Well, today is my birthday. I was born on my father’s birthday, something he seemed to think he made happen. I always found that funny.
Sadly, last year he passed away from a massive stroke, so this is the first birthday that I will spend without exchanging wishes to each other. That’s not entirely true, actually. Our relationship was challenging, and the birthday before he passed, I didn’t take his call. I have his voicemail saved, but still have not been able to bring myself to listen to it. Perhaps I will tonight.
Guilt can be a monster and regrets can threaten to drown you. These two things I don’t care to focus on or drown in. We all do the very best that we can in life, and the fact is that every human is flawed and imperfect. The beauty is in the imperfections.
After he passed, I posted a lot of stories on Facebook about him, which was a very cathartic process and helped me tremendously. I told a few stories about his involvement in some of my early failures in cooking, or maybe I should say “experiments.” He was a trained chef, a very talented artist, an immensely creative person, so he could be a tough critic.
One story I haven’t told is the first time that I really cooked for him as an adult.
I was living in Brussels at the time and he was coming to Europe for his job. I hadn’t seen him in several years, so I was really nervous. He knew that I was interested in food, but I don’t think he knew just how much I loved cooking and how successful at it I had become.
So, I chose to showcase my favorite dishes and also make some Greek dishes that I knew he loved and missed from my mother’s side.
I made us a traditional Greek salad with fresh mint and my secret lemon vinaigrette. I also served Avgolemono soup, a favorite of mine that I learned from my great grandmother. The courses went on and he cleaned his plate completely with each dish. But I wasn’t congratulating myself for a success just yet. He still was a very harsh critic and I knew he would eat anything I put on the plate and tell me it was wonderful; that’s just who he was.
It wasn’t until I brought out the seared Ahi Tuna that I saw it in his face. I knew he loved Tuna Tartar, so I hoped he would really enjoy the seared tuna I had been perfecting, along with a new passion fruit Ponzu sauce I had been experimenting with.
After a few bites, I asked him what he thought. He said: “Wow!” which was a big compliment from him. He said he was really impressed with my knife skills, cutting the tuna how I did, and that my sear was impressive. It might have been the first time in my life that I felt we had a real connection. I started to chatter on and on about how I chose the fish and learned to cut it, etc. etc., and he just laughed. He said: “Well, you’re my daughter. Of course you’re a great chef!”
That was the type of conversation with my father that I had waited my whole life for. I had to wait until I was thirty, but that’s okay. I have that memory. I sat across the table from my father as he told me how proud he was of me. I think that night is like a slow release capsule of healing that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.
The challenges in our relationship did not end after that night, but I have a few more experiences that I cherish. Once again, food was our connector – I was able to tell him who I was and who I had become through food. I showed him my experiences, my strengths, and my weaknesses through food, and he was able to let me know that he saw all of it and understood. I am grateful for the good moments we had together and even more grateful to forgive the not-so-great moments.
So, Happy Birthday to me, and Happy Birthday to my Dad, wherever his soul may be.
Now let’s eat!