Sometimes—usually after they get into an argument—my mom tells me, "Sylvia, don't grow up to be like your father." This isn't to say that they have a poor relationship, because they don't really, but my father is a quiet person. Kind of awkward. Is pretty tactless. If I do him a favor, he gives me this look with his lips pursed—a borderline smile, probably; it's the best he can do—as though to express his gratitude, but says nothing. When we're on vacation & he asks for directions from a stranger, he walks away abruptly the moment he receives all the information he needs to know, and I'm left trailing behind him, thanking the stranger in his place (he's a good person, I swear! Just a little insensitive, I want to also say). There is no such thing as "hello," rarely a "goodbye," texts are only done out of necessity ("Home soon?" he types, curt like his person. He doesn't inquire more than he has to), and the one time I engaged in extensive conversation with my father is when I asked him a question about stocks (he's very well-versed in anything business-related. I suspect he might view social interaction as an opportunity to network), in an attempt to understand.
What I wish to tell those who do not know my father well enough is that even though he fumbles with words, he compensates—overcompensates, I think—in action. No matter where we are, he wakes up far earlier than the rest of us to buy breakfast, groceries, Pilot gel pens when I run out of them. When I stay up too late in the night and have somewhere to go the next morning, he offers to drive—despite horrendous New York City traffic—so I have a few extra minutes to sleep in bed, and even more in the car. Text me if you need anything else, he says. And, on nights I return a little later, he always waits for me outside the train station to walk me home, even though we live a three-minute walk away and the streetlights illuminate the pavement. I collect these signs of love, and I think, how lucky I am to have a father that loves me so much, even if he doesn't know how to say it.
When he returns from work in the late evening, I welcome him back as he removes his shoes as a ritual; of course, there is no uttered response on his part. "Keep trying," my mom says. "I'm sure one day, he'll learn to answer, 'I'm home.'"