Love is the active concern for the life and growth of that which we love. [i]Eric Fromm, The Art of Loving
Did I understand love before I knew you?
Love, I don’t believe I fully understood it until I saw you. In fact, I know I didn’t. I couldn’t fully see it in all its luminous and sublime beauty. Its magnificent brilliance eluded and befuddled me. Indeed, I knew it and yet I did not. For though I knew of it, I didn’t know it as love can be known. For in you I see it clearer and brighter than I’ve ever seen it before. In you, I see the validity of love. In you, I see love’s power to unite what is separated.
Erich Fromm writes, “Without love, humanity could not exist for a day” [ii]. Before you, I didn’t realize how much I depend on love as a part of my existence, nay, the very foundation of my existence. Nor did I understand the loneliness and separation that existed within my soul. Thus, when I look at you, I ask myself, “Could love be the answer to the problem of existence?” That in some way, my love for you helps me to overcome the “deepest need of man . . . to leave the prison of his aloneness” [iii].
In you I find a way out of the prison of the self
In you, I’ve discovered that love is not an object, a philosophy, or even a theology. Instead, I’ve finally realized that love is “an active power” [iv] within us, one that helps us overcome humanity’s crippling separation. Love, simply is, “an action, the practice of a human power, which can be practiced only in freedom and never as the result of a compulsion” [v]. Your life awakens my own power, one not built on force or control but on the freedom and willingness to give. As such, through you I find my own capacity to give. Through you I learn that “love is primarily giving, not receiving” [vi].
This realization—that to love is to give—enhances my own life in ways you can’t see now. Of course, you’re unable to perceive these changes, the ways you lead me to new discoveries about myself. My love for you instills in me the capacity to love more, to be more caring, nurturing, and joyful. For in giving you love, I find within myself a capacity for love I never thought possible. Where does this capacity to love come from? How is it that my love continues to grow unceasingly and exponentially ? Indeed, you lead me to discover what is profoundly real.
In loving I give, in giving I love, in loving I know
Being your father has embarked me upon a path of discovery and knowledge. Because what I have realized is this—that the truest and most extraordinary form of knowing is through loving. By this I mean that love must be, can only be, our ground for discovery and knowledge.
The only way of full knowledge lies in the act of love: this act transcends thought, it transcends words. It is the daring plunge into the existence of union. [vii]
If love is an activity, then it orients us toward loving all. How can we limit our love? Who in experiencing love, true love, is able to say, “I love you but only you”? For in loving one, we extend ourselves infinitely outward as if the floodgates of our souls were opened for the entire world. How can one then impede the roaring rush of love’s fathomless labor? Therefore, “If I truly love one person I love all persons, I love the world, I love life. If I can say to somebody else, ‘I love you,’ I must be able to say, ‘I love in you everybody, I love through you the world, I love in you also myself'” [viii].
Love, as an activity of giving, places us on a path of discovery whereby we realize that we can’t know what we don’t love. If we wish to know the world, we must first love the world. And to love the world we must give ourselves to it. Simply put, love must orient us toward all. Without love, we’re doomed to remain trapped in the prison of our own being. That’s not to say we don’t wish to be loved. Being loved is both easy and desirable. But it’s only in the act of loving that we learn that “love means to commit oneself without guarantee, to give oneself completely in the hope that our love will produce love in the loved person. Love is an act of faith, and whoever is of little faith is also of little love” [ix]. I can’t give to what I don’t love. I can’t love what I don’t know. I can’t know what I’m not willing to love. Love is the first and greatest act of faith.
How is it that one person can inspire so much love? Truly, when I see you I want to love you, which in turn makes me give you my love, and that inevitably makes me love you more and more. And as I love you, I know you. I know you in the sense of who you are now, as someone utterly dependent on me. But more than that, I embark upon knowing you as the person you’ll become. Loving you is an act that transcends the present. Because ultimately I don’t know what will come from the love I give to you. I don’t know yet the things we’ll share, the joys and struggles you might endure, or even the person you’ll become. And though I don’t know these things, I do know that I love you, now and in the future. Thus, loving you is my act of faith.
