The Two Sides of Love

by | Jun 1, 1999 | Love, Reconciliation

Trust in the Lord, with all your heart. Never rely on what you think you know. Remember the Lord in everything you do, and He will show you the way. Prov. 3:5,6

Darrell stood outside the local pizza parlor, hesitating before he opened the door. He shook his head as if to clear away his last-minute doubts about this meeting. Finally, with a sigh, he forced aside his fear, pushed open the door, and walked into his son’s favorite restaurant.

He dreaded this meeting so much that it took all his emotional strength just to walk inside instead of turning away. Little did he know that within a few hours, he would experience one of the most positive events of his life.

Darrell had come to meet his 17-year-old son, Charles. Though Darrell loved Charles deeply, he also knew that of his two boys, Charles was the most different from him.

With his older son, Larry, communication was never a struggle. They acted and thought so much alike that they didn’t need to talk much. They just did things together, like hunting or working on their cars. Darrell had always treated Larry as he did the men at his construction sites­rough. And Larry had always responded well to-even thrived on-that kind of treatment.

But Charles was a different case. Darrell could tell early on that Charles was much more sensitive than Larry. Each time Darrell blasted this son to motivate him like his older brother, Darrell could hear an alarm going off deep inside himself.

Darrell had received major doses of discipline and dis­tance in his life-the hard side of love-but only a scant spoonful of warmth and acceptance-love’s soft side. And what little he had been given, he had also measured out to his sons.

It’s my job to put clothes on their backs and food on the table; it’s their mother’s job to make them feel loved, he told himself over and over. But he couldn’t quite convince himself that that was all there was to being a father. Darrell knew how deeply he had been hurt by his own dad. And he had seen that same hurt in Charles’s eyes a hundred times.

Darrell knew what a major part of the problem was. Charles had expected-almost demanded-a close rela­tionship with him over the years. It wasn’t enough that they go hunting together. Charles wanted to talk while they were on the trip-even while they were hunting!

Only recently had Darrell realized that the sole reason he and Charles were getting along at the moment was that his son had quit talking to him-altogether! Just as Darrell had done as a teenager with his own tough father, Charles had withdrawn to a safe distance and was doing his best to stay out of his dad’s way.

Like many of us, Darrell had been on the run from close relationships. For years, his wife and son had been pursuing

him. And for as many years, he’d been running away from them, trying to keep a “comfortable” distance between them.

Then one day Darrell got a clear look at himself during a men’s retreat at his church and the running stopped. That day at the retreat, he came face to face with the fact that there are two sides of love. Like many men, he had become an expert on its hard side. He could hand out the spankings, but not reach out to hug his son. In a heart­beat he could call down a mistake Charles made, but words of encouragement came up only on a holiday or birthday-if then.

At that men’s retreat, Darrell learned that as important as a mother’s love is, children need more. They desper­ately need their father’s wholehearted love as well.

Darrell was a strong man, both emotionally and physi­cally. Yet as tough as he fancied himself, one question the speaker asked pierced through to his heart: “When was the last time you put your arms around your son and told him face to face that you love him?”

Darrell couldn’t think of a “last time.” In fact, he couldn’t think of a first time.

He listened as the speaker told him that genuine love has two sides, not just one. Instantly he realized he had been loving Charles only half heartedly and that his son needed both sides of love from the same person.

What Charles needed most in a father was a real man who could show him how to love a wife and family wholeheartedly, not an insecure man who had to hand off all the warm and loving actions to his wife. Darrell had spent years hard-siding his son to gain his respect; what he had gained instead was his fear and resentment. And it was this realization that caused Darrell to talk his son into meeting him at the local pizza restaurant after football practice one afternoon.

“Hi, Dad,” Charles said, shaking hands with his father who had just walked in. Charles was six foot two and was used to looking down when he greeted people. But h was looking up to meet his dad’s eyes. And although Darrell had turned 51 that same month, he had none c the middle-age spread that most men his age carry Instead, he still possessed the athletic build that had made him a star on his high school football team.

