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Anne Meadows for Fatherly

Nathan Rabin: You’ve Got to Choose Love, Dammit

The author explains to his sons that love makes both people and societies better — even though it can hurt like hell.

fatherly logo Letters to Boys About Love

Dear Declan and Harris,

You have both had the misfortune of being born during Interesting Times. You don’t have to wonder what it would be like to grow up in an era of great peril or in a society divided or with the stakes impossibly high. That is your reality for the indefinite future. You, consequently, do not have the luxury of apathy. You do not have the luxury of nihilism. You do not have the luxury of the sidelines.

When I was your age sometime late in the Paleozoic Era, I didn’t imagine that gay marriage would become the law of the land. I didn’t envision America electing not just a black president but an elegant, biracial community organizer from Chicago. And I didn’t foresee the United States stripping down marijuana laws one by one to keep young men at home instead of incarcerated. You don’t expect progress or the expansion of love.

But you should always expect backlash, reversion, and regression, a lesson you’re learning the hard way. I never imagined we’d elect a demented con man and hate machine to our highest office.

You are, despite the efforts of our current leaders, the recipient of freedoms I never could have imagined as a child in the 1980s, when it seemed like the only acceptable choice where sexuality and gender were concerned was cisgendered heterosexuality, even for folks who considered themselves big leftists. I’m so grateful that’s not the case anymore. Your sexuality and gender no longer have to fit into neat, tidy little boxes. You can be whoever you want to be. You can live your truth. I hope you will, and also that you will do so knowing there will always be people willing and eager to curtail love that they find unnerving or inconvenient and that you have to fight these forces of regression, these people who want to drag us back into a poisonously romanticized, whitewashed past.

You can love who you want to love. I only ask that you love yourself and each other, because you could not be more worthy of that soul-deep love, the kind of love that sustains you through the hard times and makes the good times even more joyous.  But you need to choose to love. You’ve got to choose to love because without love in our lives this cold world would be unbearable. (And, let’s be clear, some things are inveterately worthy of love: family, sunsets, puppies, and the music of David Bowie and Prince.)

You’ve got to choose to love, dammit, because love makes you stronger, fuller, and more complete. You’ve got to choose to love, dammit, knowing that you may not be loved in return. You’ve got to choose to love, dammit, even when it makes getting your heart broken, and broken viciously, and repeatedly, an absolute certainty.

You’ve got to choose to love, dammit, even when it feels like your cold, grey heart has nothing but hatred and sadness and resignation within it, when it feels like you can’t go on, that you’re defeated.

A life without love in it is no kind of life at all, when it comes right down to it. But a life without love is nevertheless one that far too many of us are willing to live if it protects us from pain that feels overwhelming and insurmountable. I spent far too much of my life hiding away from pain, trying to keep myself from getting hurt. In the process, I closed myself off to love. I wish I hadn’t done that. I wish that I had more courage growing up. I wish I’d possessed the courage and the conviction to love deeply and sincerely despite the incredible costs and despite the dangers incumbent in making yourself vulnerable to a world that oftentimes seems to feed on the blood of the innocent.

But you should know this: Loving you both comes as intuitively and naturally to me as breathing. Love radiates from every pore for the both of you, my beautiful, blessed sons. But I could never have known love of that intensity, power, and permanency if I hadn’t opened myself up to heartbreak and rejection, to getting hurt. I made my choice and you were my reward. Love leads to more love.

If you let it. I’m asking you, as your father, to choose love, dammit, because the free-floating hatred that has seemingly consumed society and turned us against each other has to stop somewhere. What better place than at your feet?

Love,

Dad