I give my son a Valentine’s Day card to keep the family tradition

  • Growing up, my dad got me a Valentine’s Day card every year, and it made me feel loved.
  • He still sends me a valentine every year in the mail. It has become our tradition.
  • I am now passing this tradition on to my son by giving him a similar card each Valentine’s Day.

When my son was 4 years old, he wanted to marry me. He believed that people who truly loved each other stayed together forever, and that meant we both had to get married. Careful not to include scary stories of Greek tragedy and lost eyes, I tried to explain why this couldn’t happen. This was a big concept for a young child, and the whole thing confused him.

Rocking him as he cried, I whispered, “I will love you forever.” My words didn’t heal quickly, so I thought about how my parents supported our connection. Then I remembered the Valentine’s cards my dad gave me every year.

I don’t know exactly how my dad’s Valentine’s cards got started

It’s one of those things that’s always been around, akin to a Claire’s shop at the local mall or the world’s innate knowledge of Beatles lyrics. When I was about my son’s age, the first Valentine’s Day cards appeared to my dad after a long day of work and school. They were always thoughtful and always read, “Happy Valentine’s Day! Love you daddy.”

I distinctly remember doing my homework at the kitchen table one Valentine’s Day when I was 12. My eyes kept wandering to the clock above the stove as I tried to predict when my dad would be home. His job as an orthopedic salesman kept him working odd hours, so one night he might be here during the evening news, and another day he might be there after the afternoon cartoons. I told myself I was too old to watch cartoons, but somehow I didn’t feel too old to get a Valentine’s Day card from my dad. I was curious to see if he would remember this year, because the boy I liked in school certainly didn’t.

Walking into the kitchen during the evening news, my dad said, “Here you are, honey.”

He handed me a red envelope, but he didn’t stop to watch me open it. He let me rip and pull until I could read the inscription: “Happy Valentine’s Day! Love, Daddy.”

I yelled “thanks” and stuffed the card in my bag. Her Valentine’s card got mixed up with the other 36 cards from my classmates, but it added up to so much more. I had forgotten about the boy who broke my heart because my father hadn’t forgotten me. I felt the love – and I came to rely on it.

Relationships came and went, but my dad and his Valentine cards were always there.

Tonilyn Hornung Valentine's Day Card

One of the cards the writer received from her father.

Tonilyn Hornung

Of course, there were other cards for birthdays and holidays, and other occasions when my parents supported me, but those Valentine’s Day cards made an impression. Cards have grown on me – when I was little it was fun to get a present, as a teenager they demystified an adult holiday, and now, as an adult, I feel appreciated and, well, loved.

As I’ve grown up, I’ve come to expect the Valentine’s Day card in my mailbox every year. I’m always happy when I get a letter that’s not a bill.

Now, with some parenting perspective, I see how years of consistency have given way to greater feelings of trust being established between my father and me.

Somehow he changed the romance and commercialism of Valentine’s Day and centered the holiday around love – the love between the two of us. And I want that for my son too.

So when my son was 4, I picked up my dad’s tradition. I hope I can add the same sense of fun and consistency to our connection that my dad added to ours.

I’m only 4 years old, but it’s a specific kind of déjà vu to see my son gleefully ripping and pulling red envelopes to read what the card always says: “Happy Valentine’s Day! Love you Mom.”

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