Daddyhood: Children and Expectations

Nolan concerned over the Sourdough Starter's "Death"

Nolan concerned over the Sourdough Starter’s “Death”

I’m watching my son while he watches T.V. These moments of observation will become rare as he gets older and begins to demand his own privacy, mostly likely in his room, then the inevitable abandonment of dependence as he moves throughout his early and later teen years.

At the moment, I’m content to think of none of those troubling thoughts. The future is murky, and best not studied too closely. I live more in the present than most people, I think. It is a result of many years of uncertainty, of poverty as a child and again in my twenties, although the latter was self-imposed and provided me with a sense of invulnerability and confidence in my ability to survive.

Now, I am just grateful for every day. I’m overwhelmed by the responsibility placed upon my shoulders by this gift of a son. I’ve learned to adapt, even in two short years. At first, I swore he would never watch television. I conceded my point and found an alliance: Internet television provided me with the ability to filter movies and shows and disable advertisement, which is mostly aimed at providing empty calories exploited by the remnants of arms manufactures held over past their prime after WWII and the Cold War no longer needed their services to render standing objects into their atomic states.

I am mostly uneasy that these same government sponsored entities are now entrusted with the nutrition of our children through subsidized global farming and the proliferation of cheap food ingredients. So far, I have held fast to my goal of never serving my child processed or “fast” food. Will this last? As long as I can make it my decision, it will. When it is his decision? Of course he will eat McDonalds, Taco Bell and Burger King. Hopefully, these institutions will have attempted to clean up their act by then, but that is only hope.

Of course, these foodstuffs won’t kill him. Not immediately. But what about painkillers? Or mutating strains of virus? What about the legalization of marijuana? I have long been of the opinion that it doesn’t matter – how do I feel now?

What about alcohol? What are my expectations for him? To never drink, not anything, not ever? That is most likely irrational. But, my own battles with addiction make it hard to think of the substance and my son in the same cogitation. The parallels are too great.

My sister says that expectations destroy free thinking and self-discovery. I agree. If my expectations, like my parents were, are for my son to somehow “better” himself in the American dream of increased wealth and disposable income, will that blind him to other paths? Will he simply revolt, as I did? My parents’ expectations of me were finally rendered null and void in a fury of disobedience and wanton self-destruction as I shrugged off the mantel of religion and short-term success. I chose a lifestyle far different than they had hoped, and even today they are somewhat confused by me, as all parents are by their children.

My father says that without expectations, the child will spiral in an endless void, with no goals to lead them or concerns to shape their personality. I agree. Without my parents’ expectations, I would have nothing to strive for non against as a young person. I would have had no direction, no meaning, just adrift in a current not of my own making, riding it through life, obeying the immediate whims of my conscious, as opposed to making my own way. I chose the dark paths at times, just for the experience of choice and the journey more difficult.

Will this impact my son? What will I do for him?

I will just be there, every day I can, teach him what little I know, and pray for wisdom. He is growing and changing every day – I can barely keep up.

I’m going to keep previewing what he watches on T.V. I will give him a tablet device, as it is part of his world, no matter how much I dislike it. I would not raise him to be wantonly ignorant, wallowing in the pride and self-righteousness of religious cults and hierarchy. My great hope if for him to be experienced and wise beyond his years, following his parents in a careful journey of this world.

I want him to be computer savvy. I also hope that he will have the ability to shoulder a small pack, vanish into the world and be o.k., better than o.k. I hope he will be able to tango and split wood. I hope he can speak multiple languages and be at ease in any environment. I want him to be well traveled, yet grateful for home. I want him to be able to grow his own food, harvest his own protein, yet appreciate the sacrifices the earth makes to provide for him.

Is all this too much to ask? I don’t know. I’m just a Dad.

Obituary

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sourdough_0001(Easton, MD) RIP. Gwynevere Sourdough, (August 6, 2014 – January 10, 2015) was laid to rest today in a small tomb in a compost tumbler today. She is followed in life by her three sisters, Mulan Kimchi, Ariel Pho and Belle Kombucha. Her colors were orange and earth, and her grave adorned with Paradise Tea and Christmas Holly, who joined her in the everlasting ebb and flow of the circle of life.

Gwynny, as she was so fondly known by her friends and family, was responsible for many loaves of sourdough bread in her time here with us. Her Father and Benefactor, Hank Sourdough, age 47, offered a eulogy. “She was a hungry and often petulant child, who was meant for the warmth of the sun. It is with great poignancy to know she suffered from cold, but never from neglect. She sorely missed her mountains and the torridity of her beloved hickory stove.”

