Breaking Bread

"You know where you can stick your noodles!"

“You know where you can stick your noodles!”

Look out for the cup, if you keep tipping it you are going to spill it! Don’t tip it, it’s going to spill. IT’S SPILT!

Sit down please. Sit down please. SIT. DOWN. PLEASE! No, not on your face, on your bottom….”

Don’t throw the fish finger. DO NOT throw the fish finger. If you throw the fish finger…I TOLD YOU NOT TO THROW THE DAMN FISH FINGER…..”

Ah! Meal times with the family.

The stress.

The tension.

The chaos.

THE MESS!

It’s not that I even like Cheerios (which is why it was so hard to explain to my co-worker that time I went into work with a phalanx of them stuck in my beard).

So why do I bother insisting on this anarchic routine twice a day (three times at weekends, goddamit)? Wouldn’t it just be easier to just leave a pile of food on a plate on the floor and let them pick at it like skanky hyenas over the course of the day?

Sure it would.

But there is something in that which goes against every fibre of my being.

And this is probably because both my wife and I come from families where food is a deity, and meal times are the closest to worship we will ever get.

My name is the Secret Father, and I’m a foodie.

There, I said it.

If it is not home grown, organic, fair trade and hand knitted I don’t want to know. And I expect this ethic to extend to my children too.

So you can imagine my chagrin when, having prepared a chickpea (organic), spinach (from the allotment) and garlic (organic, home grown) dhal, I have to sit there and watch as my son picks out all the spinach and all the garlic, and then painstakingly removes each damn chickpea, one by one, until he is left with nothing more than a bowl of dhal stained rice. 

Which of course because it is a starchy carbohydrate, with very little nutritional value, he adores.

And then the whinging starts. “Hungry. Hungry. HUNGRY!”

And this then leads to “The Discussion” between Mrs Secret Father and myself;

Mrs SF: “Well, we can’t let him go to bed hungry”

Me: “Why not? He needs to learn to eat what he is given”

Mrs SF: “But he will wake up in the night hungry!”

Me: “Just leave him. He won’t starve himself”

Mrs SF: “I’m going to get him something else to eat”

Me; (hissing) “Don’t! Don’t do that! Don’t. Do. It”

Mrs SF: *returns with a selection of yoghurts, garlic bread and Cheerios.

Me:*gives wife a Paddington Bear stare.

You get the picture.

Basically my wife comes from a family of feeders. She would be mortified if one of her brood went to bed one calorie short on their daily allowance. Because that would mean she is a BAD MOTHER.

And I come from a family where if I left anything on my plate, my father and brother would swoop like vultures within seconds and pick over the carcass of my leftovers.

And if I left it, I knew there was nothing else.

And I knew that feeling hungry was a rubbish feeling. And I learnt that when I was hungry it was harder to play football, harder to run and jump and harder to cycle so far from home that the Police had to be called.

And as a boy, that just wouldn’t do. So I ate everything I was given.

But now these days, after a long day at work, when everyone is grizzly and just a little bit short with the day, it is tempting some meal times to just give in. Because being out to work full time, there is only so much “quality time” that I can have with my children.

And sometimes, just sometimes, I don’t want to have to spend that “quality time” being strict and grumpy and stern at the dinner table. Meal times should be fun.

So I don’t want to have to spend that time repeatedly insisting, like some demented parrot, that a 2 year old child who is off their head on carbs and yoghurt, should “sit nicely at the table” for a few more minutes.

Because frankly, asking a 2 year old to just sit still is hard enough without complicating things by adding the “nicely” bit.

I don’t want to have to negotiate every damn mouthful of whatever it is that my children are refusing to eat that day. Because let’s face it, my toddlers are the SAS of negotiation and will have me waterboarding a bowl of Calpol in no time.

I don’t want to have to spend 25 minutes on my hands and knees wiping the floor clean, whilst simultaneously having leftovers poured on my head by a cackling child. Because whatever fashion is on trend at the time, squashed knee raisins and rice noodle hair is never going to be a “look”.

And I don’t want to have to keep hounding down an errant toddler who has breached the sacred perimeter of the dining room table for the 50th time in five minutes, just because they can’t possibly eat another mouthful unless Iggle bloody Piggle is sitting with them.

And because yelling “STOP twerking at the table!” is something I should never have to shout in my own home.

And so I frequently ask myself – why do I bother? Why not just feed them pizza, cake and fruit shoots and let them eat it all in front of CBeebies? Why not just let it all drop for an easier life?

Because I can’t.

And the answer is both profound and frivolous.

Frivolous because part of me (the weird-uncle-that-lives-in-the-loft part of me) actually enjoys the noise and vibrancy and chaos of meal times.

That’s not to say I enjoy having sausages squashed in my ears (because sausages are big and my ear holes are small), but there is something rather great about a noisy, colourful table, heaving with food, vitality and conversation.

Even if that conversation is just increasingly shouty, repetitive instructions.

