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Dad's vulnerable heart welcomes loving words

My wife picks up the phone and greets my son, calling from Charlotte. "Yes, he's right here. Why? What do you need to speak with him about? Is there something wrong?" As she presses her interrogation, I smile at her and gesture with my hand to give me the phone. She reluctantly hands it over to me and I greet my son.

"Hi, Dad. Katie and I are going to play chess. Do you know what color the queen takes?" As I answer his question anguish turns into relief for my wife, while I laugh at her.

Several years earlier, when he informed us that he was moving to Charlotte to apply for a teaching position, my wife went into a semi-grieving mode. I applauded his initiative and courage, and eventually helped him pack the car. On the evening he left our home, my wife and I stood there watching until he turned the corner and went out of sight. She had tears in her eyes, mine were dry.

Two years later, my daughter was married. I gave a brief speech at the reception that moved many to laughter as well as tears; my eyes remained dry. The next day my wife and I drove my daughter and her new husband to the airport. They, too, were leaving for Charlotte. Tears for my wife; yep, dry eyes for me.

As Father's Day approaches, this seemingly stoic man is once again anticipating the cards I will receive from my children. For in addition to the generic words printed on purchased cards, my three children have always written down their own thoughts about me as their father. I cherish those words because in them I am told how much I am appreciated and loved. As with every man or woman, I need to be needed, and I need to be loved.

Even though I do not express it in the same way that my wife and most women do, a manner and ease of communication that I admire, it does not follow that I do not feel as deeply.

You see, every time one of my children calls, fear immediately grips my heart, too. When my oldest son pulled out of the driveway for Charlotte, it took all I had not to let those tears flow. When I spoke at my daughter's wedding, my voice cracked several times – something only my wife noticed. And I was grieving until she moved back to Western New York that following December – the greatest Christmas gift I ever received.

Why am I, and why do so many men appear, much more reserved in expressing our needs and emotions than women? I am sure that it has something to do with our society. It is probably also connected with the left-brain right-brain difference between the genders.

It may even be associated with evolution, that is, with the need to suppress emotions, like fear, when confronting a perceived threat. And because the giving and receiving of love is such a basic human need – along with food, clothing and shelter – when any circumstance jeopardizes that exchanging of love, I am rendered vulnerable and move to meet the threat to my own well-being by controlling the expression of my emotions.

Whatever the reason or combination of reasons, I only know that the emotions, originating in the abiding need I have to love and to be loved in return by my children and my own father, are present and strong, appearances to the contrary.

So it is not about the cards or the gifts on Father's Day that matter, but about the love they supply for a father's vulnerable heart.

Michael J. Sherry, a retired assistant chief of police from Orchard Park, is executive director of operations at Christ the King Seminary.