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UNCONDITIONAL

Unconditional love is the love we all long for.

We all want to be wanted, loved and accepted for who we are without condition.

But “Unconditional love is not fully possible.” – David Whyte Consolations

Maybe maternal love is the exception to his assertion I don’t know, but I do know that from the moment I gave birth to my children, my love for them was unconditional and still is.

My own childhood was, however, much different than that of my children.

The fact that I was born at all did not make me inherently worthy of anyone’s unconditional love, even if, in a perfect world, it should have.

Having ten children naturally made expressing unconditional love for each of us a challenge for my parents.

They both worked hard every single day to make sure we were all taken care of and provided for, and always did their best to make sure we all knew we were loved. But because I happened to be born one of their daughters and not one of their sons, certain things were expected of me that were not expected of my brothers. For me, their love seemed to come with a stricter set of conditions.

The girls (the first seven of us) were seen as mommies little helpers while the boys – the last three of their children born, did not have any of the same expectations placed on them.

Like the rest of my sisters, I was expected to dutifully perform my chores preferably without complaining. We were the ones who helped clean the house, helped my mother grocery shop, helped her prep vegetables for dinner, and even helped with the laundry and ironing once we were old enough.

My father was a small business owner who, like my mother, worked hard to provide for his family which was his way of showing his love, but sadly that didn’t leave a whole lot of time for us kids.

By the time he got home from work, dinner would be on the table, after which he would retire to his chair in the living room and most often the only interaction I would have with him after that point would be to fetch whatever he needed, like his foot cream, then preferably leave him in peace.

I can remember being absolutely desperate for my father’s love and attention when I was a child but no matter how hard I tried there were just too many of us for him to pay attention to me.

I’m told that when I was still in diapers, I once climbed into a bucket of tar (my father owned a roofing and siding business) because I wanted to be like my father.

Another time, when I was a bit older while watching him shave in front of the mirror, I wanted so much to be like him that when he left the bathroom, I attempted to shave my face like he had and gave myself a pretty good gash in the process.

One of the fondest memories I have of spending a few minutes alone with my father was after I’d caught a string of catfish while we were camping and he took me aside and showed me how to cut off their heads and clean them and skin them, then showed me how to fry them up in a pan over our campfire with lots and lots of butter.

I was probably six or seven at the time, and it’s the only memory I have of just the two of us spending a few minutes together.

But when my brothers were born that changed. When my brothers were born, he changed.

I saw every day in a myriad of ways how unafraid he suddenly was to show his love and devotion for them in ways that I had never experienced.

I wanted so desperately to be included in their club.

I can remember wanting to spend time with my father so badly that I once tagged along with him to watch my then ten-year-old brother play baseball. I didn’t care much if at all about baseball; I cared about getting to spend time with him even if his attention would be more on him than on me.

I remember the feeling I had standing close to him behind the low fence behind first base, finally feeling like he might be enjoying my company.

But when the kid on third threw the ball to the kid on first (who if memory serves me correct was my brother) he overthrew it so hard that it was like a missile heading straight for me and because it all happened so fast, I had no time to protect myself, and so I was hit square in the mouth with it.

The force of the impact sent me flying backward, and when my father helped me back up on my feet, I spit out a mouthful of blood along with a couple of pieces of my teeth through my split upper lip.

After that, I left the baseball games to the boys.

As I write this, it is not lost on me that my story is a pretty common one given the times.

Unlike how my husband and I raised our kids, girls were brought up very differently than boys back then, which isn’t to say that knowing that has ever made it any easier.

It’s also not lost on me that as far as difficult childhoods go, I should count my blessings and I do. There are far worse problems I could have had than a father who didn’t pay attention to me.

“The hope for unconditional love is the hope for a different life than the one we have been given.” – David Whyte Consolations  

At a certain point, I gave up hope that things would be any different.

That was the life I was given, and the hope for it be any different than what it was, was futile.

By the time I was sixteen, I was ready to take a risk by confiding in my mother that I’d gone to Planned Parenthood for birth control. I knew that my parents were worried I might get pregnant so I wanted to set their minds at ease. I also told her that I tried smoking pot because being honest about it was important to me.

My mother thanked me for my honesty, applauded me for taking responsibility for my sexual health, admonished me about smoking pot, then warned me not to repeat a word of it to my father.

Years later, when my husband and I moved back home with them while we were building our house, as we neared the end of construction, she said something to me that I will never forget.

I was the general contractor; it was something I was extremely proud of especially when we came in just slightly over budget. When I told my mother this, she said, “You’ll never hear this from your father, but I want you to know that I’m very proud of you.”

“The invitation is made to us every day whether we desire it or no, to enter a deeply human world of robust vulnerability, shot through with sometimes joyful, more often difficult helplessness, to risk ourselves in the conditional world in which we live and to accept that there is no possible path we can follow where we will be untouched by heartbreak, the difficulties and the joys that move us and move through us, under the beautiful and beautifully conditional guise of love.” – David Whyte Consolations  

I love my father and my mother and all of my siblings with all my heart. Nothing will ever change that.

But no matter how much I love my parents or anyone else for that matter, I cannot control how they or anyone else will love me back.

My dogs, Charlie and Lucy, are the only creatures that I can be sure love me unconditionally. That’s why I’ll never be without dogs in my life.

Their unconditional love along with the joy they bring to my life keeps me sane in this crazy world.

And nature does the same.

I am transformed each moment I step outside, reminded of how much beauty and love there is in the world with all of natures gifts given so freely without condition.

So why are we taught to hope for something so obviously unattainable?

Unconditional love may be the love we all long for, but in reality, love is most often unrequited.

 

PART II OF III

NEXT WEEK: UNREQUITED

About Amy

I am many things to many people. Daughter, sister, wife, mother, aunt, friend. I am a worshiper of nature on a journey inward, rewriting my story one word at a time.

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