November 1, 2011
How making honey helped a man know his dad in a new way

13eqpmt.jpgI love stories about how food connects us - to loved ones, to strangers, to our childhoods, to our memories. Thanks to the wonders of Facebook, I stumbled upon a poignant story about a man who happened to teach college speech classes and his father, who happened to be a man of few words - maybe too few.

What got Dad talking? It was honey. Simple as that.

In fact, Paul Duax started making honey because his dad used to be a beekeeper, and he figured that maybe he could get the old man to give him some pointers whenever he called to chat.

"Old guys don't like to talk on the phone," Paul told me.

So Paul got his hive started and, sure enough, father and son were talking up a storm about bees and hives and honey and all that goes with it. Paul would call his dad in Davenport, Iowa, ask something about beekeeping and it went from there.

"It worked like a charm," Paul said.

Paul's struggle to get to know his dad as an adult, on equal footing, is one many of us have gone through. We spend our childhoods doing what we're told, listening to our parents as they guide us. And we think we know them until we start to dig deeper in our adult years. We ask the tough questions, wonder about ideas and feelings, as we try to place this relationship in a new context. And sometimes we realize the answers aren't always forthcoming, aren't what we expected. Sometimes we wish the answers were better. That happened to me at certain times, and I have come to realize that I may never really know my parents beyond how they represented themselves to me as mother and father. It takes a lot of work - and maybe a special talent - to go beyond that and build a new kind of friendship with those who raised us. Maybe that's what Paul was looking for and maybe he managed to find it.

Paul teaches speech classes at American River College and, in his spare time, tends to the bee hive behind his home in the Boulevard Park section of midtown. The bees roam the area, gathering nectar from various flowers. Who knows, some of those bees might have found their way to our house, just five blocks away, and landed on flowers we planted by the front porch.

Beekeeping is a lot of work and you have to know what you're doing. In Paul's case, his hobby has some impressive statistics this season: 30,000 bees, 57 pounds of honey, 87 jars labeled and given to friends - all to honor a reticent dad who died not long after sending his son his jars, burlap and a "Beekeepers" magazine.

The blog post that tells this story was written by Paul's girlfriend, Elizabeth Jolene Kim, an analyst at the State Department of Insurance and a first year student at McGeorge School of Law. She writes:

"I am honored and touched to have witnessed this process and lend a hand to the harvesting of this honey. We are happy to share our honey with family and loved ones, and hope that if you received a jar of honey from us, please know that it comes with hours of labor and love, and that we sincerely hope you enjoy it."

To read the entire blog entry, click here.

I have never met Elizabeth, but when I mentioned to her via Facebook that I wanted to include her words on our blog at The Bee, she invited me to stop by and get a jar of the honey.

Honey is its own kind of natural wonder, and this honey, with the jars and the labels Paul writes out by hand, is balanced and full of flavors both deep and subtle. It also comes with a special story - and maybe a lesson for the rest of us.

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