Photo: courtesy of Azad Yasin Photography.
I’ve always loved talking to my Dad. Over the years his words of wisdom have significantly helped to shape my sense of identity. I’ve been a Dad for 5 years and recently I started to think about the conversations I’ll have with my son as he matures. The kind of interactions we will have that will shape how he thinks; how he treats others; how he perceives himself; that will affirm him, and that’s when I remembered…the moment.
It was 17 years ago. My parents were returning from a trip to Jamaica. I’d been staying with family friends whilst my folks were away and I was so excited they were arriving home that I decided to cook them a ‘welcome back’ meal. I remember the menu: honey-stew chicken and white rice. Now you need to understand, my mum did most of the cooking. Okay, pretty much all of the cooking! She was blessed with the factory default set of Jamaican cooking abilities one receives at birth. And my Dad’s curry goat was fire! So, the pressure was on.
I prepared the ingredients and embarked upon creating my first quasi-Caribbean dish for my Jamaican parents. My eldest sister popped in to the kitchen, sampled the gravy and gave me the ‘thumbs up’ I needed to see it through to completion. Now, I wasn’t a master of the rice to water ratio at the time but, as they say, “I did my ting, still.”
My parents arrived home later that afternoon and I eagerly served their food and brought it to them, then left them to it! Nervously, I awaited the feedback.
Once they had eaten, I sheepishly made my way upstairs to collect their plates, awaiting the verdict. I remember Dad’s widened eyes as I received his plate. Was it a look of surprise, distaste, confusion? At that moment, everything else in the room may as well have disappeared as my focus was drawn directly to my Dad. He clenched his fist, extended his arm and gave me the most reassuring fist-bump I’d ever received. “You liked it?” I asked. He spoke, fresh from J.A. and the patois flowed straight from his lips: “Son, yuh-nuh-si how mi almost wax ahf di plate?”
Translation: the meal was so nice I almost ate the plate!
I was elated. “Well done son,” he reinforced, reassuringly.
He told me he was proud and encouraged me to continue cooking. This moment of affirmation meant so much to me. I knew that he was proud. I knew that I had accomplished something, and my Dad had noticed.
Fast forward 17 years and I’ve since learned that my first quasi-Caribbean dish is way too “sweet” for my wife’s taste-buds, who doesn’t hold the same amount of appreciation for it that my Dad once did! Nonetheless, as I reflect I realise it wasn’t really about the meal. Whether he loved the meal or not, in his deep love for me as a maturing son, he chose to season me with encouragement and douse me with affirmation. Perhaps it was this moment with my Dad why I now love cooking for my family, and baking with my kids. Perhaps it’s why I often feel compelled to say, “Babes, you sit down and let me serve you instead.” That experience is one of the reasons I love to attend to my family.
I wish every young man could experience moments like this. And whilst I know that this may not be an experience everyone can relate to, I do know that every man, father or not, holds the words that can shape the heart, mind and esteem of the young men who look up to them. These moments can be defining and life-changing. Here’s to many more like it.
JCMC Challenge: Seek out an opportunity to affirm and encourage a young person. I’d love you to share your experiences in the comments section.