Last year was the anomaly. In 2009 and 2010 I wrote a post about my father on October 9. Could I have forgotten his birthday last year? I suppose it’s possible, but I hope not. Just to be safe, let’s not repeat that again this year.
Happy birthday, Dad.
My dad is a great guy, and as a result everyone wants a piece of him. But like all of us, there is only so much to go around. However, this year he sent my half-sister off to college, and now for the first time in his life, all his kids are finally out of the house. Now if Dad can wrangle some time away from work, there’s a fighting chance I’ll get to see a little more of him.
So on this birthday, I thought I’d help him celebrate by remembering how far he’s come. It’s not to linger on the lows, because even as dim and dreary as those post divorce days may have been, they still hold a special place in my heart. Luckily, neither he nor I have continued to eat like this.
As far as I recall, there were two major dishes that really defined that era of our life.
The first was boneless skinless chicken breast marinated in bottled Italian dressing. Marinated is a bit generous of a term. The chicken was put on a baking sheet, slathered with salad dressing, and baked until it was no longer raw. I remember that it had a really unpleasant smell when it was cooking. This probably had something to do with the fact that salad dressing was never engineered for being exposed to high heat.
The second was a turkey burger. For some reason I want to say these were served on english muffins with some kind of fake mayonnaise. If you couldn’t guess, my father was monitoring his cholesterol intake at the time. Anyway, while these too had a rather unappetizing smell as they cooked, they were on the whole tastier than the chicken.
The woman he would eventually marry couldn’t stand the smell of these “burgers” in the oven and put the kibosh on this dish. Back then I recall being resentful about the power struggle. But looking back with a bit more perspective, it was probably in everyone’s best interest to get those poultry patties out of our lives.
I also had my first exposure to aglio e olio in Dad’s apartment. When I prepare the dish today, I make sure to use plenty of garlic, a good flavorful olive oil, and lots of Parm-Reg, in addition to salt and pepper. Plus, I toss the pasta with a little bit of the pasta water if it’s looking dry. I don’t recall any of this happening back then, and I was aghast at what felt like being served plain pasta for dinner.
I think that was the only time I complained about Dad’s food.
Those days were hard. We were figuring out how to navigate the new rhythms and roles in our lives. Money was tight. Emotions ran high. But those days we also got to spend a lot of time together, and because the time was limited it was even more special. I know it was hard for me. I can only imagine that it was just as hard–if not harder–for Dad. He doesn’t talk about his own feelings very much.
All of this is now decades ago, as in multiple decades. Not to make Dad feel old on his birthday. But sometimes people look around as they tick off another year on the clock, and evaluate their relative success. And to see how high you have climbed, it doesn’t make sense to look from where you started from. I think it’s more telling to look at the distance you’ve traveled from the bottom to the top.
Happy birthday Dad. I wish I had the kids make you something cute weeks ago and put it in the mail so it could arrive at your office today. But I’ve never been good with that kind of thing.
Maybe next time you make the trip up to Albany, I’ll make you a dinner of aglio e olio – profussor style. Then perhaps over a nice aperitif we can talk about how far we’ve come.
With lots of love,