Her caretaker, Chef Ron, was not available for comment.

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Boots and Baby

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Dearest Son:

I’m proud of how well you behaved today. You drove your end of the shopping cart all over the store and didn’t hit a thing. When the pretty lady behind the counter offered you a cookie, you took it, graciously, even though you really didn’t want it that much. You even ate part of it while she was watching. That is called grace. Sometimes, I have that.

You sat up straight in the restaurant, talked on your phone to some Very Important People. You still made time to recognize the small folk, like your Dad, and the waitress. You chattered away to her and let her know you liked here, though her shoes were pretty and I think you complimented her on her hair. She was blown away by how well you handled your hot pizza and blew on it before offering her a bite. That is called charm. Most of the time, I have that.

You rode your bike, a new one, even though you are barely two. You managed to make me so proud when you coasted a few feet all by yourself. I was also astonished by your ability to jump into our bed, even though it’s low, by just placing your hands on the mattress. You caught a football in the sporting goods store after you threw it into the air all by yourself. I’ve never seen a child do that before. Not age two. That is called natural athleticism. That is from your mother. I don’t have that.

After catching the ball, you played hide and seek with me all over the store. Most of the time, you let me find you. You were also content to wander about the store on your own, not knowing exactly where I was, but not looking for me either. You are already expressing your independence, even at this early age. That is called confidence. I used to have a lot of that.

You were quick to straddle a new bicycle in the store, taking off before anyone could get into position to help you, not thinking of the consequences of falling, or getting hurt, or what other people thought. That is called fearlessness. I used to have a lot of that.

You carefully read your book at dinner, engrossed in all the new pictures, and looked over each page carefully while drinking your milk and finishing your pizza. I was so proud at how you have developed so far. That is called intellect. I have been accused of having that, too.

When you fell off your bike later, you almost caught yourself, but not quite. You managed to turn yourself around, almost impossibly, to break your fall. Your head was too heavy. You still almost managed to stop your journey to the concrete floor but I was there, and I caught you. That is called agility. I still have that, thanks to you.

Just now, you would not stop trying the buttons on my thermos until you discovered for yourself what they did. That is called curiosity. Keep that trait. I have.

You have big feet. The doctor said so. You are tall and thin, as I was at your age. Being naturally thin is a good thing, it means you’ll be healthy later on, if you take care of yourself. I didn’t do that.

You make good decisions, already. You can differentiate between what is right and wrong, what is scary and not, what will burn you and what will taste good to you. You also try to never hurt anyone’s feelings, demonstrating a natural ability to read into a situation and do the right thing. I have not always done this.

You like to brush your teeth, take baths, get plenty of sleep and eat good food. You avoid things that are bad for you. I didn’t do that.

There are lots of things I didn’t do, but that is not what life is about. You already know this, even though you are two. I wasn’t even supposed to be your Dad, but I am. I wasn’t supposed to live long enough to be at your first birthday party, and we just celebrated your second. That is called stubbornness and luck. You have that too. You are my son.

With you at my side, I went through a lot of things these past two years. I had fluid drained from my abdomen twelve times. I had a really hard time with addiction and recovery, which I should not have had to go through, had I been smarter and wiser, like you. I was operated on several times, once by mistake, but I pulled through, knowing that you would be there with your sense of humor, loving smile and with your Mom in tow, even when she didn’t want to be, sometimes. I wasn’t the best Dad, and I’m still not, but I try. That is called being tough. You are tough. You are my son.

Now, as you are safely in bed, I look at your boots and mine, as you placed them side by side before you took your bath. It makes me cry, a little. But I am happy. I am your Dad. You are the best son I could have ever wished for.

I love you, son.

Daddyhood: Frozen and Preschool

I am one of those lucky Dads, through virtue of some creative financial juggling, a terminal illness, some creative talent and an independent and driven wife who happens to be the number one wedding photographer in Virginia, gets to stay home with his son. In a society that still, despite all of our predictions of the contrary, sets an unfair paradigm on couples for the male to be the primary financial provider, it can sometimes be difficult and even embarrassing to be a stay at home Dad. It’s also very edifying intellectually to observe my son’s behaviorisms compared to other children his age, who have been placed in day care in other more orthodox alternative environments.

