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“He Makes it So Awkward”: 8 Men On Why It’s Hard to Tell Their Dads They Love Them

For many men who were taught not to express emotion, doing just that can be exceedingly difficult.

Father’s Day is almost here. Chances are, there will be grilled meats, beer, and games of cornhole at celebrations all over the country. Chances are pretty high, too, that a lot of grown men will struggle to actually tell their fathers they love them. Men are often taught to not express emotion, because emotion is weakness, so it’s not a surprise that men have trouble articulating their feelings — especially older dads. There’s even a word for it: alexi­thymia. Meaning “no words for feelings,” the term is typically found in trauma sur­vivors, but also characterizes the emotional condition of many males.

So, for men, actually saying “I love you” to their own fathers can be especially complicated and difficult. Do expressions of love differ? Of course. One person might express his love with time. Another might better prefer a great fucking hug. But that doesn’t mean it’s any less difficult for men to say those three words to one another. With Father’s Day approaching, we asked several men to tell us why.

I Believed It Was Too Mushy
Growing up, I never once told my dad that I loved him. I used to give him gifts that I felt expressed how much he mattered to me. Verbally expressing it was quite difficult. This is because I grew up believing that verbal expressions of love were too mushy. Truly, it would have been awkward because my dad believed that men should be macho and stoic and so he never said it to me either. However, now that I have kids, I tell them that I love them all the time. This has made it a bit easier for me to say the same to my dad. Although it is still hard, I can now say “I love you, too,” to my dad once in a while. — Joe, 43

I Didn’t Know How to Say It
I wish my Dad and I said we loved each other more. As a father of three teenagers, I always tell my children daily in the morning and evening that I love them. In-return, each of my three kids say it to me all the time, particularly my son. Unfortunately, my dad never said this to me and I didn’t to him as often. I lost him in college to a heart-attack. I wish I had said it more often and as a father of three, I’ll always make sure to let them know so they’re not afraid to let me know. When I lost my dad, that night he and I got in a fight. I went out angry that night but when I came home he had left me a note. It said: “Good things come to those who wait, but only those things left over by those who hustle. Love Dad.” It made me smile, but he passed away from a heart attack 2AM that morning. Saying I love you is so important. You never know when your last day will be and I tell my kids daily. — Michael, 46

My Dad Makes It Weird
The reason it’s hard for me to tell my dad I love him (which isn’t that hard for me) is because my dad can’t accept compliments or anything positive. He gets embarrassed. Accepting love is sometimes harder than giving it — Evan, 31

I Don’t Struggle Because I Know How Much They Sacrificed
My parents were unable to have children and as such, they turned to adoption to be able to invite children into their home. After 9 years of infertility work and a long wait with a number of adoption agencies, they were able to adopt my older sister. 2 years later, I came along.

Due to the way in which I joined my family, you could say that I have gained a greater appreciation for the bonds that families provide. I knew from a young age that I had been adopted, but I developed a deep relationship of love and trust with my parents knowing the trials they had worked through in order to build a family and eventually provide for me. Telling my father that I love him is as simple as saying “I love you.” It isn’t something that just pops out in generic normal conversation, but any time that we talk on the phone or in person, I have developed the habit of saying “I love you” in parting. In part, I attribute this to my father’s efforts to show me and express to me his love when I was a young child.  — Benjamin, 23

It’s Just Awkward
It’s hard to say “I love you” to our dads because it is awkward and sometimes weird. Deeper than being culturally challenging, many men have wounds with their dad. It is not uncommon for men to have wounds with their dad’s and don’t even know it. This was true with my dad. The bad news that, in a way, became a blessing was when my dad became seriously ill. Faced with his passing, I found the courage to love him and forgive him. He passed away in 2004. In 2017, I worked to get a bridge named after him. Now I really remember the good times. Not the bad. — John, 47

I Feel Like I’m More Distant Than I Should Be

I would say it’s not super hard for me to tell dad that I love him. I’m an only child and my parents work crazy long hours, and we are all fairly introverted and lean on each other more than we lean on other parts of our family. I feel like I’m more distant than I should be so I’ll show love by calling him unexpectedly (I hate phone calls) or reaching out to schedule activities like sailing (his main hobby). And I am pretty sure I tell him and mom I love them every time I see them, and I’ve acknowledged it when I talk about future plans (i.e. it would feel weird to live hundreds of miles away from them). I don’t think I told my parents I loved them whole lot while I was age a teenager. But after moving away from home and maturing a lot it became easier and felt more important for me to say explicitly. — Jon, 25

There’s an Implied Subtext

Telling my dad that I love him is a little bit complicated by the fact that I’m a child of divorce and I really didn’t live with him a lot as a child. Because of that we became pretty distant.

So when I tell him I love him there this weird implied subtext: “I know we don’t talk enough and you missed out on a lot of my growing up and you didn’t really raise me in the strictest sense, but I love you regardless of all that and I really mean it.” It’s the same with him. When he tells me he loves me he usually grabs me by the neck and says, “I love you, do you know that? I love you a lot.” Like we’re trying to prove it somehow. It’s not just a pleasantry, it’s a code, like a way to fill in all the holes in our relationship. So every time I tell him I love him it feels like I’m filling the holes in a little bit more. So there’s weight and substance to the whole thing.” — Patrick, 43

Divorce And Distance

I do not tell my father or stepfather that I love them because they are both deceased, but I would if I could. My parents were divorced and relations were difficult. I always envisioned a rapprochement with my father a la the song “A Boy Named Sue” which I remember coincidentally listening to with him, but never got the chance before he died. My mother remarried and my stepfather was a good man. I made a point of definitely telling him I loved him near the end and on his deathbed.

As the song says, “You don’t know what you’ve got ’till its gone.” I tell my sons, aged 26 and 23 (and my daughter) that I love them. As a champion powerlifter, I am pretty macho, but I figure you should tell your children you love them. It does not make you effeminate. My older son often concludes phone calls to me with “Love ya.” My younger son, who was a college hockey goalie and is as tough as they come, often does too. I guess I raised them right. Also, I think millennials are less burdened by super masculine stereotypes about not showing their feelings, although you would want each of them with you in a fight.  — Robert, 61