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Saying the 'L' Word to the Folks

By Darshak M. Sanghavi

ABOUT 15 years ago, any depressed person could have found some solace in talking to me. "How are you doing?" I might be asked.

"I love you," I would answer, to anybody who would listen, to any question a stranger would ask me.

But times change, and little boys grow up. These days, I don't know if it's something that's simply wrong with me, but I just can't say the words "I love you" to my parents. Last week, they called and ended our conversation with "We love you, son." I answered, "See you later," and hung up.

ODDLY, for me the words "love" and "parents" together conjure up visions of blind Greek kings, not filial affection. And I don't think I'm the only one with these reservations.

But now, I think I have a clue about why people feel this way.

It all starts with laundry.

Last year, my first in college, I ran out of socks for the first time. And yes, I was one of the spoiled bunch that had never operated a washing machine before.

So this was not the time to get overly complicated about the whole affair. I dumped all of my clothes in a washer, smacked in 75 cents, and washed cold. Mom had mentioned that cold washing prevents color bleeding.

I sat in my room feeling proud of myself for 15 minutes until I realized that I had, uh, left out the detergent. I went back and started over.

Mom, you're great, I thought, and even though I'm a laundry ignoramus right now, I appreciate all those years you did my laundry.

Then, later in the year, I got the flu. I had that bummer variety--when you're not sick enough to stay in your room and sleep all day, but not well enough to function normally.

I had to wait until 11 o'clock that night before I was perfectly miserable, and only then did I think of my father and the times he would stay up with me when I was sick and make sure I felt well, or at least comforted.

Thanks, dad, but I can't say "I love you."

THERE'S so much in American culture that has to be spoken. In India, where my parents come from, everyone takes care of their parents, but you never really have to say "I love you." It's just someting that's not done.

Maybe we are asked to say it because there is tremendous insecurity in the American household. A sociologist could explain it in terms of divorce rates, or whatever, but we are flooded with requests to show love for our parents.

After listening to Cat Steven's "Cat's in the Cradle" and Mike and the Mechanics' "The Living Years," most parents get that warm, fuzzy feeling and want to be cuddled by their children. And MacDonald's commercials like "Hey little man/Growing up just as fast as he can" urge us to indulge in filial love, but we do not seem to know just how to express it.

But for me, love is something that you feel for someone that you're attracted to both physically and mentally, as well as emotionally. I don't feel right using something describing sexual attraction when I tell my parents how I feel about them.

Unfortunately, our language has taken away real "love," that caring that's really special, and replaced it with something that a specific couple feels for each other. In effect, we are losing the art of caring communication with our parents because we are eliminating the necessary language.

So how should I tell my parents I care? It's a good thing that we have packaged love that costs less than $2.1 guess I'll just send a Hallmark card and stop worrying.

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