My dad is not conventional when it comes to love. I’m pretty sure he has never said, “I love you” unless I said it first. He is not much for physical affection, either. I get the awkward side hug occasionally if I hug him first. Words of affirmation do not flow easily from his lips. He is a quiet guy who says little about how he feels about me or anyone, but I have never doubted my dad’s love.
I had a dog for 16 years. I bought her when I was 19 and living away at college. She died when I was 34. My dad never showed much affection toward my dog, and I can’t remember him using her name. He would come over to our house, and our dog would emphatically greet him for attention; my dad would say, “Hey there, dog,” and give her a quick scratch on the top of the head and be done with her. I knew my dad wasn’t much of an animal person, and I knew he wasn’t one to show affection, so I didn’t expect more from him.
When my dog died, I called my dad to tell him. I told him I wanted to drive up to the farm the next day to bury her, I knew we would not live at our current home for long, and I wanted her to be buried somewhere I knew would always be a part of my life. It was late, and his farm was a couple of hours away. I asked permission for where I wanted to place her, and he agreed. He said he had to work early, so he would be gone when we arrived. He said he would leave us a shovel propped up against the barn.
We arrived the next morning, and we walked up to the barn. Next to the shovel was a small wooden white box with a note taped to it. It read, “I have already dug her grave where you asked. I built this last night for you to bury her in. It doesn’t seem right to place her in the dirt. She was your family. – Dad” There was a small handmade wood box, lined with carpet, made in the late hours of the night by a man who can’t say that he loves me but knows how to show it. I grabbed our sweet dog wrapped in a quilt from our car, placed her in the box, and rode the ATV to where her grave was ready.
Months later, during a trip to the farm, my daughter asked to see where her beloved pet was laid to rest. As we approached the area from the ATV, I began to cry; I saw a circle of flowers around the spot where we buried her, a perfect circle of planted flowers. I knew my dad had been the one to plant them. This was a dog, but she was my family for sixteen years, and my dad knew how much I loved her.
I may rarely hear my dad say the words, “I love you,” but he shows in his way how much he loves me.