The men that make us who we are

My mother did all of the housework and childcare. My father worked long hours at a physically demanding job. My mother often worked part-time, to supplement the family income. My father worked a lot of overtime. My mother still frequently bore the brunt of the housework and home management. We were never for lack of things we needed, like food, shelter, medicine, or love. Even when my parents’ money belt was tighter than was comfortable, every holiday was a moment for celebration. Even  religious ones, like Easter, were celebrated despite none of us ever attending church or talking about religion. A small stuffed bunny and a card. On Valentine’s Day, a small box of chocolates and a card. Cards often.

Holiday cards given to and by my family have always carried weight to them. My father, who struggles to put words to his emotions. He was the byproduct of a childhood with a father who offered few vocal expressions of love, a man who thought tough love was the best kind of love, because tough love benefited his sons the most. So when holidays came around, or birthdays, or anniversaries, he spent a not-insignificant amount of time on a hunt for just the right card — one that perfectly captured what he struggled to say. He still does, because he knows that verbal affirmation is important to a great many people, his wife and children included. Because of him, and my mother’s matching enthusiasm, they eventually grew to mean as much to me.

Quinn’s family, well — our childhoods were quite different. “Cards are dumb,” he told me once, very early into our relationship.

“Cards are important in my family,” I said.

He shrugged. “What’s the point?”

I dropped it. Is that why he hadn’t said anything about the card I gave him on his birthday? I wasn’t going to force sentiment on someone that didn’t want it. Inside, though, I was gutted. I haven’t bought him a card since. He’s an acts of service kind of person. That is, he shows his love by doing things for the people he cares about. Like fixing my car countless times, to save me money. Like doing the worst diapers because the smell makes me gag.

My dad sent Quinn a father’s day card this year. I saw the envelope in the mail, and as I handed it to Quinn, I warned him, as I had six years ago.

“Cards are important in my family,” I said. “I know you think they’re dumb, but throw him a bone.”

He smiled one of those Sorry, I goofed up smiles. That card was not signed by my mother. Only my father. Just man to man. Dad to dad. Family to family. Nothing sentimental — they haven’t reached that point in their relationship — but humorous and thoughtful. We’re family now. You’re a good man. Thank you for loving my daughter and grandson. Inside (because he is a dad, after all), he tucked a photo of me when I was 18, in my senior prom dress.

Thought you’d get a kick out of this, it said.

“This is great,” Quinn said. “I love your parents.”