I LOVE men. That only became a problem for me when my seven-year-old daughter found out.
We were sitting at the kitchen table and she had drawn circles on the back of old Christmas paper with her pink marker and roll of celluloid tape, and I was busy filling them in. We were mapping out my future, using mind maps.
“You can’t say that,” she said, espying the first of my three entries in my life-convictions circle.
“Can’t say what?” I asked, shocked. It’s not how I raised her.
Her arched eyebrow had the look of ‘come on, daddy, you don’t really expect me to have to say it out loud, do you?’ So, being the good dad that I am, I helped her out.
“You mean, like, I love men?”
She gave me a fervent nod full of gratitude for having spared her from having to say it.
“But why?” I asked.
To her seven-year-old credit, she waded straight in up to her knees.
“The s-thing.” (My mother would have clattered me had I come out with that aged seven.) “The s-thing? You mean, like, the sex thing?” I said.
‘Don’t tell me I have to explain it to you, daddy? You do know about the birds and the bees, don’t you?’ her wry smile said.
“And you can’t say that either,” she said, spotting my second life conviction.
I was beginning to regret ever having taught her to read.
“What?” says I.
“You can’t say, ‘I love women’.”
“Oh, you can’t, can you not?”
She knitted her brows together disapprovingly, like her father.
“And why not?” says I.
“Because you love mummy.”
“Oh, right, so I can’t love other women then?”
“And what about this?” I asked as I pointed to my last conviction, deciding that I may as well be hung for a lamb as a sheep.
“Oh, no. No, that’s okay,” she said.
I almost sighed with relief. My last conviction? ‘I love children’.
You see the problem, don’t you? Oh, you don’t? Well, let me explain.
When I told my friends that I was going to write in the Irish Examiner about how I love men, women and children, they counselled caution. Can you not just say you love people, they said. Or at least give some context, otherwise people are going to misinterpret you? Well, some context.
I love men for the way in which they struggle to do justice to their inner world of feelings and the outer world of relationships. I love women for the way in which they struggle to do justice to relationships in a male-dominated world that doesn’t value intimacy. I love children because I have three children.
So, you see now what I am getting at?
It is time to dignify the language of love before it’s too late.
Now, where has my seven-year-old gone till I give her a hug? She deserves it, after all the shocks I gave her.
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