The difficulties of parenting surprise even the best of moms and dads. We begin our parenting life staring into the eyes of our little one, believing that we know the journey that lies ahead. We will teach them all that matters to us, and they will, in turn, grow up into the wonderful adult that we had imagined. Sadly, and surprisingly, time ticks away and the next thing we know, most of what we had hoped for didn’t happen after all.
Disappointment does not escape anyone. The question is, what do we do with this knowledge of reality? I will tell you what I did. When my dad was seventy-five years old and I was forty-one years old, I had had just enough parenting experience to realize something; at this stage of my dad’s life, he did not need to hear anything he did wrong as a parent. He needed to know all the good he did, and he needed to know that I felt only gratitude for him.
With this revelation, I created what I believe is a gift that every parent deserves. I began thinking about how much food was involved in the good memories of life. I began to gather stories of times spent with my dad and the food that helped create those good memories. I wanted to do just a little bit more than simply tell the story of our times together; I decided to add to these stories the lessons I had learned from my dad when we were together. From my gratitude grew a box of memories, associated with food but inspired by the lessons learned from a father.
Because my dad did not live in the same state as I did, my gift would need to be mailed. I drove around gathering up all the food I needed to mail, and then I wrote the stories. I began my gift with a letter of explanation, part of which said, “My gift to you this day is a special way of saying ‘Thanks for the memories.’ In this box is a sampling of foods that I associate with you and the good memory that lingers with them still. Love to you, Amos.”
One of my stories began “All of my memories, at any stage of my life, of going to the movies with you, are wonderful. One important lesson in life stands out thoughhonesty. I remember when I reached the age of twelve and the price of a movie ticket for me went up. Needless to say, I certainly did not look twelve years old, nor did anyone at the movie theatre think so. Every time we’d go to buy my ticket, they would guess me as a “child.” You would always correct them and tell them how old I really was. Your simple and direct honesty set a very strong example of integrity and I desired to be just like you.”
Another story reads “We usually think of a ‘security blanket’ as some kind of tangible object. For me, one of my most treasured ‘security blankets’ was the twelve years that I spent on the ice, looking through the Plexiglass and seeing you in the coffee shop, eating toast and jelly, exactly at the same time every morning. I doubt you knew the value of what you were giving me nor the magnitude of the positive effect it would have on my life. As a mother today, my most important daily goal is to simply be there––always––at the same time––each day––just as my dad was, in the coffee shop.”
If you are fortunate enough to have one or both of your parents still around, I hope you will take the time to share your food memories and maybe a lesson or two that you learned while spending time together. Let them know that they did something right––that their hard work paid off and that you not only appreciate all they did for you, but that you learned from them as well. If your parents are no longer with you, write down the stories anyway for future generations to learn from.
After receiving my gift in the mail and reading all the stories, my dad called to tell me that “this is the best gift I have ever received in my whole life.” At that moment, I realized that my gift to him turned out to be equally as valuable to me; I had made my dad feel like a successful parent, and in turn, I felt like a successful daughter.