The Conditions of Unconditional Love

I suspect that if hunger, thirst, and fatigue were perfectly mixed, I could be on fire and one of my kids might still ask me for milk. “I can’t do that right now, I’m on fire.” “But I want milk! Pleeeeasssse?” “Ok, Ok, I’ll get the milk and THEN extinguish myself.”

It makes no sense, but it’s the only way our species can survive. It’s as if my love for them was soldered onto my brain like hunger and fatigue. “Did you just try to poke my eye out? Come back here and give me a giant hug.” The fact that they’re cute definitely has something to do with it, but I know they might only be cute to me. As hard as that is to fathom, it must be true because I’ve never seen another child I thought was better looking. I honestly don’t find any other children cute enough for me to even consider being their father — “Nope, don’t like the shape of that kid’s toes.” I’m sure if I actually owned the child for a month or two and let him wipe his nose on my bare thigh while I made him a  peanut butter sandwich in the shape of a horse, I would eventually love him as if he were my own.

The ridiculous downside to parenting is clear and visceral: that’s why it’s so easy and funny to complain about it. But how can I explain the upside; that enormous emotional experience, which compels us to persevere? I can say that I love their smiles, and laughs;  the way they smell; how they dance, and mispronounce their own name, or become shy on the phone. That list would never end. But why I feel like that is a mystery. Some say it’s the “bonding hormone” oxytocin, but how long can that last? Parents feel like this about their kids even when they’re old. I could shave my dad’s head and cover his suits in John McCain campaign buttons while he slept, and though he would be angry, embarrassed, disappointed and shocked,  he wouldn’t stop loving me. That can’t just be a chemical. Someone would have taken its incredible ability to make people act against their own interests and weaponized it by now. “If we spray the country with oxytocin before we bomb them, they retaliate by sending us love letters. It’s the weirdest thing.”

A child does not show love through required acts of giving, but instead through their honesty of spirit. He is too real and true not to be loved, but one must experience that fact relentlessly for the love to become unconditional. And once it’s set, it’s there forever.  It’s why parents refer to their adult sons as their little boys even after they’ve become obese Rush fans who live in the spare room and steal their pain meds. Our parents know who we really are. They know what we were like when we first came off the assembly line, before other people, school, work, Wendy’s biggie fries, and progressive rock radio stations started changing us. We’ll always be fresh and unconditioned to them, just like my kids will be to me when they grow up and become just like George Clooney.

I'm a contributing writer to Parents Magazine, GQ, Psychology Today and some others. My book, "This is Ridiculous. This is Amazing: Parenthood in 71 Lists" is available here Look for two more books in 2015: "Must. Push. Buttons (Bloomsbury Kids), and an as-of-yet untitled memoir I’ve appeared on Comedy Central’s “Live at Gotham” and “Nick Mom’s Night Out." I live in New Jersey with my wife and two sons and enjoy making them laugh more than anyone else.

8 comments On The Conditions of Unconditional Love

  • ElizabethRedmondMitchell

    This was absolutely beautiful.

  • Your observations and humor make me gut-laugh, in the morning too, which is truly a feat.

  • I’ve been saying for years that they’re born cute so you don’t eat them.

  • It’s not just the I-made-you thing, though. I live with my nephew, who is 3 and a half (my sister recently wrote a blog post about the things that freak him out, then found out you’d done that one, with most of her things on it!) and even when he’s whining and I’m trying to simultaneously eat breakfast, go to the bathroom and put on my coat, my first instinct is to get him the bowl of Os he wants, because Aww. He frequently tells me that he doesn’t love me, doesn’t like me, doesn’t want me, and he’s had phases where, when I walk into the room, he just looks at me and says No! But I know that in a few minutes I’ll be his favourite again. No one else could get away with that for long, but with him, I forget it right away because that’s how this works. I can’t get much done at home if he’s around, because when he knocks on my door and says “it’s me!” I have to open it. He is not my kid, I did not produce him nor can I claim him, but he can claim me with a blink. When I’m old and look like George Clooney, I’ll be the dottie old auntie who says “When you were a little boy…” And he’ll roll his eyes. But I’ll love him anyway. So it goes.

  • I have fallen in love with your blog!

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