This is not to say that raising a child outside of day care, in the absence of nannies (except when Mom & Dad really, really need some time alone) and with both parents usually present or more or less equally involved in a child’s development is the right thing. I don’t know that it is. None of us will really know. Children are resilient, no matter what. Toddlers have survived in hunter gatherer societies for thousands upon thousands of years. If not for their survival, we would not be here, right?

But day care can be a very touchy subject. Parents who choose Daycare or Preschool over alternative, stay at home options are often defensive of their decisions. Men who choose, either by virtue of their disposition or financial analysis to stay at home are even more defensive. As one of those men, I feel much the same way.

I’m not accepted, for example, on playgrounds where the majority of caregivers present are women. It doesn’t matter the ethnic or societal of the populace: I get strange looks either way. Most mothers ignore me, with a few notable exceptions who are simply thrilled to find a man occupying their world. In the environment of adolescents, I am either a suspected creeper, a lazy father who can’t or won’t work, or someone for mothers to pour out their hearts to in scenes eerily reminiscent of absolvent repentance.

I’ve learned to mostly nod and listen in those situations, which happen more than you would think. I’m southern, educated and I was raised by some very strong women. The women in my life as a child ruled the house with an iron fist. The man may bring in some money, but the women? They planted the gardens, raised the children, slaughtered the animals, stored all the food, prepared all the nourishment and paid all the bills. I have a lot of respect for women in general and mothers in particular.

There were two events that have really jumped out at me lately. Soon after moving to a new location, I visited a local bakery. It was upscale, and appropriately priced. Coffee was around three bucks, and cookies were about two dollars. Each. That is a bit pricey, but they were really good cookies and cookies are what my son lives for right now. that and Bubbles. both words elicit a very excited state of behavior for him.

We dropped the cookies on the floor. We were both at fault, as I didn’t have him properly secured when I picked up our plate of treats, and he over-reached in a lunging attempt to seize the prize. We stared at one another, my son and I, as we grappled for a decision together. We arrived at the same conclusion: We would pick up the cookies, continue to our targeted seat by the window, and eat them.

So we did. the mothers present, in their full regalia of ultra tight running pants, extremely bright running shoes that had only been to coffee shops and Whole Foods, matching socks with a water and wind proof top, completed by a conservative yet bouncy blonde ponytail, were very disapproving. One mother even dared so far as to raise her voice so that all could hear. “Where is his Mother??

then there was the “Frozen” moment. I released him into the wilds of a very high end toy store. Every single child in the store was planted firmly in front of a large screen T.V., which was relentlessly bombarding them with Disney’s latest financial marvel. Nolan sailed into the room, glanced at the screen, paused for a moment and my heart stopped. What would he do> He shook his head a moment, talked to himself, and proceeded to the trainset and engineers blocks, kitchen set and carpenters bench, where he pretended to build, cook, and destroy lots of things while happily rewinding the train over and over.

For some insane reason, I was so proud of him I nearly cried. Maybe I am doing something right. Maybe.

2015 Food Predictions.

Maybe I’ll be right. Maybe I’ll be wrong. Either way, it’s fun to think of. Here are a few of my food predictions for 2015.

1. Out: Specialty Bacon. In: Serrano Ham.
2. Out: Artisanal Olive Oils. In: Small Batch Butter.
3. Out: Truffle anything. In: Artisanal Salt.
4. Out: Smoothies. In: Kombucha.
5. Out: Gourmet Burgers. In: Classic American Cheeseburger.
6. Out: Duck Fat Fries. In: Deep Fat Sweetbreads.
7. Out: The Chipotle Effect. In: Real Small Restaurants.
8. Out: The Celebrity Chef. In: Cooks.
9: Out: Specialty Imported Coffee. In: Broth.
10: Out: Organic. In: Local.
11. Out: Beer. In: Small Batch Ginger, Sorghum and Tea Brews.
12. Out: Whole Foods. In: Small Local Markets.
13. Out: Crazy Expensive Imported Chef’s Knives. In: Refurbished Military Issue High Carbon Kitchen Blades.

Some other thoughts: Out: Convection Ovens. In: Kitchen Hearths. Out: Pizza Stones. In: Ceramic Pizza Tiles. Out: Crazy expensive designer kitchen appliances. In: Used professional kitchen appliances.

We’ll see! Welcome to 2015. I’m so excited I have to pee. Then I’m going to bed. I’m going jogging in the morning after yoga class, before broth and after sourdough toast with marrow butter.

