One of the reasons I was unhappy in the last five years or so of my marriage—which lasted 21 years—was because my husband, who had been so apparently social and outgoing when I fell in love with him, had become taciturn and isolationist. He scorned Valentine’s Day as a commercial holiday, and considered buying me flowers or taking me out to dinner on February 14 as a distasteful concession to marketing pressure.
While I can’t deny that Valentine’s Day is seized upon as a marketing ploy by all kinds of industries, I also think that it’s wonderful that we take a day of the year to celebrate love. It doesn’t have to be romantic love between sexual partners, or would-be sexual partners—that’s where I think our American capitalist version of Love Day has taken a wrong turn.
Valentine’s Day should be a time to celebrate love in all its guises.
Today I celebrate the great love I feel for my parents, who gave me life and have always been so thoughtful and unreserved in their nurturing, from the time when I was an infant to right now, as I contemplate my 50th year. My parents have taught me so much about being loving as a parent—which is not the same thing at all as being permissive or indulgent.
Today I celebrate the love that flows both ways between parents and children. After my parents, it is my sons who have taught me at every step along the road about what they needed from me as a loving parent.
Sometimes they needed to be enfolded in my arms, and sometimes they needed me to step back and pretend we were strangers, but always they needed that firm, unbreakable assurance that no matter what they did, I would always be there for them. That is the bottom line love that I learned from my parents, and no doubt they learned from theirs.
Today in my Art of Autobiography class we wrote and talked about the legacies of love that are passed down through generations in a family. Even though there are other, less positive legacies that are also passed down, I asked the students to focus on the positive, loving side today, in honor of Valentine’s Day, and to think about how each generation gives a loving gift to those who come next.
It may not always be a gift parents or grandparents recognize that they’re giving, because it may come from such a place of automatic second nature. For instance, I wrote in class about how my father’s family placed such a high value on education, and that is certainly a legacy that I received, put to good use, and am in the process of handing down to my children.
Who knows how long into the past that chain of valuing education goes, or how far into the future it will penetrate as my sons begin to have children of their own?
I come from loving people who have always wanted the best for their children, even if they didn’t always know how to make it happen. Even the most loving parents don’t always succeed in doing right by our children. For example, my older son will always regret that he did not have a chance to play soccer earlier in his childhood—his father and I did not realize how important that was to him and did not make it happen for him. But I have no doubt that he will correct that failing when it comes his turn to parent.
Each generation is imprinted by their parents and grandparents, and then goes on to add a few new tricks of their own, often responding to the exigencies of the time or to what they’ve learned in their own process of coming to maturity.
But what runs through, like molten gold at the core of a happy family like mine, is love. Deep, abiding love, untainted by self-interest or vanity.
This Valentine’s Day, I celebrate family love. Maybe another year I’ll be beckoning to Cupid and his arrows, but right now that bright red heart, ancient symbol of the yoni that welcomes us all into life on this planet, needs no romantic glitz or glitter. It’s calling me home.