I played with the idea of just what to write on this Father's Day. My Dad passed away almost 34 years ago but the memories (and lessons learned) are still very real. In the end, I simply decided to reprint something I wrote about my memories of him a while back. I published a family cookbook that featured essays and comments by various family members about those who are no longer with us, calling that chapter "Our Family Legacy." Because it was a cookbook, we geared those comments and memories to food related themes. My Dad always loved a good meal and thoroughly enjoyed all sorts of food. I have edited this essay and eliminated the pictures to protect the privacy of the rest of the family but I hope you will enjoy the tales and will take time to think about your special experiences with your Dads and Grandfathers. Be sure to wish them a Happy Father's Day. They deserve it.
Reprinted from Cooking With Family:
Like many men of his generation, Dad was never known for his cooking. For the most part, I’d simply say, he DIDN”T cook. He always made sure we were fed if Mom wasn’t around - but he usually didn’t cook it.
When I was little, Mom was involved several days a month helping to prepare church dinners and the monthly dinners for the Kiwanis Club that met at our church. Before she returned to working full time, she would spend the better part of the day at church on those preparations. When she had gone back to work at the school (practically next door to the church), she would head over there on those days as soon as she got off work to help get the meal ready. She would then be there to help serve and return home in the early evening. On those days, it was Dad’s responsibility to see that my brother and I were fed. (I don’t remember my sister being at the house at that time. I guess she was either already married or out working by then.)
I now believe it was done mostly for my entertainment, but I remember him sitting at the kitchen table looking around the room where he had, literally, opened all of the cupboard doors and pretending to search out the appropriate pot, pan and/or dishes needed for an elaborate meal like boiled hotdogs and beans or frozen fries. (Mom had left a simple plan for him.) He’d make a big production out of that meal preparation. OR…, more often than not, dinner turned into take-out pizza or subs. (In those days, these were very special treats.) Sometimes, he’d simply take us out to eat at a restaurant.
When I was growing up, we always owned a boat that was kept at the marina where there was a clubhouse and bar. Mom used to make Dad take me along when he was going to the boat under the theory of how much trouble could he get into with a little kid tagging along. It didn’t always work as well as she’d hoped but he did make sure I was fed.
I can remember Dad and my Godfather sitting me up on the back end of the bar there and providing me with a nice fruit platter. (Oh wait, that was the cocktail garnish tray!) Well, aren’t orange slices and maraschino cherries fruit?
When I was a young teen, I’d often spend the weekend on the boat with Dad. It was basically a floating hotel tied to the pier. Mom would frequently choose to stay home with my grandmother who lived with us or tend to other matters on the home front. The galley on the boat was usually fairly well stocked with things like peanut butter, jelly, mayonnaise, Spam, chips, etc. We’d usually carry bread, lunchmeat and such with us. Dad made sure I was fed - but not necessarily from the on-board stock. The clubhouse at the marina had one of those (then) “new-fangled” microwave ovens and prepackaged refrigerated sandwiches and individual pizzas. These fascinated Dad and he considered them appropriate for any meal. See, he DID cook in his own way!
Dad was big on late night snacks. We’d run out to get pizza just before the pizza shop closed at night. (Back then, it was probably 9 p.m. - you know, just before they rolled the sidewalks up.) (At that point in time, we’d never even imagined home delivery of pizzas!)
He got on one jag when he decided Chef Boy-R-Dee boxed pizza mixes were tasty. It is one of the few things I do remember him making himself. I think Mom thought it better to simply steer clear while “the Chef” was at work and hose the kitchen down later! Luckily, that phase passed. It took me thirty years to grow out of wanting a late night snack!
Among many other lessons, Dad taught me to have fun, enjoy a good restaurant and the company of friends, and - instilled in me, a deep, deep love of peanut butter.
Mom said peanut butter flowed in our blood. I’m sure if they ever did a DNA assessment, Skippy or Peter Pan might show up! Peanut butter was Dad’s answer to everything. It was appropriate for any meal - breakfast, lunch or dinner (and snacks). You can put it on most anything. If all else fails, just eat it by the spoonful! I remember Dad finishing dinner before the rest of us and asking what was for dessert. Often it was fruit or brownies. He’d shrug and just go with a PB&J (usually grape jelly but apple would do in a pinch). If there was an interesting dessert, he might just fill in with half a PB&J while waiting for the rest of us to finish the meal.
We ate many a late night peanut butter sandwich. Sometimes, he got creative and made “chocolate peanut butter”. If the jar was real low, he was known to add a bit of Hershey’s chocolate syrup and stir it together. This went well on bread, graham crackers and even plain saltines. He encouraged Mom to make grilled ham and peanut butter sandwiches for lunch sometimes. And then there was the ultimate - the peanut butter and chocolate chip sandwich! White bread, peanut butter and chocolate chips! (Believe it or not, I did finally find someone else - not related to us - who ate these as a child. Of course, they did grow up on the same river where we kept our boat so Dad may have had some influence over them, too!)
Thank you for indulging me, Dear Readers. If my Dad were here today, he'd be about to turn 89 and I'm sure he'd still be eating peanut butter every which way he could !
Happy Father's Day, Dad!