happy birthday, dad
In 1999, on the cusp of the new millennium, my father discovered exercise. While alarmists warned of nuclear meltdowns and plummeting airplanes, Dad glided into Y2K on the roller-ramps of a Precor EFX elliptical. Dad not only got moving; he got eating, with a brand new attitude towards what kind of food he wanted to put into his body. This fall marks ten years of the fitter, fab-er you, Dad. I like to think that if you keep this up, you might just live forever. A girl can hope, anyway.
Dad has long been known for his pancake towers, his tomato-mustard grilled cheese sandwiches, and his Chunky bar habit. The launch of Dad, version Y2K, didn't change any of that. He still indulges in the occasional scoop of Graeter's black raspberry chip, ends a nice dinner out with a crème brulée and some serious ramekin scraping and, when given the chance, downs almond M&Ms by the handful. Dad has always been slim, so his transformation had little to do with deprivation, and everything to do with eating more of the foods that both his taste buds and his body could agree on. Just as much as he enjoys clean, simple foods, he loves the idea of taking care of himself by eating them.
For my father, eating well is a matter of pride. And I mean swagger-inducing, sit-up-straight, fork-flourishing pride. Dad's enthusiasm for fruits and vegetables in their purist forms is especially fierce. He is prone to dramatic pronouncements of his love for roasted Brussels sprouts, and one bite of a wild strawberry can inspire a slap on the table hard enough to turn the knotted wood black and blue. To the uninitiated dinner guest, my father's bug-eyed, awestruck expression might appear to signal distress, or anger, even. But most likely, it's just that he has never tasted a beet so sweet and flavorful. Give him a minute to recover, and he'll tell you so.
We tend to laugh and poke fun at Dad's earthshaking re-discoveries of, say, rice and beans. But secretly, I love these emphatic, hungry moments. Take, for example, a scene from my last visit home. We were seated at the dinner table, and my dad had just chewed and swallowed his first bite of the green, ruffle-y vegetable on his plate. It began quietly, as if to himself: "What is this?" Then again, a little louder, incredulously: "What IS this?"
"It's kale, Dad."
There was the thwack of his hand against the table, and finally, the exuberant declaration:
"I LOVE kale!"
This is what I mean when I tell you that good, healthy food, especially the plucked-from-the-earth variety, simply blows his mind.
I am my father's daughter, this much is clear, and not only because a perfectly cooked leafy green makes my day, too. The resemblance between us is undeniable, and far more than skin deep: There's our love of telling stories, our tight hamstrings, and our laughably poor senses of direction. And then there are the habits, the inclinations, and the tendencies: to intimidate without meaning to; to write late into the night, long past bedtime; ask pointed questions; and connect fully and deeply with the people we love. We read the newspaper and wonder aloud why the writer chose this word instead of that. We are hard on others, and even harder on ourselves. We want what we want, when we want it. (And frankly, we're awfully good at getting it.) We live so much in our heads, and so much in our hearts; we feel each moment triply, experiencing it, reflecting on it, and experiencing it again, all at the same time. We say what we mean, and mean what we say, and what I have to say is this: No daughter has ever had a father better suited to exactly who she is. (I used to tell people that Dad and I share a brain, but given recent events, I hesitate to wish that upon him.)
My inheritance also came with lessons, at the piano, in the pool, and on the sofa over a cup of chamomile. He taught me what a marriage isn't, and what a marriage is. For that, my gratitude knows no bounds.
And now, it's about time that I say what we've all been waiting for: Happy birthday, dear Dad.
Instead of celebrating with a recipe, I thought I'd share a couple of artifacts from my childhood, brought to you by none other than the birthday boy himself. Behold, two of the many lunch bags that Dad painstakingly created to transport my sandwiches and juice boxes from home to school or, in the case of these fine specimens, to Stagecrafters Theatre Camp. (Click on the lunch bags for larger, more readable images.)
Dad, I smush you. (Which is much, much better than love.)
[Never fear, Dad. Though this post lacks a recipe, you'll still be receiving a birthday treat at your door. It's something from the archives, and I can't wait for you to try it.]
Posted by Jess