I like to cook. In part, it's all those possibilities--the flavors, the colors, the smells, the varied outcomes. And all those gadgets. Dads aren't as secretive about this attraction as we once were, but it never fails to be a good conversation starter when I show up at work with a burn from the oven rack on my hand.
It wasn't always so. I never learned to cook until I became a single dad, with kids visiting every other weekend. Suddenly, I found myself walking up and down the aisles at our local supermarket, reading labels, making lists, trying to figure out how to put a kitchen together, how to pull off something close to a meal. I remember startling a woman by asking her how to fry carrots. I remember being so depressed by the whole undertaking that I would shop late at night when all the real families were tucked in for the evening.
As time passed, my heart healed from divorce and my skills improved. I learned how to make a killer pot of macaroni and cheese, how to cook asparagus so that it's still recognizable as a vegetable, how to make "Dad's Hubcaps" for breakfast (OK, they're banana poppy-seed pancakes).
Along the way, I realized that what I wanted was more than the ability to plunk down edible food in front of my kids. I wanted "family" to happen in my apartment, at my table--not somewhere else or nowhere at all. With each meal, I wanted to make a spread, however simple, that had love written all over it. I wanted home.
That's about when I realized that everything mattered--the setting, the flavors, the temperatures, the odors floating through the house, the conversations--because, in trying to achieve them, I was helping to conjure up the miracle of home.
But by God's grace, I have mealtime miracles to tell as well. Over the years, we made a lot of memories and a lot of terrific eating. And when Heather and I married five years ago, my role in the kitchen continued full-steam. Why would I quit?
I've seen our kids learn to expect more from dinner than getting a full stomach. I've seen hulking, shirtless teenage boys amble into the kitchen at mealtime and say, "Need any help?" I've heard a freshman football star just in from practice say, "Hey guys, before we sit down, we really need to light some candles." I've watched a blond schoolgirl painstakingly--and unasked--folding paper napkins into origami-like creations because she thinks mealtimes at Dad and Heather's are special enough to deserve it. I've experienced family dinners that last for two hours because the time and the food and the company were just too good to rush.
Think about it: Isn't sitting around the table so often the mysterious moment when family really happens? With reminders of God's tender providence all around, we face each other. We make eye contact. We talk and listen. In so doing, we nourish those empty places in our hearts with God's daily bread. And we come away satisfied. Talk about family values. That's as good as it gets. And it's worth a burn mark or two, as mothers have always known.
You should come over for my world-renowned chicken curry and Madras roll-ups some time. Really. The kids will be eating, yacking, laughing. Heather will be making sure the bowls of fresh-fruit toppings have gotten around to everyone. Don't miss the chopped cilantro and coconut shavings, either. I will probably still be wearing my apron. And the house will be full of that irresistible aroma called home.