I love talking to my sons on the phone. I know they’d always prefer texting, but I just like to hear their voices. We text every day. Little things, “texty” things. Basketball scores, inquiries about that last quiz grade, off-color joking about the latest Snapchat Story. “Texty” stuff. But we talk on the phone usually a couple times every week. We hit the usual topics in rapid succession: “How’s work?” BAM. “How’s school going?” BAM. “How’s mom?” BAM. “Are you making good decisions?” BAM. “Yes, are you?” BAM BAM.
You know, stuff dads and sons talk about when they like one another. But there’s another topic we always cover as well, that may be a little more unusual.
“Eat anything good?”
For Dorm Kid, the answer is almost inevitably, emphatically, “No.” (Sometimes I think I torture him with the question just for fun.) My older son usually has something to say. Maybe it was a sandwich from Northern Waters Smokehouse, or a newly tapped beer from Bent Paddle. He usually finds something each week to talk about. I, on the other hand, can always point to something. The Ma Po Tofu from Grand Szechuan, or the Surly Hell Fire hot dog I ate last Sunday. I’m the dad, so I always get to win that contest.
She and I hit the kid lottery in a great long list of ways. They’re smart, funny, and caring. They’re generous and respectful. They like their parents. And they’re adventurous eaters. When they were young, She and I seemed to fall accidentally into this approach in their care and feeding; “If someone makes you food, you will pay them the respect of trying it. If you don’t like it you don’t have to eat it, but you have to try. If you don’t like it, you can get yourself something else. But two dinners will not be made.” It seems to have worked out quite well. I don’t really recall hours at the high chair, weeping over long-cold and flaccid vegetables.
I think, however, that it was our enthusiasm for trying new things that won the day. She and I have always been excited about trying new things. When we moved to the city from Wyoming, we went on a New Food Bender. We tried everything that we’d never had, or ever heard of, that we could get our hands on. That enthusiasm seems to have rubbed off on The Boys.
Like I’ve said before, I believe the whole of the food-eating community is bracketed by these two extremes: On the one side you have people who treat the experience of food as a religion. On the other side you have people who put food in their mouths because if they don’t, they’ll die.
Like the Isla De Muerta, the fictional island that you can only get to if you’ve been there before, some people only try food they’ve eaten before. I’ve asked many adults the same question I’ve asked a lot of pre-schoolers. “How do you know you won’t like it if you’ve never tried it?” While not likely, that thing that they’ve never tried may be their favorite food. They just don’t know it yet. I think we all know people who shoot these mind-bullets at waitstaff:
“Excuse me, waiter, where on the menu would I find the tan food?”
“Excuse me, waiter, but this plate is flat. I ordered the partitioned plate. My blanched asparagus tips are touching my roasted Yukon Golds and that’s yucky.”
One of my all time favorite dishes, a dish I often crave, is called Nasi Lemak. It’s a Malaysian dish consisting of curried chicken and potatoes, served on coconut rice. Do you know what I ate when I was a kid? Not Nasi Lemak.
Preparing meals, dining together. Sitting at a table with your family. It’s an act of intimacy. We’ve been lucky enough to also have it become an adventure. They’re moments we’ve shared, that belong only to us. I love that I can say, “Shrimp-head soup”, or “Pumpkin Pie the rodents wouldn’t touch” and there are people who would smile at the recollection of a time and a place.
So I’m going to call The Boys today.
“How’s it going?”
“Good. How’s mom?”
“Good. How’d your midterm go?”
“How’s your March Madness bracket holding up?”
“Make good tips this weekend?”
“Did you make good choices this weekend?”
“Mostly. Did you?”
“Mostly. Eat anything good?”