When I was younger, I spent quite a while away from my family at school. It was back in the days where we didn’t have email, but postal mail – which wasn’t known as “snail mail” but just “mail” (or “post” in the UK).
I was brought up by fairly traditional parents where my dad was the breadwinner and my mum was a stay at home mum (although she did do some part time work as we got older). They were also traditional in the way that my mum was the more nurturing one and my dad was a bit more – not cold, but slightly more distant. (Although my mother liked to think she could say things like, “Wait till your father gets home!” if we were naughty, she never cottoned onto the fact that he was a lot less scary than she was!)
So generally my mother was always the one who gave the instant feedback and the “I love you” and compliments. My dad was more of the, “What are you going to do for a career?” and, “What did you score in that exam?” and, “How many people were ahead of you?” type. It’s not to say he wasn’t proud of us, but I knew his pride was quite conditional on doing well. Which I duly did.
As is typical for a lot of families, if we ever spoke on the phone, it would be picked up by my dad who would exchange brief pleasantries followed by the inevitable, “I’ll get your mother.”
My mum was the one who took us shopping, brought us to appointments, and took us to the doctor if we needed a doctor. Most of the time, my dad would be working. Because they were quite traditional in their roles, you’d be forgiven for thinking my dad wasn’t the lovey dovey type.
When I was away at school, every few months I’d receive an envelope. It would be stuffed, slightly. More than a letter.
And inside, there would be a stack of comic strips. Every day I was away, my dad would take a pair of scissors to the newspaper and cut out my favourite comic strip and add it to the pile. And every few months he would send me the pile of comic strips. Just that – maybe a short note, but certainly nothing flowery or demonstrative… apart from a small reminder of how he had thought about me and remembered the comic strip I loved, every single day I was away.
And what was the comic I loved? It was called Adam – about a suburban dad who loves his family.
It’s taken me 20-odd years to realise that that bundle of comic strips was my dad telling me he loved me.