“Do you love me?” My child asked me during our walk this evening.
I paused. I didn’t like what I was about to say, but my child needed to hear this.
“No, I don’t love you.”
“Why not?” He looked at me unsurprised.
“I don’t know, I just don’t fucking love you!” I yelled at him. “I said, I don’t fucking love you!” I savored the words.
My child knew me better than I thought I knew myself. He knew why I was really saying that.
“But I want to love you. So let’s work this out,” I said. “Let’s figure out why I don’t love you.”
The energy hit us as we entered the forest. Life. Nature. The charge of life force immediately entered me and made my skin tingle.
“Look at those houses,” my child said, about the ones lining the pathway into the forest. “I wonder how rich you have to be to buy one of those.”
“Do you think the people who live there are happy though?” I said. “Your house doesn’t make you who you are. Your heart does.”
“So why aren’t you using yours?”
I skipped down the forest trail with my child, letting go of my usual marching gait. He and I were perfectly in sync as we admired the tall trees and embraced the raw life force all around us. I smiled and almost laughed as I forgot all about the stresses of my day – early waking up, coffee, working on projects, going out to daygame but only seeing one girl I wanted to approach – then not approaching her.
“Do you think we’ll see a coyote?” I teased my child.
“If we do, I’ll fight him off.”
“You sure you can take on a coyote? I sure can, but I don’t know about you.”
“Yeah, I’ll beat him up.”
“What are you scared of?” My child asked, right after we walked down the forest’s steep hill. “I keep telling you, you deserve to find a girl to love, but why didn’t you say hi to that girl we saw earlier today who you thought was really cute? Or the one before that? Or the one before that? Why do you only approach the girls who reject you?”
“Because I don’t love you. I keep expecting some random perfect girl to come and love you instead. That should be her job, not mine, right?”
“You know perfect girls don’t exist. Are you scared the real ones won’t like you?”
“It used to be that I didn’t think they’d like me, but I have a strong sense of my own value now,” I said. “Now, I fear they won’t open themselves up to me. I fear that they’ll be fearful and hide their hearts away.”
“Are you not hiding your own heart away too?”
“How do I stop?”
“Why don’t you take your hat off?” My child smiled.
Yeah, who am I trying to impress? I thought. I took my favourite black cap off and held it at my side like a football, exposing my not-full head of hair to the sunlight, the one I’d been ashamed of since age 14. High school was very fun for me.
“You know why I asked you that, right?” My child said as we approached the river that ran right through the middle of the forest.
We needed to hear the truth. “It’s a crutch,” I said. “I’m scared of being out of the ordinary, a young guy with hair loss.”
“Remember every girl who liked you so far?” My child listed some girls from my past. “You weren’t wearing a hat the first time you met all of them. Do you think they liked you for your hair?”
“No, they didn’t.”
“So why do you still cover your head? If you want a girl who likes you for you?”
“Because I don’t love 100% of myself.”
“Well, I love 100% of you, and it’s not because you’re perfect. It’s because you’ve been through a lot, but you’re still you. I don’t need any other reason.”
“But you’re scared of the other kids not liking you. You’re scared of them being mean to you and leaving you out of their games. You have your shame too.”
“If it means I get to grow up to be you, I’m not so scared anymore.”
The forest led to the local university campus. I strolled with my child there, still holding my favourite cap like a football. Silently daring all the students around me to take a weird look at me.
But not a single one looked at me like I was out of the ordinary.
“See?” My child said. “I love you even if you’ve lost some things. Why do you assume no one will appreciate you unless you’re perfect? You keep talking about letting go of the burden of perfection, but have you really done that with yourself?”
“No, I guess not.”
“So when a girl who’s worth saying hi to comes your way… Show her you, all of you, and maybe she won’t be afraid to open her heart to you. She won’t be afraid of being imperfect for you, just like you’re afraid of being imperfect for her.”
My child and I went back into the forest, craving a meal, our feet pleasantly hurting from all our nonstop walking.
“You know, I took a lot from you, how I’ve lived, how I’ve treated myself over the years,” I said. “Why don’t you take something from me for a change?”
I placed my favourite black cap on his little head.
“It suits your archetype, the creative writer you’ll become someday.”
“Do you have anything else you want to say to me?” My child asked.
“Yeah. I love you. I love all of you. I love 100% of you,” I hugged him tightly.
“I love 100% of you too,” my child hugged me even more tightly.