Don't Worry, Mom

Coping with anxiety in families

The Love in Chicken Broth

Finding love in unexpected places

When we are dissatisfied in relationships, often it is because we do not feel cared about or appreciated.  We have expectations for how someone who loves us “should” act.  We judge how much someone loves us by how many times they buy us flowers or whether they take care of us when we are sick.  We assume that others show their love in the same way that we do and if they don’t follow that equation, we worry that the love is not there.  We try to read the minds of other people around us rather than just asking them how they feel or looking for how they express their love.  The problem is that we each show our love differently and if you spend your time looking for those special signs of love and judging your relationships based on that, you may overlook what is right in front of your face and miss out on the most important thing of all—being loved.

My father was never a demonstrative person.  He was never one to hug or kiss.  He never told me that he loved me.  He rarely smiled or expressed joy.  He only told me once that he was proud of me.  In fact, he rarely talked to me at all.

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I grew up trying to gain his love—playing sports so I could spend some time with him, trying to learn how to fix things around the house, attempting to become the Daddy’s girl that so many other girls were.  I tried to get perfect grades so he'd be proud of me. I even tried to learn about football so I could watch the Sunday game with him. 

All of my attempts seemed to fail and after many anxiety-provoking years of trying to win his heart, eventually I gave up on it and accepted that he just didn’t care about me and never would.  When he died a few years ago, the thing that saddened me the most was that I never got to know him or to feel his love.  I never even knew if he was glad that I was his daughter or if my existence mattered to him at all.  A strange and sad way for a girl to grow up, but I accepted it as how it was.

Since his death, there have been many times when I have been going through my life and have been reminded of him all of the sudden—times when I have looked at my kid and seen my father looking back at me; moments when I was reminded of something he said or did and laughed at the memory.  And I have been struck by ways in which he showed me that he cared that I entirely missed at the time—little things that he did to take care of me without me even realizing it. 

When I was in college, he always bought me chicken soup to take back to my dorm with me.  There was no kitchen in our dorm room so it was difficult to cook much of anything.  His solution was to provide me with as many as 25 cans of chicken broth every time I came home—in case I got sick,  was hungry late at night, or couldn’t make it out to the dining hall.  I can remember going home to find a paper shopping bag filled with cans of chicken broth.  Before I left to go back to school, he always made sure that I had my allotment of soup.  I faithfully lugged it back to my dorm with me, wondering what the old man’s fixation on chicken broth was and what I would do with 25 cans of chicken broth.  There were times when I had as many as 40 or 50 cans of chicken broth in my dorm room all stacked up waiting for whatever illness or disaster could lead a college student to survive on chicken broth alone.  But I always took that broth back with me and I always ended up using it.

He’s the one who taught me how to snake a drain with a coat hanger.   He showed me how to climb a rope when I was a kid.  He taught me the importance of a cast iron skillet to making really good fried potatoes.  He bought me special moisturizing body wash one winter after I had complained about how dry my skin was.  He once saw a needlepoint kit in a store and picked it up because he thought that I might like it.  Then he made a frame for it when I finished it and hung it prominently in our dining room.

He didn’t do the hugging or provide me with comfort when my heart was broken.  He never took me to a father-daughter dance or listened to me talk about my day at school.  He never baked me a birthday cake or praised me for my grades.  He wasn’t the one who stood in line at the toy store to get me the perfect Christmas presents.  He never did the things that I expected of a loving Daddy, so I overlooked the ways that he did show me that he loved me and spent my lifetime wondering how to win his love.  It turns out that it was there all along, in those 50 cans of chicken broth.

Copyright Amy Przeworski

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Amy Przeworski, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of psychology at Case Western Reserve University and specializes in anxiety disorders in children, adolescents, and adults.

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