Whenever he went out of town – often for camping, visiting or something – even if just for a day, my father would bring us small gifts back to “let us know he was thinking of us.” On Christmas Eve, he would travel out to every open store (as our mother read us books, such as, “Twas the Night Before Christmas”) and buy us last minute gifts for Christmas. As if they hadn’t bought us enough already.
When we traveled with him, he would buy us treats along the way. It was what he did.
My father was a gift giving person.
He also spent a lot of time with us – walking, driving, singing, going camping, visiting amusement parks or playgrounds… When my father wasn’t working or sleeping (he was a shift worker) he was usually doing something with us.
But the gifts… that was his thing.
And had it not been for the other side of him. The part that I don’t like to talk about, yet had such a profound effect on my life. If it were not for that, the gift giving would have been welcome.
The thing is, however, that in those moments. The ones he wanted me to keep secret. The ones that hurt and confused me. The ones where what he was asking me to do was so wrong… in those moments, he used those very gifts against me.
And it wasn’t just the toys and candy he bought when he was away, or for Christmas, or whatever. I liked them, but I certainly wouldn’t have traded my innocence for them.
No. When he wanted me to do something like that, it was the things I was completely dependent on him for – food, clothes, a roof over my head – those things that an eight year old child can neither do without, or provide for herself – that he used against me.
Since “gifts” always came with such strings, is it any wonder that gift giving is not one of my “Love Languages?”
My husband’s “language” is serving. He cuts the grass, takes out the garbage, gets things done. And since we studied this before we were married, I understand that when he is doing these things (as he has mentioned on several occasions) it is his was of saying, “I love you.”
Certainly this is easier on me than if gift giving was his language – but serving can also come with strings, and while I make a point of translating, this is not my language at all. For those who have read the Bible, I am a Mary in a Martha world. Meaning that if I were with someone important, like Jesus, I would not be in the kitchen making food. I would instead have planted myself beside his feet, listening to everything he was saying.
That is who I am. I know that when my husband is doing things for me, he is saying, “I love you.” I know that. The thing is, though, that I don’t feel that love until he does something with me – like taking me camping, going for a kayak ride, going to the theatre.. when he does things with me, I feel he loves me. When I spend time with him, or with my son, I am saying that I love them. That is my love language.
Gifts often backfire for me, over traumas of the past. Words are lost on me, as I struggle with their meaning and honesty. Serving is something I know others do for another, and seems to be one of the most appreciated characteristics… but I have to translate it, and struggle to feel it. Physical touch, for those closest to me (and only when I know it is coming, and am prepared for it, due to my sensory issues) is something I appreciate. However, it is only when people spend time with me (and seem to want to be there) that I actually believe that they care for me.