To borrow a description from Bishop Jakes, I am a “10-gallon heart” person. My Dad is a pint-size heart person. It took me a long time to figure that out. It took me a long time to figure out that pint-size love was all he could offer to anyone – even to his children. Until that realization, my relationship with him caused me a lot of pain. He caused me a lot of pain. Lots of sadness. I wanted him to love me like I knew how to love, like I knew I wanted to be loved. I wanted 10-gallon size love from him. I mistakenly thought he was just choosing not to give me all he had. That he was choosing to give me only pint-size love even though he had 10 gallons or so in the fridge that he saved for those worthy of his love. His pint-size love never filled me up, it left me empty, it left me feeling unloved and worse yet, unworthy of his love.
When my first child was born she was in the Neonatal Intensive Unit for a few days because she had been born early, had water in her lungs and was so yellow I thought I must have eaten too much turmeric during pregancy. They whisked her away before I ever had a chance to hold her. The first time I did, sitting in a rocking chair in the “Nic” unit, as they called it, I remember looking up at my husband behind me and saying, “I can’t imagine loving her more than I do right now.” It was like hitting the bell on the carnival game High Striker (Yes, that is its name) on the first time up. In a single moment I got a glimpse of my capacity for love, of how big and wide and pure and all encompassing it could be. That was the moment I knew how big I loved. That I was a 10-gallon heart person.
The problem for us 10-gallon heart people is this: we think everyone has this same capacity, that everyone is walking around with 10-gallon hearts too and when they only give you a pint or a quart or a 1/2 gallon, we take it personally. We think they have more to give and are choosing not to. We ask, “Is that all you’ve got to give? Really? That just isn’t filling me up.” And we then start to try in a million different ways to get more love from a pint-size love person to fill our 10-gallon heart. (wow, that sounds like a bad country music song!) And this never works. You just can’t squeeze a gallon of love from a pint-size heart. (another one!)
And so it is with my Dad, and consequently with other men from my past. I was always attracted to pint-size heart men and I was always feeling unsatisfied. What took me a long time to learn is that everyone loves on different levels. We are all capable and built for love, we all need love but some of us just love BIGGER, our hearts are more voluminous. We have been hurt, we have built walls too but somehow we just go for broke anyway. We are willing. We let ourselves love big. Time and time again. We “Give all to love” as Ralph Waldo Emerson’s poem instructs. We love big and when we want to receive love back we want it BIG in return. We want it to fill us up. But pint-sized people just don’t know how to love big and they can’t receive big love back. They just don’t need it or they’ve closed their hearts off from past experiences of not receiving it. They were hurt and decided it was better to shut down than risk being that hurt again. They might have been 10-gallon people too at one point but decided it is safer to be pint-sized.
What I learned from my relationship from my Dad finally was this: you have to learn how to love people as they are and as the Oprah quote says, you have to learn “to love people at the level at which they can receive it” because a lot of people just can’t receive all you have to give. And consequentially, you have to learn that some people are giving you all they can and let that be ok, let that be enough. Even though you want more. Even though you don’t feel full. Live with the reality and not try to make them fit your “ideal” of what you thought your relationship should be. Of how you think they should love.
For me, I had to let go of the image, the ideal in my head of what I wanted my relationship with my father to be because he wasn’t what I had in mind, you know? He wasn’t the father I had in mind. He was no Ward Cleaver or Mike Brady. Not by a long shot. But he is the one I got and everyone is your teacher and he is no different. He has inadvertantly taught me a lot about love, in fact, he has been one of my greatest teachers in this regard. Here are some things I learned about love from my imperfect father:
I learned that some people just aren’t capable of big love and how to love them despite not getting what I wanted, what I thought I needed. That I am able to love someone even if they don’t love me the way I’d like them to back. That I can be at peace with it. That I can’t make every relationship into what I want it to be. Even the big ones – the fathers, mothers, children, husbands. I am able to let go of my expectations, my idyllic image and let the reality be enough even when it isn’t.
I learned that a lot of the pain from my relationship with my Dad and other pint- size heart people was from thinking I wasn’t worthy of their love or rather that they didn’t think I was worthy but I eventually learned to not blame myself, beat myself up or take it personally. I learned that I didn’t need to be at the effect of another’s capacity to love. I learned that pint-size love people were pint-sized before I got them.
I learned through lots of trial and error how to “love someone from another room.” I learned how to hold back on expressing my love the way I’d like to when people can’t receive it. I don’t stop loving them big in my heart, I just stop expressing it to them in ways that they can’t deposit. This was hard for me because my instinct is to love big and give big. I used to think they were at fault for not rising to my level of love. I thought I shouldn’t have to lower my level of love because of their inability to receive it. But this isn’t loving people as they are. This isn’t really loving at all, this is expecting. This is feeling “better than.” Really loving someone is loving them not despite their flaws, their imperfections but loving them because of them.
I learned how to cherish the people in my life who show me how much they love me in the big, big ways I like, not to take them for granted and soak it in – all that big love. But equally, I’ve learned how to recognize the pint-size people and cherish their signs of love towards me too. That even though they might seem small to me, they are really big for them and I have learned to be grateful for them. To recognize that love too.
Most importantly, I learned to love anyway. And always. Because the love you withhold is love you don’t feel yourself and I am here, you are here, to experience as much love as possible. Big and well, not as big. To be open to it in all its many forms and expressions even if it doesn’t live up to the ideal you dreamed it should be. Even if it is imperfect. As Bishop Jake says, “You need to learn how to love imperfect people because if you succeed at loving imperfect people, then it becomes plausible that somebody could love imperfect you.” And I am not perfect so I’ve stop expecting others to be. I’ve stopped expecting others to be anything than who they are and what they have to give. I’ve basically learned to love them at their level but I will admit to always loving when I meet another BIG love person – they just fill me up.
So on this Father’s Day, I am grateful. I am grateful for the father I got. He wasn’t the father I wanted or would have chosen but maybe, just maybe he was the father I needed. To learn how to love unconditionally. To learn how to love no matter what love is given to me or withheld. No matter if it is big, big 10-gallon love, pint-sized or any size in between. I have learned to be grateful for it all. To love imperfect people and to love imperfect me. As Nat King Cole sang, “love is the thing.” I couldn’t agree more, whether it be big or small, to love, that is the thing. That is the thing.
Happy Father’s Day to all those perfect and imperfect Dads out there.
Beautifully Well Said Maeve!!
I needed that