremembered story. I mistakenly combined an incident that happened in high school, when my parents broke up before prom, and my dad took a girl my mom had warned him about. However, this is the version I wrote and turned in for my English class before either of my parents read it.