Every kid growing up in a South Asian household knows there is a certain four-letter word you shan't utter. No, it's not the f-word, and no it doesn't rhyme with hit. It's the l-word: love.
To many old-school parents like mine who grew up in the traditional cultures of the East, the l-word is just a touchy-feely, hollow syllable that simply rolls off the tongue without any meaning. My mom has gotten more comfortable with it over the years, mostly uttering it via text, but my father still remains just a touch stoic.
Growing up, whenever my sister or I would cautiously blurt out those three little words, my father would barely look up and say his favorite line: "What is love? We don't love. We care." We would roll our eyes. When would the man finally cave?
I suspect saying that word is like a sign of weakness for him and other traditional dads. Remember, my father's generation was all about "boys don't cry," being a man and toughing it out. Professing one's love somehow would put a chink in that armor of emotional aloofness.
My parents view the word love similar to the way they view Valentine's Day, Mother's Day and, yes, even Father's Day -- something manufactured and not organic. Something you're forced to say rather than something that actually comes from the heart. "Why should we have to say it? You already know we do," they would sometimes respond.
The lesson I've learned from all of this is that actions really do speak louder than words. That doesn't just apply with family relationships, it applies to friendships and most definitely with romantic relationships.
Pretty words and sweet nothings are a dime a dozen. What good would it be if my parents were constantly showering us with verbal affection and not being there when it counted? Despite their "aversion" to saying "I love you," my parents have always been there for us.
I got to thinking about this when I noticed in a recent text message from my dad that he had simply typed "I L u" at the end. I smiled to myself. The man doesn't abbreviate anything else. I scrolled through our text history and noticed a simple "lu" or "L u" at the end of most of his messages.
Looking back, it's clear to me that my parents don't just love. They also care. And that's even better.
Love is being a 50-plus dad and still taking your 7-year-old out in the driveway after working late just so you can teach her how to ride a bike. Love is spending your evenings reading Jack London's "Call of the Wild" with your middle-schooler because she's having trouble keeping up in Language Arts. Love is spending your Saturday afternoon super-gluing special anti-skid soles on the bottom of your teenager's first pair of high heels because she's afraid she might slip and fall. Love is taking your college freshman to the tow-lot to get the car that was towed while she said she was studying but really was at the movies. Love is giving your daughter away at her wedding after 25 years of raising her and not being able to say goodbye through the tears.
So this Father's Day dad, "I L u" too.