I’ve been away from Los Angeles. I’ve been in Florida to be by my father’s side as he lay dying. I kept this vigil with my brother and my sister. It was two weeks of heartache mixed with the joy that can only come in moments of family intimacy. There were also five days in Mexico squeezed in the middle. Five days of denial on my part. I went to Mexico never believing what happened to my father could actually happen to my father. Fathers are mythic figures to sons. It doesn’t matter what sort of relationship they either enjoyed or suffered through – there’s stuff between fathers and sons that cannot be expressed. They can only be felt.
And I felt it all these past two weeks.
Because if there is one thing that’s universally true, it’s this: Sons are always trying to be half the man their old man was.
Sometimes that formula gets tragically warped and a son spends his life trying to be twice the man his father was. But this is really two sides of the same coin.
In my case, I’ll have to settle for half the man.
My father was a doctor and not just a doctor, but a children’s heart doctor. If that’s not enough he also volunteered his time at his local Free Clinic caring for the many of us who have fallen between life’s ever-widening cracks. He traveled to 3rd world countries to diagnose kids with heart defects. Heart defects that would have otherwise gone on undetected and untreated.
I’m not going to lie. There was tension in my relationship with my dad. He was a difficult man to know, but an easy man to love. He was quiet but opinionated, which means you were stuck always wanting more from him. He was a man who was smarter than me, more athletic than me, and better looking than me. He was a man who carried these qualities better than anyone I’ve ever known.
People like my father with outsized talents (and undersized egos) are a rare breed. Sometimes being the son of a man like this is a little like climbing a ladder with uneven rungs. It’s hard to know how much progress you’re making, or if it’s even worth the effort.
As a boy, I was not good at the things fathers often want their sons to be good at. This was apparent at a young age. This felt like a tragedy to me. This shortcoming defined a lot of my youth.
Luckily for me, my parents allowed me the space I needed to be good at the things I did enjoy. Which wasn’t always easy for them or for me. But it was the right thing to do because that space allowed me to grow into a man who is happy with his place in the world.
For that, of course, I’m grateful. The kind of grateful you can never pay back.
But there’s always that little boy voice in the back of my head asking: “Am I the son my father always wanted?” I know he would have answered, yes, and I know he would have meant it. But that does not save me from the struggle all men have when they look into their father’s eyes.
I bring up this blatant bit of sentimentality because I saw a glimmer of something in my father’s eyes once and I want to share it here. It was really more of a slip of the tongue. But it showed me that maybe, yes, perhaps my father did understand me. It was a powerful moment for me. But like too many sons and their fathers, we let the moment pass without mentioning it.
Because what was to mention anyway? It was such a silly thing. In fact, it was a recipe.
I was visiting my dad, which I didn’t do nearly enough because an entire continent separated us. But on this visit, my dad mentioned a meal I had cooked more than a decade earlier for him, his sister, and one of his brothers at my home in California. I never thought my father noticed my interest in food. I mean why should he? We rarely discussed it.
The funny thing is, 10-plus years ago I was just beginning to see how happy cooking made me. Any cooking I did at that time had to have been baby steps because the recipe my father remembered was a very simple salmon recipe. I think I got the idea from Martha Stewart Living magazine. I gave it an Asian vibe and added sesame seeds, shichimi-togarashi, and wasabi. But the technique for rolling this salmon was all Martha’s.
I haven’t made this recipe in years. I can’t tell you happy it made me to make it again. GREG