Take Heart - A Father's Perspective: Three little words - say them often
"There's no other love like the love for a brother. There's no other love like the love from a brother."
My brother and I shared a connection that many people will never know. We said we loved one other every time we hung up the phone. Sometimes, without speaking, could sense when things were wrong.
It's only been four years since my dear brother, Charles (Chuck), passed away. It was a devastating time. You see, my brother had been diagnosed with fetal alcohol syndrome, schizophrenia, and, at the age of 18, diabetes.
Throughout the years he battled a war with his blood sugar that took a toll on his body. I spent so many hours sitting by him at his hospital bedside chewing him out, crying with him and telling him would never make it to see 30 if he kept up his current lifestyle.
The hard part is that I was right. Chuck lived to the age of 29.
I prayed many times over the past four years for him to come to me in my dreams, to let me know he was okay. He never did. That first year without him I struggled with pain over the loss of the one true family member who stood by me during my youth and young adult years. I was in anguish.
A few weeks ago, close to the anniversary of his passing on June 30, my alarm clock went off. Rather than get up immediately per my usual routine, I hit the snooze button. I'm glad I did. I saw Chuck in a dream.
In that dream, a police suburban pulled over and picked me up. The driver wearing a sheriff's jacket, told me he needed to stop and check on somebody that occasionally got confused and a little lost and needed some direction. As the driver pulled up to a row a white cottage's and stepped out of the vehicle, the windows fogged over making it difficult to see.
A young man with a thick moustache came out of a corner cottage. His hair was slicked over, and he wore a red shirt with a dark blue pin stripe through the middle - my brother's favorite shirt! I tried to get out, shouted Chuck's name and pounded on the windows. He leaned over to look my direction, but only momentarily. This made me pound and shout all the more. With another glance from the Chuck in my dream, this time he smiled.
I awoke bewildered and in a haze. It was as though my brother paid me a visit and that his spirit knows happiness and is being cared for. Given my belief system, I realize the need to accept that he is gone, and that our connection for now can exist through dreams and memories until we eventually reunite.
I don't say this for sympathy, rather I prefer to share my story as a reminder and challenge to men to let your loved ones know your true feelings. Tell your family, brothers and sisters, parents and children that you love them. Say it in a fleeting goodbye, after a short phone call or after a bed time story. Say those three little words as often as you can.
At times, we as men struggle to deploy affection. So many children never get to hear those words from the parents, especially fathers. The words, "I love you," have such an impact on a child's life, even if your children are grown and you have yet to let them know. When you do they, will never forget that moment.
Having a lack of these skills in our fathering toolbox can be a struggle to overcome, but please know that if this is something you have wrestled with internally and would like to learn to convey loving messages to your children and your loved ones, come and get involved with the FATHER Project. Our parenting group and fathering skills class can help.
My brother knew I loved him. I'm lucky in that I don't live with regret. Perhaps that's another reason my children hear how much I love them every day. No one knows what tomorrow will bring, so take advantage of the moments you have. Let your loved ones know how much you care.
Editor's note: Joe Johnson and his wife Amanda have two children. He is a licensed master trainer/consultant for St. Joseph's Area Health Services Community Health Nurturing Fathers Program and is a case manager for the FATHER Project, a program funded by Goodwill/Easter Seals Minnesota. To learn more about participating in Fathering Skills classes, call him at 255-2063 or e-mail josephjohnson@catholic health.net.