Valentine’s Day usually brings with it fond romantic memories. And if we’re lucky, those memories involve copious amounts of chocolate. While I’ve had my fair share of heart-shaped candy moments, the most unforgettable memories I have are of my dad giving me terrible Valentine’s Day gifts.
And honestly? I can’t even fault the man for trying (and failing) to know what I wanted on this holiday.
Growing up, my dad struggled to share his emotions with me. He’d pour countless hours into his New Jersey law practice, and when his day was done, he was often tired and worn out. This meant that while my dedicated stay-at-home-mom was a master at finding me the perfect holiday gift, my dad had absolutely no clue as to where to even start.
So when Valentine’s Day rolled around, he did what any man in the ’90s knew to do — he helplessly walked into a local Victoria’s Secret. For him, this store represented what women, apparently of all ages, wanted — fruity body sprays, pretty undies, and pink pajamas. And the added ease of going to one place to buy my mom, my little sis, and me presents just seemed right to him.
Usually in the form of a heavily packaged gift card, his Valentine’s Day offering was handed to me with supreme awkwardness, because I think deep down, he knew I had no idea what a Victoria’s Secret store actually was. And he always accompanied his gift with a multi-paged Hallmark card filled with a flowery poem about fatherly love. His only personal contribution was a simple “Love, Dad” at the bottom.
It took me many years to realize that in those cards, he was trying to share his emotions with me.
Even though he didn’t write them himself, those corny rhyming words represented what my dad secretly wished he could do — openly express how much he loved me. And since we didn’t have a close relationship until my parents got divorced, I didn’t actually get the benefit of knowing how he really felt until I was well into my twenties.
Today, my dad’s relationship with me is totally different than the one we had growing up. Sure, we still share the same multitude of embarrassing moments together. My dad also still thinks he’s the funniest person in the room (he’s not.) But now, instead of just silently handing me an awkward gift, my father makes a point to really tell me, whenever possible, how much he loves me. It’s as if all those disconnected years inspired him to never take a moment between us for granted. And it’s made all the difference in our relationship.
Looking back on my childhood, I’ve realized two major things about my dad. First, it’s incredibly hard to be a guy in this world and be vulnerable with the ones you care about. Most men are taught to keep their emotions at bay, making grandiose expressions of love difficult, at best. Second, the impossibly high standards of Valentine’s Day consumerism don’t help matters.
My dad’s gifts have gotten much better and his writing has become much more heartfelt in the decade we’ve spent really getting to know each other. And through our growing connection, I’ve learned that my dad’s love for me runs deeper than I ever realized … he was just never taught how to properly show it.
And yet, my dad was the first person to teach me that it really is the thought that counts. This wisdom helped me find compassion for my first boyfriend when he presented me with a glass “love plaque,” and for my husband when his idea of a romantic gift came in the form of costume jewelry from a discount store. While I have definitely schooled my hubby on better places to buy me fancy earrings, I will always remember his heart was in the right place. And I have my adorably awkward dad to thank for that.