“Every household has a first language, a kind of language of the home,” says Alex Kalman in The Art of Noticing: 131 Ways to Spark Creativity, Find Inspiration and Discover Joy in the Everyday.
If that’s true, the language of the home I grew up in was chaos.
My dad worked long hours in a Honeywell factory, assembling parts for our nation’s space program.
Sometimes he came home after his 12-hour shift. Often, he went out drinking. Sometimes he got drunk. Occasionally bad things happened. Like the time a buddy who was driving plowed into the back of a parked car, sending my dad through the windshield and to the emergency room to have his scalp stitched back together.
I learned about that the next morning when my mom sent me into my parents’ bedroom to wake my dad. I was in sixth grade at the time and, nearly 60 years later, can still picture his dried blood on my parents’ white sheets and the rows of stitches that ran up my dad’s forehead and into his balding scalp.
There was also the time my dad drove his car off the road and into a house. And the many times he just didn’t come home. By then, he owned a neighborhood bar where he and his favorite customers often stayed drinking until the wee hours of the morning.
And, no surprise, there were the frequent fights his drinking caused, fights he often didn’t remember but that I still find hard to forget.
Although there’s a lot about our COVID-induced isolation that I resent, one thing I do appreciate is that it’s given me the time and space to think more deeply about the patterns of behavior I grew up with and which ones no longer serve me.
Therapy and a supportive partner are a big help. So is Dr. Gary Chapman, whose work centers on helping people learn what he refers to as the five “love languages”:
- Affirming with words
- Giving gifts
- Offering physical touch
- Performing acts of service
- Spending quality time together
Although I wish the language of my home would have been different when I was growing up, I’m working hard to make love its language–and mine–now.