I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. It was the voice of my stern, disapproving father saying the words I had longed to hear for so many years.
“Son, I love you. Everything is going to be all right.” It was 1972. Because of an LSD overdose, I lay in a semi-comatose state in a hospital bed in Daytona Beach, Florida. My dad was cradling me in his arms and running his fingers through my shoulder-length hair, telling me— his rebellious, misfit son—that he really loved me.
This can’t be happening, I thought to myself as I listened to the faint beeping of medical equipment. My dad was telling me he loved me! This was the same overpowering dad who months earlier had shoved me to the floor in our home, grabbed a pair of scissors, and violently cut off my hippie-style hair after telling me I was a disgrace to the family. Now he was tenderly whispering to me about love, forgiveness, and acceptance. Even though I was in a drug-induced fog, his words sank deep into my soul.“Son, I love you.”
As a boy, I had longed for Dad’s approval and affection. I just wanted him to smile at me or to say that he was proud to be my dad.Yet when I opened my heart to receive his love, I was always left empty and disappointed. At 19 years old, I could not remember one time in my life when my dad had held me close or said those words. As a result of the rejection I felt, I had ceased being my father’s son and never wanted to see him again. Like so many men from his generation, Dad didn’t know how to express affection. He was a good man and would have died for me. But to him, showing emotion was a sign of weakness. Because he had grown up during the Great Depression and lived in a fatherless home, he built a fortress around his heart to protect himself from pain. Then he went to war and learned even more survival skills. Later, he expressed his love simply by providing for his family financially and by teaching his two sons to survive in a merciless world. He always told me, “Never be weak by showing emotions or tears! Be tough! Be a man!”
For years I had tried unsuccessfully to be the tough man that my father wanted me to be. Yet as I lay in that hospital bed at a time of ultimate failure, Dad was holding me in his arms and expressing love for me. He was not aware that I could hear his voice or that I could feel his arms around me. I had been willing to stop being my father’s son, but my father was not willing to stop being my father. His commitment to me was greater than my commitment to him.