Gather ‘Round The Qdoba, Kids

In this week’s Dadball Era, Nate Miller revives the bygone tradition of family dinner.

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As we grow older, our individual parenting styles become—whether we want them to or not—our parents’ styles. This can be good or bad, depending on your own circumstances, but mainly it just is. If your mom stressed Bible-learning and puritanism, then you will too at some point, even if you spent your 20s and 30s snorting Rust-Oleum at seedy horse-racing tracks in Anaheim. If your dad was a heavily armed Betamax bootlegger living off the grid, you will instinctively instill in your kids a healthy distrust of the American judicial system.

My parents were old-timey as hell. We may as well have grown up inside one of those cigarette radio commercials praising the health benefits of nicotine. (“Four out of five doctors choose Pall Mall to cure your tuberculosis!”) We were somehow Dust Bowl country at 75th and Washington in the 1980s, a game of Jacks in a Super Mario Brothers world. There are a thousand different examples of this, each more Atticus Finch–y than the last. Of course, I would not change a thing about it even if I could.

Now that I’ve hit peak #Dadness, I find myself unintentionally resorting back to the impossibly old-timey mentality of my parents. It is woven into my brain at a molecular level, I think, inescapable and predetermined. This is neither good nor bad, really; it just is. There are a thousand examples of how I’m now metaphorically riding my penny-farthing to the talkies when dealing with my kids, just like my parents used to, although none of them are relevant here. Except for this:

Out of nowhere, like sciatica, I recently came to think that family dinners—proper dinners, together, all at the same dinner table at the same time—are profoundly important.

Is this the equivalent of suddenly wanting to make and bottle our own jelly and storing the supply in the cellar? In 2017, is this the same as hiring a drifter to paint our fence and fix the wagon, all for the low, low price of a basket of cornbread and a blanket? Is a proper family dinner really old-timey and outdated as hell? No clue. All I knew is that our normal dinner system was not jibing well with the molecular coding of my brain, and that needed to change.

Our normal dinner system at the time wasn’t really a system at all, but rather a scattershot buffet line of takeout food set out on the countertops, with people coming and going at odd times and pulling up a stool or standing where they could to quickly eat and get on with it, not unlike drunken strangers in Qdoba at 2:35 in the morning. It was chaotic, to say the least. There was always a kid’s practice to get to or one running late, or something at the office that needed to be done, or a fire at my wife’s studio that needed to be put out. One of the kids would be at a friend’s house and another would be otherwise not interested in the Costco salmon entrée, because salmon is not chicken nuggets, and kids are dumb.

In the chaos of three kids plus one on the way and two small businesses to run between us, it was simply easier this way. Less complicated. Just set it out and forget it—not unlike a Ronco rotisserie oven.

But those days are done. Old-timey or not, we are now having dinners together most every night, come hell or high water, all seated around the same kitchen island at the same time, eating the same meal and recapping the day like the goddamn Ingalls. (“Teacher says I’m cobbling at an apprentice level!”) It’s not a proper dinner table, per se, and we’re not picking buckshot out of our rabbit-neck stew like in the idyllic family dinners of my dreams. But it suits me just fine, and I would not change a thing about it. 

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