Lifelong Lessons on Learning to Love

I can’t believe that Monday was the Fourth of July! I’m still taking stock of all the moments of reflection and learning that manifested for me in June.

Some of what I learned feels important, so I’ve decided to mention it here in my blog.

There were many opportunities for celebration this June: Summer Solstice, a Lunar Eclipse, and Father’s Day.

Father’s Day?

In fact, yes. Father’s Day. This year the third Sunday in June gave me pause, but it wasn’t always the case.

My own father died over 40 years ago, and growing up in Monroe, NC, my family celebrations were limited to children’s birthdays and Christian holidays.

Therefore most of my ideas about Father’s Day were shaped by greeting card commercials. And the affectionate families in those TV scenes always seemed more like a Hollywood romance than any household I’d ever known.

Father’s Day was just another summer weekend as far as I was concerned. I associated it with the end of a school year and the beginning of vacation time. Most years I probably didn’t notice the day at all.

So I will always remember the first Father’s Day that would shape my experience forever.

Sunday, June 19th, 1966. On this special Father’s Day, my husband, Charles, and I had a 6-month-old baby boy. So this time the occasion was just one more opportunity to celebrate the beautiful life we’d created together, and more importantly: to notice with unspoken trepidation that our lives had irrevocably changed.

Having a son transformed almost everything about our experience as a couple, and in more ways than we knew how to manage. We were so young and so very naïve. I had incorrectly assumed that adding my new role as a mother to my existing role as a wife would be an easy and seamless transition for myself and for my husband. To say that we were mistaken would be a polite understatement and I think our young son sensed our anxiety, which manifested for him physically as months of painful colic.

The three of us did not know how to communicate our needs to each another and I often found myself crying right along with my baby boy. I feel certain that our first Father’s Day was a stressful sleep-deprived occasion. And I feel equally certain that neither my husband nor I discussed this fact with each other.

I can say for myself that I was too afraid of what he might think of me. Wasn’t everything supposed to be perfect? What was wrong with me?

My husband and I had been together 7 years, 4 of them as husband and wife. And we were crazy about each other. I loved my husband, Charles, as much as I knew how to love someone. We met in college on a blind date and I never looked back. Our adventures together during our twenties, when it was just the two of us, are to this day some of the best times of my life. Those memories are treasures.

We intentionally decided to wait before having children. We were married in June after our college graduations and were both eager to build our home, start our careers, and explore the world together. And so we did. Those early years that we took for ourselves were a tremendous gift we gave each other.

And on Father’s Day in 1966 I felt doubly blessed with another gift, being the mother to our young son. The birth of my son, Charles IV, completely changed my experience of what it meant to love another human being. I felt safe to love unconditionally my helpless newborn in part, I think, because he was completely and totally dependent on me and I liked feeling needed in that way. I liked it so much in fact that I focused all of my energy and attention on his care and well being. On the one hand, I thought that’s what I was “supposed” to do, and on the other hand… I had fallen in love with motherhood and I didn’t realize that there was room in my heart for much else.

It has taken me 44 years to realize that on Father’s Day in 1966 while I was celebrating my new son, what I wish I had also been celebrating was my beloved husband.

I now know that I have an enormous capacity for loving and for allowing myself to be loved. What gave me pause on Father’s Day this past June was when I realized that now, after all these years, I am still quietly celebrating my beautiful son, and I’m also quietly honoring his father (even though we’ve been divorced almost 30 years).

What I realized upon reflection during Father’s Day of this year was how profoundly I’d underestimated my heart’s capacity to love. I also noticed that it’s never too late for experiencing love in all its unexpected forms. I feel grateful for this noticing and for all of my heart’s connections, even the quiet ones I keep to myself.

I used to wish that things in my life had taken a different path. Yet sitting here today, I wouldn’t trade my life and all of its lessons for anything.

In my new book, Reaching for Your New Life: Healthy Recovery from Divorce, I share in more detail the lessons I learned during my marriage, divorce and the 30 year journey that has brought me here today. I have never been happier and I hope the lessons I’ve learned might comfort and inspire someone else.

For anyone who is a new mother or a long-time parent: I encourage you to celebrate your husband every chance you get, don’t wait until Father’s Day. Raising a child with a partner you love is a gift every day. If your relationship has ended or is struggling, I believe the best thing is to keep moving forward. Every experience is an opportunity for learning and that includes learning new ways to love.

I plan to explore and enjoy new and different ways of finding love for as long as I live. I know now that there is room in my heart for each and every one of you.

~ Dr. Sara

My son, Charles IV, with his father, Charles III

10 Responses to “Lifelong Lessons on Learning to Love”

  • Dale:

    What a lovely reminder of our capacity for love. Thank you, Sara.
    Dale
    PS Wonderful photo of Charles!

  • Sara Lou!
    This is one of the most beautiful, wonderfully expressed, bit of writing that I have ever read.

    What are the chances of my reprinting it in place of one of my articles sometime?

    Let’s have lunch sometime. Margaret is coming to Monroe Sunday – I’m assuming that she is having her hair done on Tuesday. Don’t know how long she’ll be here. Or you and I could just catch up between the two of us.

    Nita

  • Fred Rose:

    Your words express your wisdom and the depth of your life. Thank you for such a helpful exposition of the way “all things work together for good.” As a pastor, I often encourage people to consider how this can be true for them. Certainly, when there are personal tragedies, we cannot affirm this idea quickly. You have given me and us another way to take a longer view of things and love and appreciate one another in all the right ways. Thank you for this profound sharing. I have not been following your blog until today. Someone emailed me and said you need to look at this. It is really good. You are now on my favorites list and I will be a part of your blog network from now on. Thank you! Thank you!

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