I grew up in a family where I heard Greek spoken almost daily. It took me a while, but eventually, I put forth the agonizing effort to become more fluent than ordering food and asking for the bathroom. What I love about the language is its versatility, or as my friend (and actual Greek teacher) Nitsa calls, “the richness of the Greek language.”
You may remember a New York Life Super Bowl commercial from last year in which they explained the ancient Greeks had four words for “love.” Their pronunciation and interpretation of the meanings may not be on target, but those words are still in the language today: “ahgapy” is love, “filia” is friendship, “erotas” is sexual love, and “storhgy” is affection.
I like that delineation because we use the word love too freely in English. I love spaghetti. I love those shoes. Hell, I admitted to loving an aspect of a foreign language.
For all its flexibility, Greek does lack one important word for love — the love between a parent and child. Yes, technically, it is “ahgapy” but to me, the intensity falls short.
The other day I was having a heated paternal discussion with my 17-year-old son, and out of frustration, I asked why he continually does things that stress me out. His response was to remind me I’m always stressed out. I heard my own father in my reply back, “You’ll understand when you have your own kids.”
One aspect of parenthood that no one can ever truly prepare you for is how insanely you love your children. I once admitted to the boys that the way fatherhood changed me the most was when I realized that Kelly was no longer the person whom I loved more than anyone else on the planet — they were.
That crazy level of love isn’t unique for gay parents. But maybe because gay people frequently have to work harder to become parents, we notice it more. For many of us, parenthood wasn’t a consideration, so we could easily dismiss with an eye roll that same prophecy I lobbed at my kid.
That love a parent has for a child is so strong that it has prevented another word from ever existing in any language — a word to describe a parent who has lost a child. Tragically, my mom is one of those parents; my big brother Ted passed away in December.
To be totally honest, for a long time he wasn’t always the nicest guy. But following a near-fatal accident 20 years ago, he was given another chance at life and turned kinder and happier. For their part, our parents’ love for him never wavered — even when he wasn’t so easy to love.
Kids — and big brothers — aren’t always easy to love. None of us ever are. In the end, I am forever grateful that as his life came to an end, my brother and I both knew we loved each other.
If love has taught me anything, it’s to never be surprised by it. Nor should it ever be underestimated. In those ways, love is a lot like kids, I suppose. Being a parent has introduced me to a level of love I never knew existed.
But in all the manifestations of love I’ve experienced over the years, there’s only been one person for whom all four Greek meanings are true: Kelly. Since he gets angry if I try to speak Greek with him, I’m forced to use my English tongue to convey what’s in my Greek heart — it must be love, love, love.