I’m a dietitian. And my favourite food is chicken wings. Yes, chicken wings. But not just any chicken wings – my Dad’s homemade, succulent, soy-sauce infused, finger-licking, roll-up-your-sleeves and get-ready-to-dig-in chicken wings.
Let me explain. My Dad is a Chinese chef and thrives on cooking for others. Though a man of very few words, Dad always lit up anytime we asked him about a certain ingredient or recipe. I remember grocery shopping with him when I was seven years old. He would enthusiastically teach me how to buy the best cuts of meat, pick out the juiciest oranges, or spot the freshest bunch of broccoli.
I loved Dad’s chicken wings so much that my family affectionately claimed I had grown invisible wings that helped me “fly” through my track and field competitions. Everyone knew I always had first dibs on those chicken wings.
It wasn’t until I reached my twenties when I realized just what my Dad’s chicken wings symbolized in my life. I had bought a new house with my high school sweetheart, moved in together, and was planning our wedding. I had also started my first job out of grad school. Life was great! I had everything I ever dreamed of! And then it all changed.
One late night, just two months prior to our wedding date, I found out that my fiancé was cheating on me. I found love letters and pictures of the other woman.
I remember falling to my knees, feeling sick to my stomach and completely crushed.
Nothing like this had ever happened in our family. Things like this didn’t happen to good girls like me. The worst part was having to tell my parents and both sets of grandparents that my wedding would be cancelled. I felt so ashamed. I lost every bit of my self-confidence. And I fell into a mild depression.
Eventually, I found the strength and courage to carry on and moved back in with my parents. My mom was incredibly strong and supportive, repeatedly reassuring me that things happen for a reason. My brothers welcomed me home with open arms. My dad on the other hand, said nothing throughout the entire painful ordeal. But he didn’t have to. Because on that cool June night when I returned to my parents’ home, sick with heartache, I found my Dad’s gift of support. There, on the kitchen table was a big bowl of his chicken wings. They were just sitting there waiting for me, like an old friend with open arms. In an instant, I burst into tears and gave my Dad a hug. This was my Dad’s message of love. It was his way of comforting me and telling me that things would be OK. It was his way of saying, Welcome home to your family; stay as long as you need to.
When I think about it, food has always been my dad’s language of love. For as long as I can remember, Dad has been cooking banquet-style meals on Monday nights. My aunts, uncles and grandparents would all come over after work to partake in this delicious weekly meal. Now when I say banquet-style meal, I literally mean an eight-course meal. Think winter melon soup, steamed fish, stir-fried lobster, baked chicken, chow mein, two plates heaped with leafy Chinese greens, and dessert – all served proudly in our shiny red bowls and celebratory red chopsticks. These weekly feasts have continued for decades.
Today, at the ripe young age of 80, Dad still walks to the grocery store and cooks every day. The weekly feasts are fewer and farther between now with Grandpa’s passing and everyone else busy with their own families. Grandma is at the golden age of 99, and finds it challenging to sit through the long drive to my parents’ place. So Dad has adapted to this new normal. Every Sunday morning, he wakes up early, cooks up an assortment of food, and is out the door by 10 o’clock on a 100 km round trip trek to Grandma’s house. He arrives in time to have lunch with his mother. Through rain, sleet, or snow, this has been my Dad’s Sunday morning routine for the past 10 years.
It is this simple, yet beautiful expression of love through food that Dad carries with him wherever he goes.
He didn’t have to teach it to me. I saw it. I felt it. And now, I live it. My Dad’s passion for food inspired me to become a dietitian and to speak his language of love in the same way. The other day, Grandma called, asking if I would bake a blueberry pie for her. I dropped everything, headed straight to the kitchen and visited Grandma two hours later with a pie fresh out of the oven. Once a month, I take part in the Sunday lunch, always bringing Grandma a small McDonald’s coffee just the way she likes it – with two milks, one cream and no sugar. After lunch, I hold Grandma’s hand as we chat about the good old days and the joys of raising kids. Dad stands quietly in the shadows, listening and nodding. He’s happy that everyone has enjoyed the lunch.
As I’m packing up to leave, my Dad leans over and whispers to me, “I’ve made some chicken wings. Would you like to bring some home?” I look up at this amazing man and give him the biggest smile ever, “You bet I do!”
Author’s note: While my depression did not lead to an eating disorder, it may for others. If you are struggling with depression, emotional eating or an eating disorder, please talk to your health care professional.