Today is Father’s Day. I’m late to writing because I wanted to make my husband eggs benedict (his favourite breakfast, but butter, so yuck!). I also sent a Happy Father’s Day message to my own Dad. Well, stepdad. I feel awkward around the whole thing. These days I try to just refer to him as my Dad, because that’s what he is to me, and in my mind I don’t have another. But discussing it requires explanation of the exact nature of the relationship, so then Stepdad comes in.

My mother left my father when I was 2, with four children in tow, a full-time job and not a lot of support – certainly none from my biological father. She met my stepdad – my Dad – when I was 5, and he’s been in our lives ever since.

I don’t really want to talk over the history in a bland and unattached way. There’s plenty more to the story and plenty of stuff that was hurtful to me, to others, etc. Yet more exists off the beaten track of the main storyline that has for sure affected me well into adulthood. But, y’know, we all have our shitty start, regardless of the form of the destructor, and that’s not the stuff I’m here to talk about today.

I have this discomfort around telling my parents that I love them. I really want to do it. I actually want to be crazy effusive and tell them so much stuff that I admire about them and have learned from them, and the infinite ways in which they’ve made my life better. But I just can’t seem to manage to do it. “I love you” trips so easily from my tongue to the ears of my sons – and from theirs to mine, I’m pleased to say. But I can only say “I love you” to my parents in round about ways. Through a note signed “Lots of love”, or through a Facebook post that tags a picture of them, along with an effusive public message.

It’s not quite the same thing, is it?

What am I scared of? It’s not like I’m scared it won’t be reciprocated; I know my parents love me. In fact, in recent years my mother has started to end phone conversations with a “love you”, which I sometimes reciprocate in a rushed manner (and feel awkward) or don’t reciprocate if I end up thinking too long about it (and then I feel guilty). My Dad occasionally gets filled with the “I love yous” of late night confessional drinking. It’s nice to hear it, but it’s a little bit like my own awkward sidelong approaches; it’s not quite the same.

I think I’m scared of making them feel awkward. I think I’m scared of being laughed at, or mocked. We are the type of family where emotional statements get mocked as being “very Californian”. That seems like such a minor thing to have to get over for so much potential benefit. I pride myself in being “brave”, but in the face of some things I’m not so much cowardly as NOPE! I have a vision of a big, serious, no-shit-taking hippopotamus, who I call my Nopepotemus. Whenever I attempt to broach certain things, or imagine myself doing certain things, he just pops up, front and centre and NOPE! And that’s the end of that. It’s just not happening.

It’s cropped up a couple of times when I’ve been in a therapy session and we’re getting into the details of something that’s upsetting me. Not like just anything that’s upsetting me. Usually something that I tend to think of as being “over that” or having “moved on”, or else it might be some mode of behaviour that I’m really attached to, and even if I recognise it in my brain as being detrimental, I’m just in no way ready to change it at all. NOPEpotemus shuts that shit right down. It’s like all my emotions shut down as well. Everything wrapped up, safe and secure in an unchanging bubble.

As an interesting epilogue to today’s post: right in the middle of the last paragraph, I got a  phone call from my mother with tech support issues, and it occurred to me that this is another round about way in which we show our love. They are always available to me, “on call” for their areas of expertise (medicine), and I’m pretty much always on call to them for my area of experitise (technology, because they don’t need so much maths).

It may not be “the same”, but maybe it’s enough.