“Dad’s” Buttermilk Pancakes

by Donald Wilson on January 16, 2011

Once I made the decision to keep Andrew out of the foster system, it was only a matter of days before he was living with me.  In fact,  he was a student on a Friday morning and “my son” by Friday afternoon.   This quick transition made for some uncomfortable times in the beginning.  As a teacher, you are expected to keep a proper distance from your students: no hugs, no lap sitting, no kisses, no spanking.  These are the things that can change your name from Mr. Wilson to Lester the Molester in a matter of minutes.    As a parent, the lack of these very same things make you cold, callous, and on track for raising the next “Most Wanted” poster child.

I’ll never forget that first night.  It all went fine and I put him to bed on the couch (didn’t even have a bed for him yet) and I was soon fast asleep too.  I woke up in the middle of the night with the night sweats and the feeling that I had swallowed 50 or so large river stones.   The permanence of this decision hit me so hard I could barely breath; no returns on this purchase.

Somehow, I managed to fall back asleep only to be awakened by someone crawling into my bed.  OH MY GOD!   I was now under the covers with my student and in our underwear.  He was scared from a bad dream and wanted to cuddle.  Somehow I managed to scrunch up enough bedspread between us to allow for a cuddle without major contact.  He fell fast asleep and I laid face up, eyes wide open, until morning.   I just couldn’t shake the “he’s my student” feeling.

Still, morning came and with it all the obligations of child care.  Namely, food.  I fixed him my grandmother’s cornmeal molasses pancakes, bacon, and fresh orange juice.  This meal gave way to lunch.  Lunch led to dinner.  Dinner led to the next morning and my routine for the next  nine years had begun.  With each meal prepared, a river stone was lifted and the heaviness of the decision grew lighter everyday.

About a month passed and normalcy started to really set in – except in public when Andrew was holding my hand, getting scolded (this happened A LOT in the beginning) or was being affectionate with me and calling me Mr. Wilson in his very loud voice.   That “I’m a creepy guy” feeling would come over me and I felt all eyes on me.   After one such incident at a grocery store I sat him down at the kitchen table to talk.

“Andrew, you know, you are going to be with me until you grow up and go to college.”

“Uh-hu,”  he answered.

“Well, I think we need to come up with a different name for you to call me.  I don’t think Mr. Wilson really works anymore.”

“What can I call you then?”

“You can call me Don.  That’s my name.  Or you can call me a made-up name.”  I told him.

“Like what?” he pressed.

“My nieces and nephews call my mom GG.  It stands for Great Grandma so she doesn’t get confused with their other grandma.”

Andrew sat there a moment thinking about this and you could see the thoughts churning.  I was waiting for a doozy.  Something crazy that only Andrew would think up.

He looked away from me and stared out the kitchen door.

Finally, he asked,  “Can I call you Dad?”

This was not what I had expected, but I didn’t miss a beat,  “Of course, you can.  That’s who I am.  I’m your dad and will be for the rest of your life.”

It wasn’t until later in the day that he tried it our for the first time.

“Dad?”  he called out from his room.

I looked around to see who he was talking to.  Suddenly, the lightbulb came on.

“Yes, Andrew?”  I called back.

There were a few more tentative attempts and when he got an affirmation that there was an answer at the other end of that “dad,” a flood gate opened and “dad” started to pour out.

“Dad?”  “Dad?”  “Dad?”  It came out about three or four hundred times a day for the first few weeks.

Soon enough, however, his psyche was convinced he really was a son with a dad and the flash flood turned to a gentle river of fatherly names.  Dad went to daddy.  Daddy to papi.  Papi to pops.  Nowadays,  I’m dad or pops.  And like every other parent, I can distinguish his “dad” from a whole soccer team of boys calling after their fathers.

Five years have passed since those first “dad” attempts and I’m more dad than I ever could have imagined.  Every “dad,” every hug, every kiss is a cherished gift.   I can’t believe I have only five more years of hearing my new name called out around the house.  I wish I could go back and bottle all the thousands of first “dads” he let fly and keep them in the larder for the years after he’s spread his wings and flown away.

For now, I get to wake tomorrow morning, cook up those same pancakes he had on his first day at the house, and yell out,  “Son, get up.  Breakfast is ready.”   It won’t take long for my reward, “O.K. dad, I’ll be there in a minute.”


Andrew didn’t like pancakes when he first came to live with me.  He let me know this in no uncertain terms that first morning.  I quickly devised the first of many little culinary white lies that worked like a charm to get Andrew to try something new or different.

“I’m not making pancakes,” I told him.  “These are flapjacks and they are made from a secret recipe that my grandmother used almost 100 years ago.”

He loved them and has enjoyed them hundreds of times since.  It’s a bit of a weekend ritual.

My Grandmother, Emma Delphis,  left her family and farm in Iowa during the early 1920’s and was a farmhand cook in Nevada for years.  She would cook for 30 or 40 men every morning on a wood burning oven that they had to fire up around three A.M.   This recipe has been in the family since that time.   My siblings and I call them Grandma’s pancakes, but I bet Andrew will call them “Dad’s pancakes” when he makes them for his kids someday.

Emma Delphis’s Cornmeal Pancakes.

1 egg

1 1/4 c. buttermilk

1 Tbsp. molasses

1/4 c. corn oil (we use olive oil these days and love it)

3/4 c. yellow corn meal

3/4 c. flour

1 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. baking powder

Put buttermilk, egg, oil, and molasses together.  Put the rest of the ingredients through a sifter and into the bowl; mix.  Cook in butter or left over bacon grease.

Provecho!  (Loosely translated it means enjoy.  However, it really means “may you take advantage of the meal before you for your pleasure and health)


Michele (Hughes) Edelmuth January 18, 2011 at 6:14 am

What a really nice article/story. I enjoyed reading it. Michele

Kim January 18, 2011 at 11:04 pm

Well written on this blog, and well done in life!

Carlos Hernandez January 19, 2011 at 9:47 pm

Don, your blog is beautiful. Your honesty is a truly powerful gift to share. Thank you.

Sue Clark January 21, 2011 at 3:52 am

Hi Don;
Your mom sent me this website, and I had tears in my eyes as I read about you and Andrew. Your mom has written me about how wonderful your relationship is, but reading about it in your eloquent words was magnificent! Good job! You’re a great dad, and I can only imagine how much it means to you to have him call you that! Love, Sue

Karla Lopez February 5, 2011 at 2:05 am

I don’t know how you guys stay so thin with all this yumminess but please keep sharing the recipes.

joel serrato February 5, 2011 at 7:21 am

can you make me some? i’m sure these are my favorite!

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