I spend a considerable amount of time writing about how important it is to be a cook and a chef and my observations of those who fit those titles.  It is important to me and to millions of others around the world.  This is what so many were meant to do with their careers – it is built into their (our) DNA.  However, noting can compare to the honor, privilege, joy, occasional pain, and humbling experience of being a father. 

Nothing can prepare you for the experience of holding a newborn, your child, in your arms for the first time.  Those moments when she or he opens those eyes for the first time, smiles and blinks with recognition of the connection, the bond of blood, history, tradition, and family.  As father’s we swallow hard, smile from ear to ear, take a deep breath and shed a tear of utter joy along with a bit of nervousness.  We are struck with awe at the living person in our arms and speechlessness at the process and the strength of the woman who bore this being for the past nine months.  “How is this possible?”

We are at a loss when it comes to what to do next.  We frantically ask: “Where is the job description?”   We try to do our best over the next handful of years – trying to be there for those special days: first day of school, birthdays, helping them to ride a bike, catch and hit a baseball, track meets, soccer games, recitals, spelling bees, and first everything’s, but as a chef we all know that some will be missed – never to be regained.  It is tough to look back at those missed opportunities and justify why we weren’t there.  Our children will probably forgive us, but we will never forgive ourselves.  This, after all is our most important job.

As father’s we can look back and remember those first steps, first words, daily hugs, and tears shed over nothing and sometimes something. We can choke up as we remember the smiles over accomplishments: graduation from kindergarten, from grammar school, high school and beyond.  There are those moments when we lost our temper but never our love and caring for those young persons who continue to amaze as they grow and experience life.  We know, in our hearts that what we are angry about is probably our own shortcomings as fathers. 

There are those times when they are sick and our hearts ache for them as we hold them in a shower to cool down a fever, wash their cuts and scrapes and press on a band aid while mom gives them a kiss to make it better.  We remember the panic that first time that we had to rush them to a doctor’s office or the hospital for something that was beyond our ability to fix.  We remember that feeling of complete relief when the doctor says they are OK. 

Monumental occasions continue throughout life as we meet their first girlfriend or boyfriend, give them a serious stare to show them that this is very precious cargo and beware of the potential wrath of dad, but in our hearts feel pure joy in our child’s happiness – that first crush.  We experience mixed emotions when they learn to drive and that first time when they do so solo with license in hand.  We watch the news daily and stress about the condition of the world, not so much for ourselves but what it means for them and their futures.  There is a point in time when we realize that their lives and happiness are far more important than our own.  It is one of those moments when we truly realize what it means to be a father. 

There is a point in time when everything seems to move too fast.  They apply for college or a trade school and are accepted and we know that they will be going off on their own for the first time.  It is this point in time when we really self-assess.  Have we prepared them for life, are they good people who are honest and caring?  Will they treat others with respect, and will others view them as we do?  Do they have the work ethic that will lead to success?  Will they make good choices of friends and experiences?  Did I do my job as a father?

When they finally leave for that independent experience we swallow deeply again, just like we did when holding a newborn.  This time the fear and pride are very real, they are based on 18 years of experience and knowing everything that could go wrong and every opportunity that could end up right.  We jump every time that phone rings late in the evening wondering what went wrong, is my son or daughter alright?  We comfort them on the phone when they had a bad day and learn quickly that they don’t really want advice, they just want us to listen.  This is one of the hardest things for a father to learn.  We resist the desire to jump in the car and drive all night just to “take care” of things for them – this is not what they want or need in most cases.

There are those moments when we must ease their soul crushing sadness over a broken relationship, or one that fails to materialize.  We tell them that this is life and there are lots of fish in the sea, but we know ourselves how shallow that response is and how painful their sense of loss is.  But then they rebound.  Their friends help them along, they find their step again, discover new people and jump back in the relationship search.  This is, as we all know, the search for happiness and sense of creating a family of their own – just like mom and dad.

As father’s we beam with pride, standing next to our partner as a son or daughter graduates once again and moves on to begin their real independent life.  That first job in a field of their choice, first apartment, first network of lifetime friends, first opportunity to be financially responsible.  Ah, we did it!  But then, we are always on the lookout – making sure that their stress is minimized, that they have enough money, that their jobs are satisfying, that they can reach their dreams, that they find a partner and oh, yes – that the stage is set for them to follow in our footsteps.

Then it happens – they find their soulmate and we pray that this is the right one.  We meet that special person and once again look them up and down and peer into their eyes to see if they are worthy.  We are cautiously optimistic and then relieved to discover that our son or daughter chose wisely.  Preparations for a wedding will ensue and it is our job to make sure that the day is right.  Mom will live her experience again through her child and everyone is focused on making the special day all that it can be.  There is a load of pride and fathers feel a real bonding with a son – “congratulations my boy you did well”.   Somehow, with a daughter it is different.  You know she is strong, smart, and balanced, but underneath it all you want to make sure she is in good hands.  That walk down the aisle is special, memorable, joyful, and soul crushing at the same time.  You are passing the hand of your little girl to another person to cherish and hold – and those memories of holding a newborn, of having total responsibility for her welfare are flashing through your head at lightening speed.  “Please let her be safe and happy”.

What an honor, a pleasure, a responsibility, and an experience it is to be a father.  It is our real purpose in life – a job without a job description.  We learn as we go – on the job training.  And then, one day you receive that phone call when your son or daughter says through broken words – “dad, you and mom are going to be grandparents!”  Ah, such a feeling – and now it starts all over again.

On this day, I wish a happy Father’s Day to all the dads and granddads out there.  To all the chefs who are struggling to figure out that balance in life, I offer this advice: “Don’t find yourself regretting too much.  Life is short and your real job is far more important than those beautiful plates of food in the pass.  Figure out a way to train others to cover for you when you need to hold a hand, applaud an accomplishment, hug in support, or simply smile and shed a tear for that little person that you once held in your arms in pure wonder.

To my children and grandkids – thanks for giving me a chance to be there:  Erika, Jessica, Leif, Alex, Addie, Johan, Espen, Oliver, and Jack.

Happy Father’s Day.

Being a father is the ultimate opportunity in life

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