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Reflections from the SwampFather's Day and Barbecues

Father’s Day and Barbecues

Reflections from the Swamp
Richard van Duyvendyk

Dear Reader

If my father were still with us, he’d be a hundred years old this year. His name was Nicolaas. There are many fatherly stories I could tell about Nicolaas. He was an excellent father; however, I’ll confine this story to barbecues.

We had a very traditional family during the sixties. My mother and almost all my friends’ mothers stayed home and cooked all the meals. None of the three boys or my father were encouraged to cook in our family. The only exception was the barbecue.

My Dad did “the books.” for several local farming families. The farmers gave him chickens or frozen cuts of beef wrapped in brown paper packages. When the meat started to pile up, he bought a barbecue. With all the depressions and wars, he never barbecued in Holland, so having his first barbecue was precious and monumental and connected us with Canadian culture.

The barbecue was round, red, and metal, with a shiny steel grill that Dad easily removed to allow for adding briquettes or small pieces of hardwood flooring. The barbecue was our only link to our ancestors, the cavemen. We had an elaborate family tree going back to the 1600s. We were fundamentalists and believed that the world was, give or take, about 5000 years old. Having relatives who were cavemen barbecuing Mammoths fit in well with our concepts of early man. Our childhood caveman reference was a documentary called The Flintstones which educated us every Saturday afternoon. Apparently, the cave dwellers who couldn’t read or write came just before our known ancestors. After clobbering or being bludgeoned by a sibling, I’d sometimes look at my brothers and see some of the cave dwellers in them shining through the black eye, freckles and Brylcreem hair gel.

According to my Dad, the cavemen resisted the attempts by the cavewomen to take over the cooking of mastodons or dinosaurs. Hunting and cooking were the responsibility of the men in the tribe. Without the barbecuing males, the tribe would have starved or, even worse, become vegetarians. Standing beside my Dad with my brothers at the barbecue felt like a sacred tribal moment. Once, we put some black charcoal markings on our faces, but my mother soon kiboshed that. We were to remain civilized cavemen.

It was essential to spread barbecue sauce (always a secret recipe) all over the meat, cook it thoroughly on each side of the steak, and leave the centre of the flesh as bloody as possible. The bloody flesh was our way of acknowledging the caveman within us and connecting us with our inner hunter. Although most of us latent cavemen do most of our hunting in the grocery store, we know a cave dweller is lurking somewhere in our DNA.

There are countless National Geographic specials about male lions, wildebeests, longhorn sheep or turkeys sparring with each other to become the dominant male in the herd or group. A more civilized version of this sparing to become the head barbecuer happened amongst my siblings and again a generation later with my three sons.

Each of us boys, and my sister, were shown how to barbecue by my Dad. My younger brother became the undisputed barbecuer in my childhood family, and I have two sons who do all the barbecuing around here on Father’s Day. My third son is practically a vegetarian. When his kids come over for a sleepover, they are always anxiously anticipating that they will get to eat some “real meat.” On Father’s Day, I’ve learned to sit back and let it happen.

Every family has its traditions around barbecues. I’ve never owned a new barbecue. Last week the burners in the bowels of my gas barbecue rusted and disintegrated to the point of no return. I placed the barbecue on the road on garbage day where, several years ago, it was found and presented to me on Father’s Day. A few days later, my son found another barbecue for free in Kijiji. After some finagling, we got three of the five burners going. My brother-in-law gave me a long lighter because the automatic lighter doesn’t work anymore.

On Sunday, a group of grandchildren and relatives will gather for another Father’s Day barbecue. I’ll pass on my father’s story about the mastodons and dinosaurs to the next generation while the young bucks spar to control the barbecue.

Happy Father’s Day to all fathers, stepfathers, grandfathers, and others who raise and nurture our children. There are many things we can teach our children. Barbecuing, mastering new skills,  becoming loving contributing members of the family, and learning good fathering skills are among them.

I hope many of you will join Fred, Barny, the family, and me to celebrate fathers on Father’s Day.

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