955: Love Sits by My Father

955: Love Sits by My Father

955: Love Sits by My Father


I’m Major Jackson and this is The Slowdown.

I never saw my parents openly display affection for one another: no smooching at holiday gatherings, not even a New Year’s kiss, no cuddling in front of the TV, and definitely no nose rubbing before taking off to work. I’m sure they intertwined fingers at some point and held hands, but never in front of family. It was like growing up in a house without plants or pets. 

I know they loved each other. Their sheer tolerance of the others’ irritation at one thing or another, and occasional arguments followed by joking banter, were evidence enough. Still, I found their seemingly loveless union inscrutable. I think it explains why I rubberneck whenever I see a couple kiss on a park bench, or at a table in a jazz club, or like that time at the Oaxacan archaeological site of Monte Albán. In the center of the pyramids built by the Zapotecs, I witnessed a fashionable couple kissing for five minutes in the open air of the Great Plaza as tourists walked by them — my parents’ worst nightmare. 

People in love are complicated; no one knows this more than the children, who get a front row seat to how affection plays itself out in the home…or not. Which influences how they interact and understand intimacy operating, or not, around them. Many psychological experts suggest making affection and tenderness appropriately visible in the lives of children. It goes far to ensure emotional stability. What children observe may drive them as adults to positively replicate their parent’s model, attempt to fulfill their parents' lack, or avoid intimacy altogether. A kiss, a hug, any physical expression of fondness is an active possibility of healing that radiates out into the world. 

Today’s poem honors one set of parents’ long commitment. Though not visible in traditional ways, it is an enduring love formed from tenderness and devotion sustained over time.

Love Sits by My Father
by Qutouf Elobaid

My parents love each other like a secret.
They follow each other into rooms 
making excuses for how they got there.

Every time my mother falls asleep on the couch,
my father meets pillow to living room tiles
and calls it a backache.

The first time I found love in our house,
it was disguised as loyalty.
The first time I understood love to have been there long before I arrived,

it came as an apology,
it came in an envelope I found in my mother’s purse
decades old.

It read:
لكي العذر حتى ترضي [To you, my apologies until you are satisfied].
How long she must have waited for regret to cross an ocean.

My aunt once told me that my parents have divorced twice. 
My mother neither denies nor confirms this;
instead, she sits by my father,

first in the big house with the high ceilings and the gypsum corners, 
then in the one bedroom with the dirty kitchen and white lights.
She sits by my father some more,

first covered in gold,
then thankful to have once held it.
She sits by my father

and teaches me that love can be doubtful,
and love can be scared, 
and when love is worried, love may falter.

And love may lose everything,
but love sits by my father,
and love stays there.

“Love Sits By My Father” by Qutouf Elobaid from NEW-GENERATION AFRICAN POETS: A BOX SET © 2020, Qutouf Yahia. Originally published by Akashic Books. Used by permission of the poet.