You show me love’s liminality
Fatherhood is a journey toward the unknown. In loving you, I’ve come to realize that there will be no way to predict what kind of journey we’ll share. Indeed, such a journey requires a faith built upon humility and courage. I’ll require humility to learn from my mistakes, and courage to risk humbling myself—to admit the mistakes I’m bound to make along the way. Zygmunt Bauman suggests that,
Without humility and courage, no love. Both are required, in huge and constantly replenished supplies, whenever one enters an unexplored and unmapped land, and when love happens between two or more human beings it ushers them into such a territory. [x]
Parenthood is a transitional time. It’s a liminal journey, one that takes us through a period of uncertainty and doubt. When I look at you, I know that I’m no longer the same person I was before you. Surely, something remarkable has changed within my being. Because when I look at you, my being resonates with an indescribable affirmation of both union and expectation. As your father, I can sense that there is something within my own being that wasn’t there before. It’s as if you’ve fulfilled and healed a kind of separateness within my own soul. You’ve added yourself to me, my existence—my being, which has helped heal my own brokenness. Still, this is also terrifying. Because of you I have changed, and I am still changing. Who will I be? Who will we be? Without a doubt, we’re moving together toward an unknown future. Each day, parenthood feels like a ritualistic initiation preparing us—together—for some unknown culmination. And yet, this journey will never end. I’ll always be your father and you’ll always be my daughter. Perhaps it’s preparing me for you, and you for me. Together, in this liminal time, we’re learning what it means to love. As a child, you’re learning how to be loved. As a father, I’m learning how to give love. We both grow and expand through giving and receiving love. And in loving, we both add to the world around us.
Love is about adding to the world—each addition being the living trace of the loving self; in love, the self is, bit by bit, transplanted onto the world. The loving self expands through giving itself away to the loved object. [xi]
God is love.
The act of love first begins in God’s love for us. The first giver moves us to give. God’s giving is the gift of God’s very self for the world. It suggests that love moves in us because God first reached for us—God wished to know us. Thus, love is neither a power of our will or an possession we wield. Instead, as Thomas Merton reminds us, “The root of Christian love is not the will to love, but the faith that one is loved. The faith that one is loved by God” [xii].
In loving you, I’ve realized something. Indeed, the simplicity of it first eluded me. Before you I attempted to love out of my own strength. I tried to will my love into being. Unsurprisingly, my love always came up short. It failed to go beyond my own ego, my own being. I failed in my giving. But your existence reveals what was lacking in my own giving—Love’s very identification with me. Merton beautifully illustrates this in writing,
I who am without love cannot become love unless Love identifies me with Himself. But if He sends His own Love, Himself, to act and love in me and in all that I do, then I shall be transformed, I shall discover who I am and shall possess my true identity by losing myself in Him. [xiii]
Love is my true identity. Selflessness is my true self. Love is my true character. Love is my name. [xiv]
You’ve helped me discover where my true self resides. My true self isn’t in things or status. It isn’t in money or power. My true self can only be in Love. Love is both my origin and destination. By giving, knowing, and loving you, I more clearly see what I am—one who is loved by Love. And if I am loved by Love, then the love I give to you isn’t my own, but God’s. And in turn, the love you’ll share with me won’t be your own—it will be God’s.
When the Love of God is in me, God is able to love you through me and you are able to love God through me.
And because it is in both of us, God has greater glory. His love is expressed in two more ways in which it would not otherwise be expressed; that is, in two more joys that could not exist without Him. [xv]
Is parenthood the only way to experience this? Of course not. This discovery of Love is different for each individual. God’s love is personalized, tailored for the uniqueness that reflects human individuality. But for me my discovery began when I saw you. I could feel God’s infinite love healing the separateness within my being. I discovered that . . .
I needed you.
[i] Erich Fromm, The Art of Loving (New York: HarperCollins, 2006), 25.
[ii] Fromm, 17.
[iii] Fromm, 9.
[iv] Fromm, 19.
[v] Fromm, 21.
[vi] Fromm, 21. Italics in original
[viii] Fromm, 43.
[ix] Fromm, 118.
[x] Zygmunt Bauman, Liquid Love (Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2003), 7.
[xi] Bauman, 9.
[xii] Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation (New York: New Directions, 2007), 75.
[xiii] Merton, 63.
[xiv] Merton, 61.
[xv] Merton, 67.