Do You Know Where You Are?

Excerpted from

Dinner with Dad: How I Found My Way Back to the Family Table


"They drive you crazy," says my friend Callie. We are sitting in a Starbucks across the street from my new office, the one I rented a mere two miles from my house. If the man will not go to the city, the city will come to the man. It is my newfound hope, and New Year's resolution, to bring home the bacon from a more convenient location. Because Christine has made it clear that she doesn't like me working in the house, a local office is the next best thing. Better, even, because it has the feel of a real office, with suitemates, copiers, and fax machines, and no kitchen with a refrigerator to distract me.

Callie is a doctor, a pediatrician, who works three days a week. She tells me her kids have a menu consisting of five different meals, though none are the same as mine. Her children will eat meat loaf and lasagna, but wouldn't dream of touching pesto or burritos. "I just feed them what they want, and figure they're getting what they need," she says. She works too hard to fight with them about food. If it doesn't have sugar, or chemicals, she's willing to overlook all but the most severe taste violations.

Coming from a pediatrician, this sounds like sage advice, although I still harbor dreams of turning my children into mini-epicureans, or at least pushing their palettes into the reds and greens.

Callie laughs. "Try being a mom for more than a year," she says. "Then you'll see."

As I carry my "tall" cup of coffee across the street, I wonder if the first caveman ever worried what his children were eating. No more grubs, Junior, until you've eaten your mastodon. The desire to care for our young, to keep them nourished and warm, must be hardwired into our genes. The task, however, has been gender-divided, parceled out like laundry, until women have borne more than their fair share while men have become published experts at something they know so little about.

I am not a caveman. I do not eat what I kill. But there are a few things I still know how to do: light a fire, make a meal, gather the clan. Thus, with Aunt Sue as my guiding spirit, I make a pizza, preparing the dough in the bread machine (which is simplicity itself, despite its high-tech pedigree: Add ingredients in the specified order, press button, and walk away). The pizza is a big hit, with Simon having four pieces, including a special "adult" pizza made with extra garlic and black olives, and I don't even mind when Lulu complains there's a funny green thing on one of her slices (it's called oregano).

Two nights later I make shrimp with Israeli couscous. Also known as "pearl couscous" or maftoul, Israeli couscous differs from the better-known Moroccan variety in that it is nearly pea-sized and can be boiled like regular pasta. It has a chewier consistency and, even better, if I serve it with a little butter and salt Lulu can be coaxed into eating it. I sauté the shrimp separately in olive oil and garlic for the adults, then toss in a handful of petite peas. We eat peacefully, joyfully, and I ignore the shrimp Simon pushes to the side of his plate, silently chalking up one point for getting my children to try something new.

Later, Simon and I watch the original Bad News Bears, his head on my shoulder, feet curled up on my thigh. With his long hair and freckles, Simon slightly resembles Tatum O'Neal, and shares with her character the same fierce competitive spirit. We both agree the original trumps the remake, and Simon asks why every movie seems to be a remake or a sequel. I explain about the death of imagination, the economics of the film industry, and the lemming mentality of moviegoers. Despite my diatribe, he seems reasonably interested, and notes that Toy Story 2 and Shrek 2 are as good as, if not better than, the originals. He has a point, although I argue that their originality loses something in the second telling.

Does it get any better than this? A man, a boy, a dog, and a DVD? I love having a son with whom I can toss a baseball, watch PG movies, laugh at the same jokes, discuss the auteur theory of great cinema. Simon is more than just my son, my firstborn; he is my pal, and I see him blossoming into a young man before my eyes. I wish I could stop time, slowdown the moment, preserve us together on this couch long enough to appreciate the short window of his childhood, etiquette manuals be damned.

"Can we rent The Godfather?" he asks.

"The Godfather?" repeat, slightly stunned.

"It won two Academy Awards for best film."

Simon's encyclopedic knowledge sometimes amazes me, and always makes me smile. I tell him the Godfather movies are too violent for a nine- (nearly ten-) year-old, but perhaps we can watch them in a few years (or ten). This seems to satisfy him, and he asks if I will sit on his bed and read him a book. He takes my hand and leads me upstairs. We choose a history of the Yankees, and I read through the 1930s before we both get tired. Even though we have just spent about four hours together, he doesn't want me to leave his room. "Please, Daddy, stay," he says. I feel well loved, and slightly guilty; but I kiss him goodnight anyway, telling myself I have nothing to feel bad about. I cross the hall to Lulus room, where she is already asleep, her blond hair matted to one cheek, arms thrown above her head. I adjust the blanket on the bed and gently kiss the top of her forehead so as not to wake her.

Tags: Parenting and Families

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