Father’s Day, food and being there when the stories start percolating around the table.
Dad cooked a lot of the breakfasts when I was growing up. Pancakes were usually the order of the day, but no matter what he was making the meal usually included a little baloney.
Cooking seemed to put dad in the mood for stories, some about his days in the army, some about the dubious adventures he and his brothers got into when they were young. As the syrup and butter went on the pancakes, so the exaggeration and embroidery built these stories up to Paul Bunyan proportions.
I later figured out the tall tales were told mostly to entertain the young kid staring at him from the table — me. But that also, in his way, this was a form of bonding. The framework of a meal together, and the light tone of his stories, propped open the door for a dad who has never been the sort to gush over heart-to-heart chats. The same thing could happen when we were sitting in the car outside our favorite donut shop, working through a dozen glazed along with some father-and-son discussions. Dad shared best when a third party was involved, and often food could fill that role. I suspect others can relate.
This brings us to Father's Day, a holiday that in theory is the paternal counterpart to Mother's Day but in practice is generally a much more subdued affair. As Mother’s Day approaches each year, I always field increasingly frantic pleas for restaurant advice. Rarely do the same sort of requests come in around Father’s Day. Across the restaurant industry, dining out is just not as big a deal on dad’s day. Mom is treated to fancy brunch like the annual holiday meal is an act of religious observance, and heaven knows she deserves it. Meanwhile, dad just gets another necktie.
If you're only now thinking about Father's Day plans — and, let's face it, at this late date some of us just are — a spot around the table together might be the thing. Reservations are a lot easier to come by on Father’s Day than Mother’s Day, but the key, I think, is to find the place where dad feels both at his ease and like he’s being treated special. Maybe that’s at the steakhouse or over burgers and beers, like so many of the Father’s Day marketing messages suggest. Then again maybe it’s at the oyster bar, where the aesthetic of unfussy indulgence and the cadence of talking and slurping can set the stage for easy face time.
But I’m not suggesting this sort of thing has to happen at a restaurant. After all, Louisiana men cook like nobody’s business. So, if your dad is at his best around the smoker or the grill or the seafood boiling pot, then let him do his thing. Assist or admire from a safe distance as your own experience with dad’s cooking dictates — the point is to be there with him.
If your dad is anything like mine, you probably shouldn’t believe all the stories that come out at times like this, but certainly you can savor them.