‘I love you’ … ‘I know’

This truly is a food love story; it starts with ‘I love you’. It also starts with a stew. And it starts a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

A father-son relationship is the backbone of both Star Wars and of this story my client told me about his own father’s Force-wielding, which was little more earthly: my client’s dad was a keen gardener. He described how as a child he would explore his dad’s allotment and forage for ‘ingredients’ to make a dish that features in the Empire Strikes Back: Rootleaf stew. I watched him closely as he told me the story – it was as if someone had turned up the volume on his face. There was an energy to him, which felt like the kind of Force that Freud is more known for speaking of: Life force. My client was alive, and we were speaking about something vital to him, and for him. This was a story of sustenance in all manner of ways. And if his face could have had an accompanying theme tune, it would have been that of Star Wars; he replayed his narrative with strength, flair, and romantic wonderment – almost the kind that comes with being in love.

The ‘cooking’ of the stew was indeed a labour of love: into a large, time-worn terracotta pot he would tumble in small soiled potatoes, and follow with the clattering of petits pebbles; these were the ‘roots’ of the stew. For the leaves, he would go into battle with the parsley, which grew like a bushy blanket – he talked about it tickling as he tugged fistfuls of the tightly-curled bright green leaves. He would pick tender little lime-coloured celery tops. ‘Dad didn’t mind one bit that I’d batter and bruise those perfectly-good delicate herbs just for play.’ I found myself nodding, like I was agreeing with his father’s parenting philosophy – play came first. And so did my client’s culinary efforts: his dad played sous chef and had the responsibility of the very important task of pouring hot water from the little camping kettle into the pot. After some meticulous stirring with a trowel, the elemental ingredients were transformed into the steaming rootleaf stew. Its mystique was in its muddiness, rather than its metaphysical power. ‘It looked terrible! But he’d always tell me it was the best stew in the galaxy, better than Yoda’s. We would spend hours there, just me and him. We’d stay all afternoon on most Sundays, until it was dark.’ Rootleaf stew may have been a make-believe supper, but the way it nourished the relationship between my client and his dad was real. He believed his dad. And in believed in his dad. The Star Wars role play continued beyond the food, as they walked back home, one hand holding a bag filled with freshly harvested vegetables, one hand holding each other’s. ‘Dad would say “I love you” and I would copy Han Solo’s response to Princess Leia. I’d say “know”. But it was true. I did.’ Sat in my chair, I could feel his sense of knowingness. The real Force, it seems, doesn’t levitate. It grounds. It makes you feel rooted.

The relationship roots we often find ourselves digging up in therapy are sowed in the early part of our life. They include our experiences of being responded to, played with, wanted around, believed in and cared for by another person. These are things you cannot do for yourself. But ultimately, whatever is being done by the other person in any relationship, past or present, in whatever galaxy, needs to land with you. You need to know it, just like my client did. He had been loved and invested in, kindly and generously, by his dad, which had instilled in him the fundamental idea that relationships are good – they are not part of the dark side. In attachment it’s known as the internal working model; it is your personal script for how the world works, how you feel about other people and how you feel about yourself. My client knew he was worthy of love. His Han Solo response was his way of letting his dad know that he had received and felt all that his dad had given to him. We all need relationships where we feel a sense of security –that rooted feeling– and this can grow from relationship experiences we have throughout our lives. There is always new hope. No human should ever be knowingly under-loved.

My recipe for ‘roots stew’ was inspired by this story.

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