Valentine’s Day is coming up this week. A Hallmark invention. But the idea of expressing your love or kindness or compassion to a person you care about is no joke.
People have trouble communicating feelings. Not just people “on the spectrum,” but almost everybody on the planet has trouble connecting with people they care about.
One problem is the language of connecting. The hug, the kiss, the handshake, even the wink or a laugh, often connect more naturally than words. A gift is one way to express feelings. Often it’s a clumsy way, but sometimes it strikes the right note. I have found that the best gift is the unexpected item that expresses something unique about the relationship.
My wife and I have pots and pans we received 50 years ago as wedding gifts. Prosaic gifts, yes, but some days we are making chicken soup in a big stainless steel pot, and Risa and I will both think of Shirley Silverstein, who wanted us to have utensils that would last for the rest of our lives.
Could the perfect Far Side comic greeting card say as much as that copper-clad Revere Ware?
When I think about gifts and holidays my thoughts turn to my father. Money and things meant a lot to him. He grew up during the Depression. Buying a Cadillac was hugely important to him to symbolize his business success. Yet, for his birthday all he wanted was a $2 white knit tie that he wore everyday to work to go with his tailor-made suits. He did not want other people to buy things for him.
Late in his life, I visited him by myself at his apartment in Florida. My mother had died several years earlier, and he was alone and feeling vulnerable.
My dad did not normally express his feelings easily and very seldom discussed his relationship with my mother, but he was in a pensive mood and said, “Lloyd, I wish I had given her more jewelry.” The remark hit me really hard because it was so unlike him. I knew he felt it deeply, but I really did not know what to say to him except that I thought my mother had never wanted for anything material.
I was seeing a psychotherapist on a regular basis in those days, and I couldn’t wait to discuss this with him. His name was Herb Cibul. I learned so much from him over the 10 years I worked with him.
He told me that the jewelry my father emphasized symbolized the love and sexuality which he must have felt were lacking in his relationship with my mother. That nugget of knowledge had an enormous impact on me. I realized it was a really good thing to express my feelings clearly and outwardly to the people that I cared about.
I felt a genuine sadness for my father that he wanted to tell me about how he had come up short, at least in his own heart, with his most important relationship.
I don’t need Valentine’s Day to let my wife know how I feel about her. I write her love notes almost every week. They may be only a line or two, but they come from my heart.
My dad and Herb Cibul taught me one of the most important lessons in my life.
Question: What was the most memorable gift you have given or received?