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.]


bferry said...

what amazing birthday wishes. your dad sounds like the best, and those lunch bags are tops. happy bday to your father.

Shannalee said...

Love this post and love that you have this kind of relationship with your dad. Anyone who gets excited about kale is a man after my own heart, too.

Happy birthday, Jess's dad!!

Amy said...

^_^ that is so sweet! aww
Happy birthday your dad!!

Char said...

how sweet - and those lunch bags???? what a treasure

Anonymous said...

You forgot another similarity - you are both beloved by many! Glad to be one of them.


suzi banks baum said...

Lucky girl. Lucky Dad. Lucky life. Love your posts Jessica. I really love how you digest your life with such gastronomic gusto. SO happy to hear you sounding so well. Love and Kale...hmmm...what am I cooking today? Pesto already in the fridge...had sublime clementine marmalade last week on a trip. Will keep you posted if I can replicate it this winter. Do you know a source for clementines from Corsica? xo Suzi

Shauna from Piece of Cake said...

What a darling post. I love your dad! Girl, you had me at Graeter's.

Oliag said...

Just discovered you through The Blue Hour...and I wonder how have I missed this?..I love photography blogs and food blogs and this takes the cake:)...also my youngest daughter just moved to Cambridge so I am going to be reading your archives to see if you give any good restaurant hints.

Oh yeah...Happy Birthday to a very creative Dad! Love those lunch bags and I love the fact that you saved them:)..and I love kale!

Kelsey B. said...

Happy Birthday your Dad - our birthdays fall within the same week!

Marilyn said...

What a terrific Dad - and what a wonderful daughter. Together you're (fresh, organic) peas in a pod. Happy Birthday to him, and it's so nice to see you writing again. :)

LyB said...

You guys are just too cute for words! What a wonderful thing to have such a loving relationship with your dad. Happy birthday to him! :) (I think my favorite part of the lunch bags has to be the bag's self portrait.)

Lo said...

That's the sweetest tribute ever! Love the kale story... and, if you don't mind, I'm adopting the practice of SMUSHING people from here on out.

Chef Gwen said...

Aren't Dads the best? Well, at least your Dad sounds like the kind of Dad all little girls should have. I've got a special one, too, although he's not quite as comedic as yours. What a lovely story, and the paper sacks? Priceless.

Jess said...

Brian, Shannalee, Amy, and Char - Thanks for your notes! I'll pass along the birthday wishes and the lunch bag praise to my Dad.

Megan - xo.

Suzi - I love it when you comment here! It means so much to me that you're reading. "Lucky life." How right you are. Can I please come and spend a day in your kitchen? Clementine marmalade sounds amazing. (No, I haven't a clue where to find clementines from Corsica!)

Shauna - Thank you. Oh, Graeter's. I could go for a scoop right now.

Oliag - Hello, and welcome! I'm glad you found me. Thanks for your kind words. Here at Sweet Amandine, I've mentioned two of my favorite Cambridge spots: Hi-Rise Bakery, and Oleana. Feel free to shoot me an e-mail, and I'll send you some additional recommendations.

Kelsey B. - Happy birthday to you, too!

Marilyn - You're adorable, and so sweet. (It feels great to be writing again.)

LyB - Yes, my dad and I are really lucky. And I love that self portrait too!

Lo - Feel free to smush your heart out! It is, after all, much, much better than love.

Chef Gwen - Yes, he's a good one, my dad. Thanks for reading, and for your sweet note.

tara said...

Aw Jess, those lunch bags made me grin from ear to ear, my friend. Pure, heart-melting sweetness.

I love how this post about your Dad shows us so much of his lovely daughter, too. Thank you. And a happy belated to him.

Jess said...

Thank you, dear Tara!

Meggie said...

:/ This post made me wish my husband was that kind of dad.