This is the way it seemed to always work: A few weeks before Valentine’s Day, whatever loser I was dating at the time would break up with the kid. For just the most random of reasons.
“I feel like we need to slow down and be friends.”
“You’re a great girl—I’m just not ready for you.”
“Um, it’s Tuesday.”
I’m no dummy—it was clear they didn’t want to suffer and sweat through the gift giving madness of February 14th. But then if they really knew me, they’d have figured out that I didn’t really study all the chocolate/roses/sugar-filled hearts mess anyway. I’ve always been more of an action girl—show me your love, I don’t need you to buy it and hand it to me.
I had my mom for that.
See, Bettye, in her infinite feminine wisdom, knew what kind of expectations boys with “gifts” would put on her baby girl, and she especially knew that it sucked to be on the receiving end of nothing on special occasions. And so she went out of her way to make sure that I never came up short on Valentine’s Day—would give me a gift every year to A) make me smile, and B) make it clear that I didn’t need some dumb boy to celebrate a day dedicated to celebrating love.
Love, you see, has more veins than that, and each one pumps life into the relationships we have not just with lovers, but with other human beings—mothers and fathers, daughters and sons, grandparents and aunties and uncles and BFFs.
And to help me understand this, my mom would give me a card and an assortment of sweet little gifts—a pack of Now & Laters (to this day, my favorite candy), a tube of lip gloss, a little Sunday purse, new ribbons for my hair. She kept up the tradition even when I was in college and into my 20s, too, taking the sting out of getting stiffed by the dumb boys I’d been dating. Chocolates, easy-to-keep-alive plants, gift certificates to Red Lobster—you name it, she got it for me. If she knew she wouldn’t see me before the holiday, she would make sure her gift would be sitting in the mailbox waiting for me. One year while I was in college, she drove over to campus to hand-deliver “I Dream A World,” an incredible book featuring portraits and first-person biographies of African American women who’ve changed the world. My mom handed the book to me with very simple instructions: “Do something special, Dede—be extraordinary, so that the next time they print a book like this, you’re in it, too. I know you can do it.”
That meant more to me than any stupid box of chocolates and overpriced flowers I could have ever gotten from some man.
And now, my husband is continuing that tradition with our girls. By showing them what true love from a man looks like. By showering them with Valentine’s Day gifts (he says so that they won’t be impressed by gifts from other men). By making Valentine’s Day a special day that’s about true love—the kind that flows through those veins.
It’s a love that continues far and beyond February 14th.
Stronger than the roots of a Baobab tree.
To celebrate this year, Nick is taking his favorite girls out to their school’s Father Daughter Dance. You should see them around here, practicing for the big night, blasting Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely,” and giggling like crazy when he bows in front of them and puts on his formal voice and asks, “May I have this dance?” They giggle some more as they take turns falling into Daddy’s arms and twirling under his fingertips.
The joy in their eyes is the greatest gift this African American mom could ever get on Valentine’s Day—worth more than a thousand boxes of chocolate, more than a field of roses, more than the biggest diamond and the fanciest car.
My beautiful brown daughters, you see, have true love.