“Football!” That was his first response. Then he rubbed his chin and said: “I’d talk about something that was near and dear to my heart.”
“And what would that be?” I asked. “Give me an example.”
“My dog. He is old now and doesn’t have much time left. So each moment I spend with him is precious.”
“Why is it different now that he is older and doesn’t have much time left?”
“It’s not really so different. Maybe I am just looking at him differently. Now that I know he will be gone soon, I want to love him. He loves me back, too, you know. It’s so precious.”
I did know. I had a dog during my first marriage and this dog reminded me of something.
“What makes it so precious?” I could sense that this something was just beneath the surface of the conversation.
“Well, it’s because when I come home, and maybe I’m frazzled from the day, he just loves me no matter what. And I can love him and everything is better. It’s sort of ‘unconditional’ you know. I love him and he loves me back.”
I did know. Somehow I knew that what he was saying to me applied to my own life. Somehow, unconditional love heals the child – even the child within the man. And once the child is healed, the man is free.
As I sat across from my son in the booth at Chili’s, watching him watch the Monday Night Football game, I started to see something about me as a young boy, looking for unconditional love. And then I was looking at myself in college looking for the same thing – a soft place to land, a safe place to love. And then I saw myself married, and I saw my first dog and I grinned from ear to ear – I knew that I loved that dog unconditionally, and that perhaps I didn’t love the rest of my life that way. I remembered when the dog got old and all he wanted was love – giving and getting it was the food of life for him.
And then something deeper woke up within me and I was looking from that ‘inner child’ place, but I was looking out through the body of a man. And I was standing by my mom’s bed in hospice, knowing that she was dying, and knowing that I was losing unconditional love once again.
I started to feel sad, but then realization bubbled up into my awareness, right up through the self pity. I knew that there was an ebb and flow to life, and that love seemed to move with it yet every time it seemed that love was lost, it showed up again in some other form, in some other person, in some other place – maybe even in a dog. I sighed as I realized that my own inner child might just have experienced healing, and that somehow with this healing, the world was going to be a much brighter place.
“Touchdown!” my son yelled out, pointing at the TV.
The tears that had started to well up in my eyes were instantly gone! No reason to be sad! Life was a joy – even the parts that seemed to hold pain.
I saw my Mom grinning at me, and I swear I could feel her hand patting down the back of my neck, assuring me unconditionally that I was loved, would always find love, and didn’t need to go looking for it in all the wrong places. Love could never leave. The child never had to cry. Maybe even the dog could never die.
“Football, Dad! You should give a speech about football!”
“I think I will, son. I think I will.”