There was a father-son conversation that several times left me scratching my adolescent head. I kept coming back to my dad’s words over the course of my teenage years for the simple reason that they were so contrary to my own teenage reality. I was so baffled by it all that I think I brought it up to my dad at least once a year.
It all started when I was a young teen and my dad told me how much he loved my mom. “I love your mother more today than I did on the day I married her,” he said. Then,with each passing year, he would proclaim how much his love for her had increased in the prior twelve months. I couldn’t figure it out.
In hindsight, I realize that my dad’s words left my head spinning for the simple reason that my head was filled with horribly skewed notions of love and marriage. To that point in my life, my sole experience of what I thought at the time was love was really only infatuation. Infatuation is that intense passion for someone that kept my young self dreamy-eyed and wide awake at night. I couldn’t get her out of my mind. . . her being any one from a constant parade of female peers, one after the other, who would make my legs wobbly whenever they’d come into view. There’s a good reason why the dictionary defines infatuation as “short-lived.” That should have been my first clue that my dad was talking about something else.
And so I’d wonder, “My mom and dad are aging. Neither appear to be as physically attractive as they did in their wedding picture. My dad’s words don’t make sense. Doesn’t the feeling of love wane with age?”
In today’s self-centered and appearance-obsessed world where beauty is only skin-deep, it’s easy for our kids to not only make the same assumptions I did when I was their age, but to have those assumptions reinforced by a cultural narrative that rarely defines, understands, or experiences love correctly. What our kids desperately need is no different than what I needed: a radical verbal and visual demonstration of the true meaning of love, gifted to me by my parents.
Now that I’ve been married over 35 years, I look at my wife and know exactly what my dad was talking about.
Love is not a feeling. Love is a decision. In his book The Meaning of Marriage, Tim Keller writes, “In any relationship, there will be frightening spells in which your feelings of love dry up. And when that happens you must remember that the essence of marriage is that it is a covenant, a commitment, a promise of future love. . . As time goes on you will not only get through the dry spells, but they will become less frequent and deep, and you will become more constant in your feelings. This is what can happen if you decide to love.”
Parents, when you decide to love your spouse, you are also deciding to teach your kids what it means to love. And when you do that, you are setting up your own grandkids for a blessed life!