This year, we have been sharing our Labor of Love stories with you. Some have been about products and some have been about personal experiences, but they’ve all reflected on our appreciation for the handmade, the hard-won, and the heartfelt. For Father’s Day, we’re honoring the people who often work the hardest for the least amount of praise — dads.
For years my dad did most of the cooking in our house.
A voracious reader, dad would often base his meals on whatever type of books he was reading at the time. So, if he was deep into the Russians, for example, dinner might be borscht or beef stroganoff, served up with a big wooden spoon and a thick Russian accent.
Also, as a collector of hats, he was able to add to the effect by wearing an appropriately matching hat, in this case, one of those Russian fur hats with the ear flaps so popular these days, but decidedly rarer in the 1980s.
When he began to teach himself Chinese, he naturally became obsessed with making traditional Chinese food, right down to the elaborately carved vegetable garnishes. Three or four different stir-fried delights would be served with a variety of radish roses and the occasional carrot-dragon.
Naturally, also a hat.
Of course, all this effort over the perfect dinner would sometimes wear him out, and he would get grumpy. (Or, grumpy-ish, really. One of my father’s fine qualities is that he is quick with a smile, joke, or song, but very slow to anger.)
About once a month, when dad had had it, everyone’s favorite dinner would come along: Make Your Own Damn Sandwich. For this meal, dad laid out every bit of meat (roast beef, ham, turkey, meatloaf), veggie (lettuce, tomato, olive, radish, celery, sauerkraut, pickle, onion), condiment (mayo, mustard, Thousand Island dressing), and bread (rye, pumpernickel, wheat, dinner roll, hot dog bun) he had on hand, covering every available surface of the table with foodstuffs. Then he’d call in the troops by yelling, in as loud a voice as possible, “Get in here and make your own damn sandwich!
And we would. And it would be delicious. Unlike the other dinners, dad served this one on paper plates so he wouldn’t have to do dishes afterwards. (In retrospect, the rest of us were really very little help when it came to dinner and its attendant clean-up. Sorry dad.)
My brilliant and hardworking father knew that even the most mundane job, when approached with curiosity, humor, and love, provides an opportunity for joy and connection. I thank him for sharing that valuable lesson. And for teaching us to make our own damn sandwich.