Some of the strongest memories we have of family revolve around food. Whether you think back fondly to weekend suppers, holiday feasts, or just everyday meals, stories can almost always be woven around cooking, good or bad. How much more appetizing would your family history be if the account of your grandmother’s life was spiced with her legendary recipe for corn pudding or watermelon salad?

Christmas Recipe Box by Shimelle Laine CC BY 2.0

Do you have memories around learning to prepare a special dish (or watching someone else cook it)? Did the preparation duties for a particular recipe ever get handed over to you? Was there something you could never get the hang of, no matter how often you tried?

Father Knows Best

This week’s Friday Focus prompt is all about dear old Dad.

Society (that is, the media) portrays a wide range of images of fatherhood. I promised myself, though, that I wouldn’t go on a rant. I’ll just say that I suspect most of you have experiences with fathers that don’t match the television portrayal of Ozzie Nelson, Cliff Huxtable, Al Bundy, or Raymond Barone.

Whether you are a dad or know a dad, what does the term “fatherhood” mean to you? Did you grow up with a stand-offish, reserved Father or a playful, involved Dad? What did you call your male parent—Dad, Daddy, Father, Pop—and how does that name reflect your feelings toward him?
Aside from your biological father, did you have other older men that you considered father figures in your life? Why?

Chopp'n Wood With Dad by Clearly Ambiguous CC BY 2.0

If you have children, how has your father’s parenting style influenced your own? As I get older, I see more and more of my own dad in myself and in how I treat my kids. At the same time, I can understand my dad better and can find specific ways to consciously diverge from the way I was raised.

Take a few moments and jot down memories of fatherhood from your own life. Some typically father-ish things to think about are:
  • Camping
  • Sports, whether playing or attending games
  • Fishing
  • Fixing cars or other household repairs
  • Visiting Dad’s workplace
  • Yard work (mowing, raking leaves, trimming trees)
  • Cooking, especially outdoors (anyone get their dad a King of the Grill apron?)
  • Keeping secrets from Mom, usually of potentially dangerous activities
  • One-on-one outings
  • Learning to drive
  • Having your first beer 

I grew up with a stay-at-home dad in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Mom had the better paying job (by far), and so Dad raised me and my sister until she started first grade. I don’t have many specific memories from my first half-decade of life, but I know that Dad used to help out in our kindergarten classroom and volunteer around the school. One time, for some reason we were talking about buttermilk in kindergarten class, and my teacher asked how many of my fellow five-year-olds had ever had buttermilk (keep in mind this was a suburban school in the Mid-Atlantic; there’s probably still not much buttermilk consumption there today three decades later). Nearly every hand shot up. My skeptical father, in a proto-dad-joke moment, stepped in and asked how many of the kids had ever had bubonic plague—same response.

A dozen years later, my dad and I formed another strong memory during a late summer trip. I was in the midst of my college search and we decided to take a road trip through North Carolina to check out three schools. Dad rented a Sebring convertible and the two of us headed out, cruising down the Skyline Drive and stopping in to visit his mom in East Tennessee. We even took Grandmother for a drive with the top down – an eighty-something woman with a bandanna in her hair rolling through the back roads and mountain passes of the Smokies. I don’t remember much about any of the colleges (I ended up choosing my hometown University of Delaware – literally across the street from my house), but I do remember that convertible!

Father & Son by Nicolas Bffd CC BY-SA 2.0

Now it’s your turn. Share in the comments your memories of being a dad or of being raised by a dad. Don’t be afraid that your memory is too small; just write it down so you’ll have it and you can build a narrative down the road.

Honoring Military Service

Today is Veterans Day in the United States, and I get a day off work, not for anything that I have earned, but because of the sacrifices of tens of thousands who have gone before.

Originally known as Armistice Day to commemorate the end of the first World War, the official holiday became Veterans Day in 1954 so as to honor the service of military personnel in all wars.  Veterans Affairs has a more detailed history of the observance on their website.

If you do nothing else today, thank a veteran for his or her service. Setting politics aside, the individuals in the United States Military deserve our respect and gratitude for the sacrifices made in the name of defending our freedoms. You may not ever see this, but Justin, Mike, James, Nick, Tom, Dick, Jac, Chris, Matthew, Mary, Nelson, Tony, Ben: thank you!

If you are so inclined, I encourage you to research the stories of your veteran ancestors. I believe that recording the tales of our veterans' service and sacrifice is crucial so that future generations can understand more fully their rights and responsibilities as Americans.

Myself, I am just starting to dig into the military history of my family, and I am finding that I have much for which to be personally grateful. Here are some very incomplete sketches of three veterans on my mother's side of the family.