Jamaican litblogger Geoffrey Philp, who lives in Florida, says that he's come to realise that “I love you” are perhaps “the most difficult words to say to a friend or partner and especially within Black and Caribbean families”. He suspects that this may have something to do with the fact that so many West Indian families are single-parent households:
…Many of us shared a similar predicament: we were raised by single mothers and we were now parents who were trying to figure out how to be good fathers.
Part of the difficulty in our circumstances was compounded by the fact that we rarely heard these three simple words and as a result, found it difficult to say them ourselves.
There is a hard pragmatism in single mothers. There has to be. She is both nurturer and disciplinarian. And in the case of a boy, especially when he enters his teens, his mother often leans hard on him, so he rarely sees her nurturing side.
If the boy had grown up in a dual parent household and if the parents were clever, the roles (some children never figure that these are roles) would fall to the father as disciplinarian and the mother as nurturer or they may even be reversed depending on the tendencies of the parent. Someone has to be the “bad cop.”
But the roles are important because after being disciplined, you still need someone to tell you that X still loves you and X really cares for you and that everything will be all right. This is difficult to believe when X just beat the hell out of you and now wants to comfort you.
Many children in the Caribbean grow up in situations like this and are often exposed to the parent (read mother) who seems to have a split-personality. One minute the mother is all luvvy duvvy and the next minute she wants to kill you.
And the sad truth is that this has been happening in Caribbean communities for a long time.
The absence of strong father figures in many Caribbean households has had an impact on present-day family relations, Philp maintains, but he believes that “some things need to end and begin with us. Right now.” The reward?
[Being] able to say to our children, the three magical words that some of us never heard from our parents: ‘I love you.’
Another diaspora blogger, Karen Walrond, who originally hails from Trinidad and Tobago, shares an experience that was very different in a post for blogher. Far from having maternal role models that were distant, she fondly remembers the close relationship she has with her grandmother, who taught her a few things about love:
Almost exactly 7 years ago, I announced my engagement to my now-husband, Marcus. Soon after that day, while in Trinidad visiting family, my grandmother (who was 96 at the time) pulled me aside.
‘Karen,’ she said in her soft voice, ‘you realize that as a good wife, you should always make sure that your husband looks good: iron his clothes, lay them out for him every day. Make sure you make him a good breakfast every morning. But there's one thing you must never forget,’ she said, leaning towards me conspiratorially.
‘You must never shine a man's shoes.’
I always smile with bemused affection whenever I think of that day. My grandmother (who, at almost 103 years old, is still full of great advice) has always, for as long as I remember, talked to me about love and relationships. And even though much of what she has to say seems a bit outmoded (in seven years, I don't believe I've ever ironed my husband's clothes), I've always found a kernel of wisdom in everything she's ever told me.
Make sure your husband feels loved and cared for. But this doesn't mean you should let him think you are his servant, or are in any way beneath him.
Her grandmother's example taught Karen a lot about the importance of making those you care about feel loved and cherished:
I remember watching when she would pay the man who would help her take of her garden, and then invite him to help himself to as many of the large mangoes or avocados on her trees as he could carry, to take home and share with his family. I love thinking about those days when she would invite me to sit with her and enjoy some guava cheese (her weakness), as we talked about my future, and how much more important happiness, good family and good friendships were than money. If there is one woman in the world who really and truly went out of her way to make sure I understood what love should be, that woman would be my grandmother.
Now that I'm a mother myself, I do my best to recreate those moments with my own daughter. I talk to her about how her friends should treat her, and how she should treat her friends. I talk to her about what I hope for her when she grows up, and decides to have her own family. I tell her stories about how her father and I met, and how much we love each other today. I tell her about how I felt the first time I saw her tiny little face in the hospital. And when we're out and about, I often try to do something nice for a stranger — something simple like smile and hold the door open, or even pay for the coffee for the person behind me in line — just so she sees that love, indeed, can be all around.
For the first time in almost 6 years you are going to be alone on Valentine's Day. I know you are not really a Valentine person but some things tug at you more than others. How does that make you feel? I can't hear you, can you speak up a little louder please?
You thought you would be sad but you aren't. You see heart, you knew exactly when it all went wrong.
Suddenly, this alone thing is not too bad at all. The road ahead looks chock full of adventures that you actually want to discover. I am smiling again, the real smile that makes my entire face come alive, the one that comes directly from you. You know, the one that makes the whole world smile with me.
And guess what heart? I am so incredibly proud of you for continuing to fiercely beat through it all. Heart, we are going to be okay!
In the end, it's all about love. Love for others and yes…love for yourself. Happy Valentine's Day!