“Charles,” Darrell said, adjusting his glasses and looking down slightly as he spoke, “I’ve been doing a lot o thinking lately. It’s been hitting me hard that this is you last summer at home. You’ll be leaving for college soon And along with the bags of clothing you’ll be packing you’ll also be taking emotional bags that, for good or bad I’ve helped you pack over the years.”

Charles was normally the family comedian, but this time, instead of trying to “lighten up” the conversation, he sat quietly. It wasn’t like his father to talk about their relation­ship. In fact, it wasn’t like him to talk about anything seri­ous. That’s why he was all ears as he listened to his father.

“Son, I’d like to ask you to do something. Think back as far as you can-back to three years old even-and remember every time I’ve hurt your feelings and never made things right; every time I’ve made you feel unloved or inadequate by something I’ve said or done.

“I know we’re different people. I can see now that I was always pretty hard on you. Actually, I was way too tough on you most of the time. I’ve tried to push you into being the person I thought you should be. Now I realize I’ve spent very little time listening to who you really want to become.

“Feel free to share with me anything I’ve done that’s hurt you, and all I’m going to do is listen. Then I’d like for us to talk about it, and I want to ask your forgiveness for each thing you can think of. You don’t need to be packing any extra, negative baggage that I may have given you.

You’ve got enough ahead of you over the next four years in college without that.”

“I realize there’s been a lot of water under the bridge­a lot of wasted years.” Taking off his glasses and wiping tears from his eyes, he sighed, then looked straight at Charles. “We may be here all night,” he continued, “and I’m ready for that. But first, you need to know how much I love you and how proud I am of you.”

Charles had seen the words “I love you” written on birthday and Christmas cards in his father’s handwriting, but this was the first time he had heard them from his father’s lips. He’d learned to expect his father’s hardness. Now that Dad had added softness to his love, Charles didn’t know what to say.

“Dad,” he stammered, “don’t worry about the past. I know you love me.” But at his father’s insistence, he put his memory on “rewind” and let his thoughts fly back across the pictures he’d accumulated from 17 years of being with his dad.

Slowly, as Charles grew more confident that the conver­sational waters really were safe, he unloaded years of hurt right at the table. There were the seasons he spent becom­ing an outstanding football player to please his father, when all the time he would rather have been playing soccer.

There was the subtle resentment he had always felt that no matter how hard he tried, he could never quite live up to his older brother’s accomplishments. And there were the many harsh comments his father had made to motivate him but that had actually been discouraging and hurtful.

As he recounted to his father each experience, large or small, Charles could see a genuine softness and sorrow in his dad’s eyes. What’s more, he heard words of remorse and healing for even the smallest thing that had left a rough edge on a memory.

Nearly three hours later, the fruitful conversation finally came to an end. As Darrell reached for the check, he said, “I know this was quick notice for you to have to think back on 17 years. So just remember, my door is always open if there’s anything else I need to ask your for­giveness for.”

Dinner was over, but a new relationship was just begin­ning for them. After 17 years of being strangers living under the same roof, they were finally on their way to finding each other.

Not long ago, television news cameras captured thou­sands of people cheering as the Berlin Wall came down after dividing the city for more than 25 years. And that night in the restaurant, we can just imagine that angels stood all around and cheered as the first hole in an emo­tional wall between a father and son was blown open.

It had been a moving night and an important one for both of them. But as they stood up, Charles did some­thing that shocked his father.

Several people looked up from tables nearby as a big, strapping football player reached out and gave his equally strong father a warm bear hug for the first time in years. With tears in their eyes, those two strong men stood there holding each other, oblivious to the stares.

Gary Smalley and John Trent

By Gary Smalley and John Trent from Chicken Soup for the Christian Soul. Copyright 1997 by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen & Patty Aubery and Nancy Mitchell, p. 126-131. Http://


The Two Sides of Love