The Things That Matter

“My dad never hugged me.”

The statement was all-encompassing, concrete; it hung there.

Yet I recalled it wasn’t entirely true. Besides absurd and amusing imaginings of an overgrown man offering halting, awkward physical affection to a tiny infant, I recalled a time when I was six years old, and I found myself sitting in a car with a stranger who, despite all his assurances, was not in fact sent by my parents to take me home. This was explained later through the sobs of a man whose arms were wrapped tightly around me for the first and only time in memory, and I remember thinking with astonishment, Do fathers really cry?

Ever since that day I’ve had to make do with affirmative nods, an assuring hand on a shoulder, a few scattered words of encouragement amidst more frequent criticism, a terse smile. Even at graduation: a stolid handshake paired with a stolid face, and that single, solitary, stolid word. “Congratulations.”

And at the last, the weakened grip and the whispered words, “I am proud of you.”

No, my dad never hugged me. But the bitter phrase softened in the light of memory.

“Yet I know he loved me.”

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