A room filled with familiar faces, recognizable laughs, and plates of favorite foods all smothered in alluring scents. You have one uncle lecturing a brother, or cousin. You have a grandmother being treated royally by a sister, aunt, or mother. You have children running around, not paying attention to anyone, yet running into everyone. You have a father comfortably asleep on a couch. Then, you have your friends making jokes in the corner.
You’ve seen these types of images at family reunions, birthday parties, restaurants, and events. Have you ever stepped back and thought to yourself, “How many of these moments have I been responsible for?” This was one of the questions I asked myself before deciding, for the past three years, to be the main or assistant chef at my own birthday party.
Yes, there is a lot of work involved in being the chef at your birthday party. You must shop for the supplies and groceries, season the food, and then cook and serve the food. It is one of the most vital positions at a birthday party because one wrong mistake and everyone’s food is ruined. People ask me, “Why cook at your birthday party?”
If I can be honest, I am afraid. You spend your whole life yearning, praying, and hoping for a family of your own, just for God to tell you to wait over and over and over again. The wait can become so long that you feel the wait is, in fact, the life you are supposed to live. I hate the idea of being the single uncle all the days of my life, but my eldest niece is thirteen, and my youngest nephew is three, and I am nowhere near (in my eyes) finding a wife, let alone having children. I feel like I’m running out of time, and that terrifies me.
Inappropriately, I associated the lack of a family with the inability to lead a family. Perhaps, God makes me wait because I am not capable of fatherhood and husbandry. Perhaps, God makes me wait because I am not as great of a man as I thought I was. I hate asking myself these questions, but when I ponder on who I’ll be with my family, I have a harder time seeing it.
Therefore, in an act of boldness, I take on the task of being a provider of twenty to thirty people. I’ve watched my uncle Preston, my brother Ray, my friends Nile, Malcolm, Hector, and Mike, and my cousin Aaron, perform this task for many of their children, friends, and family. If you could see the mounds of food they provided all while being a husband, father, or host. It’s inspiring and yet daunting.
I didn’t know a good recipe until I took the time to learn from others. Now I know how to make homemade pizza, crawfish, BBQ, gumbo, spaghetti, steak, pound cake, fried chicken, and I have a pasta recipe I still need to learn from my brother. Can you imagine me trying to learn these recipes after the people who caused me to love them passed? That is a sad part of reality that we all have to face. The memories of the tastes will never suffice. I had to learn how to make my favorite meals from the sources before God sought to call them home. I’ve gotten quite good at them as well.
I wish I could express to you the joy of seeing a face brighten, eyes widen, and head nod as soon as they take the first bite of your handmade meal. I wish I could pass on the elation that vibrates through my body when a simple, “That was good!” escapes the mouth of someone who has served you endless amounts of good meals. It feels like success, love, repayment, and appreciation.
I need to be able to cook for others. I can’t be the typical guy who is clueless in the kitchen. I have watched my brother serve dozens of good meals, being a benefactor often. I watched him develop his craft and create delicious meals his family benefitted from. However, the more I watched, the more envious I became. He wasn’t my uncle – older and more skilled. He was my age and still managing to create some fabulous dishes.
It’s hard to watch fairytale love stories unfold and grow before your eyes without that subtle jab asking you, “Where’s yours?” It’s like wanting something you didn’t know you wanted until you saw someone else have it – just like a child. I am not justified in my envy, but sometimes I wonder why we couldn’t obtain these lives together. Why did he leave me behind in singleness and go off to be a great family man? Why do I have a problem with being single? Why do I envy them at all? It’s not like I don’t know how hard it was for them to get to where they are now, and that they still have a long way to go. But I am tired, to be perfectly candid.
Though I am single, I still receive a similar joy to the family man’s joy by cooking for my family. They may not be my wife and kids, but they are all very dear to me. I may still need their help to get things done, but the meals I’ve cooked thus far have been good meals. It has been an experience far greater than I could’ve imagined when I first asked my uncle to teach me how to make homemade pizza for my first birthday of cooking. The further I’ve gone, the larger portion of cooking I took on. I have gained so much confidence in my future as a husband and father because of it.
I have had the guy talks around the grill or pot. I have served the women and children first. I have witnessed some return for seconds. I have watched the conversations and laughter that have unfolded from table talks. God has created the environment for that through my loved ones and me. Forgive me for loving the fact that I had a hand in it. It brings me joyous peace.
I don’t intend to cook for the rest of my birthdays, but if you see me manning the grill, pot, pan, or iron skillet, you know why. It is because serving in this capacity gives me great joy. Feeding my family gives me so much peace and confidence. Creating environments for sports talk, Christian fellowship, life talk, reunions, and silliness around gives me hope.
I know I can cook for a family. I know I can host a party. I know I can cater to the needs of others. The greatest one in the room is the greatest servant. I used to read that verse with disdain, because it was such a vulnerable state, but when your nephew takes a hotdog and smiles just after biting the first piece, you just smile inside. When your mentor gives you that subtle nod just before going in for a second bite, you obtain a little bit of pride (and men love pride). Most of all, when I see the party… I gain just enough hope to holdout for my family for another year. God grant me the strength when the high comes down and I am once again tired and weak.
To the fam, and family, with love,