One would be hard-pressed to find a man who doesn't enjoy a full, home cooked meal...eating one, that is. In fact, such a meal is often the centerpiece of the day for families celebrating Father's Day, as is going on all around the Bay area on Sunday.
The expertise it takes to prepare a home-cooked meal, however, is a different story for many men.
Combine that with a much more significant struggle - battling cancer - and some men and their families can become overwhelmed. That's why the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Publix Super Markets joined together this week to provide a night of "Kitchen Coaching" for five special dads in honor of this year's Father's Day.
Last Tuesday, five families were invited to the Publix Apron's Cooking School, where the fathers could learn in hands-on fashion how to make homemade pizza and Caesar salad. With the help of their children, the fathers made their own Italian creations, with toppings varying from the familiar pepperoni and mushrooms to the more exotic chocolate chips and marshmallows.
The eventual outcome of the recipes was less important than the overall experience for the families, who were selected by the Jack & Jill Late Stage Cancer Foundation. The Foundation provides memorable opportunities for families who have a mother or father with late-stage, limited life expectancy cancer. The mothers attending Tuesday's cooking class were currently battling cancer, giving them an opportunity to sit back and watch their husbands give the kitchen a go.
To help the dads along, the expert chefs at Publix provided basic instruction and tips for the fathers as they tied on their aprons.
"Working with a great organization like the Bucs really helps us join together and become even more powerful," said Shannon Patten, Manager of Media and Community Relations for Publix. "We wanted to create really special, long-lasting memories for the families in our community and the five families we have here today with us, we couldn't ask for better families. They all have big hearts and big smiles and I think they are having a wonderful time here together, eating and just enjoying themselves."
Patten's assessment was correct.
"I'm very excited to be here," said Kristen Ares, whose husband Chris is a lifelong Buc fan. "We've known about this event now for about two weeks and Chris has been real excited. He has been a Bucs fan since he was a boy, being born and raised here, so to get one-on-one time with the players here like this has been a great experience."
For some of the families, the most rewarding lesson went beyond the cooking basics - it was learning how to have fun with it.
"I think that's important because a lot of times when you're eating it's a chore, but if you can have fun with it that's great," said Ares. "I would like to see him get in the kitchen with me and our daughter who's eight. She's starting to like to cook too, so if we could all get in there and do it that would be great."
On Tuesday, they were able to do just that - with a Buccaneer twist, of course. Former players Ian Beckles, Tony Mayberry, Dave Moore, Shelton Quarles and Richard Wood, as well as Buccaneer Alumni Cheerleaders and Captain Fear, enjoyed the opportunity to bring the families together and learn the basics of cooking.
Quarles, whose godmother has a form of cancer called multiple myeloma, felt especially connected to the families selected for the event.
"I'm a father and I know what it takes to be a husband to your wife and especially with the things that they're going through with cancer in the late stages, it's really unbelievable," said Quarles.
And although the former linebacker admitted that his best dish is probably a boiled cup of Ramen noodles, he was quick to acknowledge the significant role that cooking can play in family life, particularly for a family battling a deadly disease.
"I think cooking is very important in raising a family, you take a little bit of the stress off of them to figure out what they're going to eat today and having to go out there when they probably don't feel like cooking," added Quarles. "With the stages that they're in with their cancer, they're probably in a lot of pain and discomfort so to have to figure out what they're going to cook is a big deal for them. So as many things as they can do to help out the family and cause less stress on the mothers is awesome."
To top the evening off, the Buccaneers surprised each family with a care package to help create even more memories in the future. Each father was presented with a gift card to Lee Roy Selmon's restaurant, a set of grilling utensils and a brand new Buccaneers tailgating grill. The tailgating items should come in handy this fall when each family enjoys the final gift of the night: two Buccaneers season tickets.
"We know that life is short and it's a matter of having fun, doing the best that you can with the time that you have," said Will Ruiz, a father of five. "We try to not get involved in businesses that are going to give us trouble, but instead get involved with ones that are going to give us joy. We do very well, and this is something that is going to stay with us for the rest of our lives."
As the families gathered a few days early in honor of their dads, it was evident what would be most important to the fathers on Sunday: time together.
"I don't think of Father's Day too much," said Ruiz. "I work hard and am the only income support and there have been many, many Father's Days that I have not been able to be with family because I've been working. Now in the past two years, Father's Day, Mother's Day and almost every weekend are special. Every weekend is either Father's Day at home or a Mother's Day at home. This Father's Day will make it a little more special. This time around it is family day, and that's the truth."