My dad, peace and blessings be upon him, and I shopping for food at the Westside Market in downtown Cleveland.
Today is Father’s Day where I live, and it may be a holiday where you live, too. You may be thinking of your father – whether of biology or of love – and all of those who’ve fathered you.
I imagine these men – and women, for they can father, too – have fathered you in both helpful and unhelpful ways. We are all the mutts of this mix.
Our relationships with our fathers, like our relationships with our mothers, can be fraught with complexity. Frustration and misunderstanding can live side by side with appreciation and love.
None of us loves perfectly. None of us receives love perfectly. None of us escapes life unscathed. Some of the wounds we carry from our fathers – and that they carry from their fathers – may be deep and wide, indeed.
About 10 years ago I created a course called When Food is Your Mother. In that course, I explain how food can become a mothering presence – a place of warmth, security, safety and attunement – when life overwhelms us.
Food can also be a father. Food can be a place of holding and containment, of safety and strength – a fathering presence to calm our fears and pain.
Isn’t it something, the many ways that food can hold and keep us? How food can tether us when we feel overwhelmed by pain, dysregulation, or suffering?
Food has been both mother and father for me. It has held and comforted me. It was a loyal place that was always available for me. It never failed. It never nurtured me in the way I really needed – but it gave me enough that I could continue going.
Oh, blessed food: we offer thanks for the ways you have nurtured us, even if we asked more than you could truly give.
Our families are a complex, multi-layered stew of belonging and rupture, love and loss. I hope that there’s forgiveness and reconciliation in that soupy mix, too – even if that reconciliation only lives within the chamber of your heart.
Some of the trauma my family carries is from my father’s experience as a combat veteran in the Vietnam War. Like many men of his generation, he was drafted and sent to a war that he did not believe in – but a post he did not believe he could refuse.
For his birthday this year, I wrote him a poem about his war experience and the tenderness that arises when we go to the Farmer’s Market today in his Vietnam Veteran baseball cap. I was honored to have it published, with his kind permission, on Memorial Day. You can read the poem here.
I sometimes think of that young man in the jungles of Vietnam and I weep. I know my father still carries the pain and fear of that time in his body. I know it’s in my body, and in my family’s body, too.
I imagine some of that fear and pain has come out over the years in my relationship with food. And I imagine that some of the fear and pain of your family has come out in your relationship with food, too.
For this, may we bow our heads in compassion, with unfolding understanding and love.
Trauma is a human experience. We might say it’s a part of the human condition. The healing of it is also part of this experience. And the more we can acknowledge this pain, witness it with courage and love, and grieve its sorrow, the freer we all become. In this, we mother and father each other.