And the answer is also profound because meal times are a celebration. They are a celebration of nurture, life and energy; of the family unit with all of its drama’s, weaknesses and foibles; and of the human condition. We may be weak and fragile and yet we are a social animal that craves company.

And what better company than those sitting around a table devouring a delicious meal together?

Food is what keeps us going, and mealtimes have been uniting people, families, tribes and clans throughout history, providing sustenance, company, rest and a chance to connect over the breaking of the bread.

Despite the tantrums, the persistent nagging and the occasional flare up, I am going to continue to teach my children the importance of eating as a family. However much they play up, my instinct tells me that this connection will be invaluable in years to come.

So that when my tribe eventually breaks up, which it inevitably will do, we will hopefully always have that one thing remaining in common.

The love of a decent family meal together.

 #cheeriobeard

#waterboardingcalpol

#squashedkneeraisins

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17 thoughts on “Breaking Bread

  1. Are you my husband???? He’s always on his laptop (could feasibly be secretly blogging) and we had that EXACT discussion last night. AND we are all forced to eat chickpeas 4 times a week!

  2. One day you’ll have a proper meal time with decent, intelligent conversation and great food. You’ll look back and it will all have been worth it. At least, that is what I keep telling myself as I duck the flying broccoli.

  3. Ha, I think my husband would empathise with this very much! He cherishes mealtimes… Unfortunately the boy doesn’t always (ie never) cooperate! I’ve lost count of the number of times we have resorted to toast and yoghurt, despite spending hours slaving over seasonal vegetables, healthy protein items, grains and pulses… Sigh.

  4. Pingback: Breaking Bread | Love All Dads – A Blog to Showcase Dad Blogs

  5. Ah the perenial problem of the warzone at dinner time. Me and the Mrs are also foodies and to throw it all on the floor is sacrilege! Im told it gets better….

    • Yeah I’m told it gets better too. And those same people who say that also say that the baby / toddler years are the loveliest. And that bigger children bring bigger problems. Oh plop…..

  6. Hello Secret Father,

    As part of my college English class, I have to write a research paper; my topic of choice is “the importance of fathers.” This week I have to conduct an activity to help me better understand my topic and research. Thanks to Google, I came across your blog. I’ve read a few posts, and I really enjoyed reading them.
    After having said that, I am wondering if you can briefly tell me what you feel is the importance of fathers. I look forward to reading more of your blog while conducting my research, and hopefully reading your reply! Thank you for your time!

    • Hi Lacee and thanks for dropping by. I’m glad you enjoyed reading some of my posts.

      You have posed a simple question which is incredibly complex to answer briefly. It is also difficult to answer without descending into unhelpful gender stereotyping and perpetuating notions of “traditional” parenting roles.

      I could answer this question by saying that fathers are important because they bring the money home, can fix stuff around the house and provide stern discipline to errant children.

      But this is far too simplistic and does a disservice to the many mothers who demonstrate all of these qualities (and more) and also ignores the increasingly growing numbers of fathers who have more to their armoury than these traditional notions of fatherhood dictate.

      Thus your question could be viewed as much as “what is the importance of fathers?” as “what is the importance of parents?”

      That said I will try to briefly answer your question from my experience – both as a son and as a father.

      Firstly an important part of educating children is providing them with many perspectives. Fathers help to provide a male perspective to a child.

      That’s not to discount the importance of uncles, brothers and other important male role models in a child’s life – because they are important – but the father has the potential for the most intimate relationship with his children and therefore has the most powerful opportunity for providing positive perspectives of the male / fatherhood experience.

      Secondly I think fathers are increasingly important for breaking down unhelpful and damaging stereotyping and behaviours.

      By role modelling behaviours and language in front of their children that encourage gender equality, respect and empathy, fathers can make a huge impact in addressing sexism, misogyny and inequality. These are important issues to address for society to advance. Men and fathers have a huge role to play here.

      And lastly fathers are important because they role model what their daughters should expect from the important men in their lives, and they role model to their sons what it means to be a modern man. This is a crucial role to play, not just for the individuals involved and the family unit, but for society more widely.

      These are some brief thoughts.

      I know there is a study published in 2012 that looked at decades of data and made some conclusions on the importance of fathers. It was led by Ronald Rohner at the University of Conneticut. It might be of interest to you?

      This is a link to a summary of the research http://www.parents.com/parenting/dads/issues-trends/importance-of-fathers-involvement/

      Good luck with your essay. You’ve got me thinking about writing a blog post on this subject now!….

      Xx

      • I will definitely use the research of that study! Thank you so much for all of your thoughts; they helped me a ton. It’s good to have someone’s honest perspective and not just factual research. I’ll continue to read your blog while I’m conducting my research. It’s fun to read someone else’s blog rather than just write on my own!

  7. Great post! I admit I have given in to pasta three times a day as food has become a battle with my three year old. I love to cook and hate to see food wasted or pushed away. I hope that soon it will get better! In the meantime I just try to enjoy some time at the table with out Peppa Pig!

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