I was in my third year of college the first time one of my parents said, "I love you."
Imagine going your whole life, never hearing those words. Never even realizing that you were not hearing them because you had never heard them.
My family was not the kind to be openly amorous with one another and I did my part to perpetuate it, like a good little Buschhorn.
We said goodbye when I left for college on the other side of the continent and I hugged my mom at the airport when she flew back home after driving with me (a hellish experience if there ever was one) across the country.
When my father said, "I love you," on the phone that first time, I was not prepared.
I said, "Okay, goodbye," or something equally inappropriate. Then I stood there, looking at the phone and wondering where the hell that had come from. I was touched but it felt strange.
I didn't know what to do. I needed to be prepared for it next time. So when I called them the next Sunday, I was ready.
At the end of the conversation, Dad again said, "I love you."
I said, "I love you too."
Mom said, "Goodbye."
Apparently she was not yet on board with all of these steaming piles of mushy crap which Dad I and were now slinging, willy-nilly, everywhere.
It got to where I would really enjoy telling Mom I loved her when it came time to end the conversation, just so I could hear her squirm and writhe in discomfort.
"Oh. Well yes... you too," she'd writhe.
At some point in my childhood I had closed up. In my baby pictures, I can be seen lovingly hugging my little brother. Gently comforting my cousin as we both sport some really unflattering diapers and generally being very attentive to the pet dog and cat.
Somewhere between those photos and elementary school, I became a jerk. I know that by high school, I had zero interest in any sort of affection from either of my parents and withdrew to my room or began spending time with my friends. As some teens are practically famous for doing.
My friends, however, hugged their parents and treated them respectfully while I lied to mine and snuck around as much as possible while seeing what I could get away with. I seemed to be deliberately being as much of a dick as possible to my parents, just to irritate them.
I'm sure it worked because I was persistent and unrelenting. I had a strong jerk-ethic!
In my entire life, I have seen my parents kiss once.
I was about seven years old and mom was taking my brother and I somewhere. We were at the airport and dad kissed mom goodbye.
I have never seen them hold hands or heard them say "I love you" to each other although they clearly did. And deeply. When my father was in a nursing home, with Parkinson's, my mother had taken care of him up to and beyond the point where she could care for him. She visited him every day and even on his bad days, when he had no idea who she was, he just lit up with happiness at seeing her near him. He would tell her how pretty she was (she was seventy two years old... so not pretty. Besides, she's my mom so... eww) and flirt with her. He never did that with the other women or the nurses. Some of whom were persistently and unrelentingly hot. There were Russian nurses.
That led me to believe that my mother and father had fallen in love with each other on a deeper level than just attractiveness or financial suitability. There was something chemical between them which made them happy to be together or even near one another.
After my father's death, my mother began to not only say, "I love you", when we got off the phone, but to say it first.
Now I think of it as a kind of contest to see who can say it first.
Persistence pays off.