I called my father, Danny, last week to wish him happy birthday. He made me cry.

He was pleasant and somewhat engaging on the phone. Often he’s abrupt and clearly has no interest in speaking with me. I get that. It sucks, but I get it. His life is awful, and he’s understandably depressed. He’s only (now) 75 and mostly paralyzed and living in a nursing home. Who wouldn’t be depressed?

Those phone calls usually make me cry as well. This was different.

After a few minutes of decent conversation (yes, I know my expectations are low), he asked me “Are you okay?” That made me cry.

A few years ago I dealt with some health issues that made it nearly impossible for me to visit him. He’s (conveniently) about an hour’s drive away from me – it made sense at the time to put him halfway between PA and NYC. If I could, I’d move him now.

I couldn’t make the hour drive for quite some time, and every now and then I again don’t feel comfortable making it. And I guess I hadn’t been to see him in a bit (I’ve been very busy – have I mentioned that in addition to all the other wonderful, time-consuming aspects of my life, my book will be published this fall?)

To many, “are you okay?” might seem innocuous, a question to barely notice. It made me cry.

Over the years I’ve come to realize that Danny loves me. I never knew that growing up. His love was, I guess, shown in ways I didn’t understand. In his own admission, expressing love is not something he does; it’s more something he pokes fun at.

As a child, I lived with a huge hole inside of me, defining me. A hole that longed to be filled with my parents’ love. Either. Both.

So when he asked me if I was okay, I saw, heard, and felt the love. Each time I’m aware of his love, it knocks me over.

Each time I write about my longing for Danny’s love when I was little and my complete surety that that love was not there, or at least not shown, Danny’s friends – one, two, many – comment that he absolutely loved my brother and me. “He was so proud of you,” they tell me. “He talked about you all the time,” they write back. Each time it blows me away. That was not the Danny I knew. That was not the message I got. It was more rage and snide and poking.

I know enough to know why my father is crusty on the outside. Why he can’t express affection. I know that his mom “taught” him to not be as loving as he was. Every now and then he admits to me that he can’t admit to me (or anyone) how much he cares. He jokes. He teases. He neglects the simple words of love.

And then every now and then he shows me, when he asks if I’m okay. And I cry.

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