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Many years ago, when my brother lived with his first partner and they were both divorced dads, they would get their children—two little boys—on the weekends and holidays, a typical joint custody situation. They would do things that most families do: go to the movies, go to the park, build forts in the back yard.
One Christmas, my brother and his partner David both had their kids for the holidays. Santa had been especially generous that year, bringing David’s little boy a bike. When the excitement of Christmas day had settled down, and since the boys would be leaving in the morning, my brother and David sat their little ones down to write thank-you notes to Santa.
The colored paper and crayons came out, and the boys were left at the kitchen table to make their hand-made cards. They folded sheets of paper in half, decorating on the outside and writing on the inside. When they were finished, the dads came over to inspect. They each sang the praises of their own boy’s card, what wonderful jobs had been done, what lovely cards these were, how much Santa was going to appreciate them. The cards were set on a little dresser in the hallway, and the boys were put to bed.
It was only later when David came to my brother with his son’s card; my brother hadn’t seen it yet. “Here,” David said, handing the card to my brother. “You have to read this.”
So my brother read: “Dear Santa. Thank you for my presents. I lave my bike. I lave you too. Lave, Adam.”
Lave! How much more expressive and heartfelt than “love”. Word of lave traveled quickly, and without knowing it, Adam had added a new word to my family’s lexicon. We have been laving each other ever since.
“How do you like this outfit?” one sister will say to another.
“I lave it,” the other sister will say.
“How did you like those photos I sent you?” my mother will ask me on the phone.
“I laved them!” I’ll say.
While we all adopted “lave” as one of our favorite words, my dad especially took to it. As a man who sometimes has a hard time expressing his feelings, “lave” seemed warm enough to say without having to step too deeply into the dangerous waters of love.
“I lave you,” he says as he hugs me at the airport before leaving me there.
He’ll open a special present at Christmas time—maybe a framed picture of his five children, from all of us—and his eyes will well up. “I…uh…lave it,” he’ll say. “I’m going to hang that right next to my desk so I can see it all the time.”
My mother—still more a woman of love, not willing to give up the undeniable, fully rounded, and boundless depths of love—always sends me greeting cards on Valentine’s Day, my birthday, Thanksgiving and Christmas. My brother gets the same, since we're the only kids who still live far away. She always writes a little note at the bottom, personalizing further a special card she probably took many days in finding, the very right one. After her note, she always writes, “I love you, Mom.”
My mother leaves these cards out for my dad to sign before she sends them off in the mail. For so many years, all I got on mine was “Dad”. At least his handwritten signature let me know he was alive and well, out there somewhere, gardening or carving or building a birdhouse. Sometimes on the Thanksgiving card, he’d draw the antlered head of a buck with a gun pointing at it and write “bang”, smiley face, “Dad”.
Now that my dad isn’t as busy as he used to be—enjoying naps in his chair and rides in the country instead of planting huge gardens and building fences around them to keep the deer and rabbits out—he has a little more time on his hands. And those hands have a little more time to write in those cards that still come in the mail. There his handwriting will be, right next to my mom’s: “I lave you.” Smiley face. “Daddy.”
Thank you, Adam, wherever you are.