Christmas Menu, 2014

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The Story of Our Christmas Dinner

My journey into cooking is a long and strange one. I grew up under the tutelage of two Grandmothers and my Mother. In Deep Appalachia, food was one of the few attainable status symbols. Sure, you could take out a loan and buy a car; a Cadillac even! It fooled no one. Everyone knew that it was paycheck to paycheck and one step away from being repossessed.

Food was another matter. Great pride was taken in the harvesting, canning, preserving, pickling, smoking, drying and compiling a larder. The family with the biggest root cellar, often still the only reliable refrigeration when I was a child, won the envy of all the other people in the holler.

As I progressed from the counter to the floor, to the garden and to the yard, my responsibilities grew accordingly. The oldest of seven, I was expected to care for the chickens, keep the critters out of the gardens, barter eggs for honey and my grandfather’s white lightening for pig.

Pigs were harvested once a year, usually just before Christmas, based on the signs and weather. We needed three days of near freezing temperatures to safely prepare two or three pigs for the year. It was hard, brutal work. But oh, so delicious. My grandfathers and uncles would shoulder the task of dispatching, butchering and preparing the young boars for the women to preserve. They canned pork, rendered pork fat, seasoned pork belly, fried everything, made sausage by hand and smoked the rest.

Like all families in Appalachia, ours was full of legend and lies. The truth, though, was for the tasting. I grew up with traditional Mountain Cuisine and Cooking Techniques, but with a twist. My family used more spices, herbs, hot chili peppers and molasses than other families. Our food had an Asian twist.

The story is this: A long time ago, just after WWII, after the Asian-Americans, mostly Chinese, were released from concentration camps in the U.S., a wandering Asian man stopped by my Grandmother’s House. Like all red-blooded Americans at the time, she hated Japanese. This wanderer assured my Grandmother that he was NOT Japanese. We never knew what happened to him, what his real name was or where he came from. His story is lost in the mist of the mountainsides as he hunted ginseng, which was his main source of income.

He stayed with my Grandparents for a time, along with their parents and the Matney, Cochran and Cree families who made up our community. His cooking influences found their way into our food, becoming a permanent mainstay for generations.

As time passed, the old recipes were lost and forgotten, until my sister and I began our own quest in culinary adventures. We found that, amazingly, the tastes and sensations we crave and remember from our childhood were to be found in home Thai, Vietnamese and Cantonese cooking. So, with a nod to my ancestors and their fables, here is your Christmas Dinner.

With much Love, Ron, Laura and Nolan.  

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Menu

Starters:

Duck, Duck Goose. Marinated Duck Liver, Rare Sliced Thai Style Duck and Goose Breast

Assorted Pickles, Southern Style

Antipasto Platter

Marco’s Famous Oyster Casserole

Main:

Smoked Muscovy Duck

Smoked Boar Butt with Thai Molasses and Chai Tea Glaze

Soup Beans

Collard Greens

Chicken and Pork Terrine

Corn Muffins

Deviled Eggs

Desserts:

Red Velvet Cake

Peppermint Ice Cream

Assortment of Christmas Cookies

Sober Holidays, Take Two

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The reason I stay sober. Every day. I love my little boy!

The Holidays are hard on addicts. All of us. No matter our past drug(s) of choice, this time of year finds us surrounded by fellow human being indulging in substance abuse in celebration of a year ending, a year beginning. Even normally reserved members of society get to act as total fools as they let themselves go without normal fear of self-degradation and ill-reputation usually accompanying a person caught in asinine behavior.

This is my first holiday out of the farm, so to speak. Last Christmas I was working full time in a restaurant and lodge that specifically catered to Holiday guests. Located on one of the highest peaks on the East Coast, with snow almost guaranteed, it was the perfect getaway for families, singles, and anyone else seeking to get away from everything during the zaniest time of the year.

There, I could just be me. The only expectation of me from my team of ruthless cooks was to perform. We were stressed, tense and snapping at one another. The days leading up to the whirlwind of festivities were spent prepping, organizing, cleaning, sharpening knives, thawing meats and ordering final items that had been overlooked.

Some drank, some used other drugs and nobody really cared. Nobody asked me to take a drink, apologized for drinking around me, or in any way changed their behaviorism in my presence. To do so would be offensive, both to me and the other cook, server, facilitator, sommelier, bartender or any of the other talent striving to make the Holidays an unforgettable experience for our guests.

We stacked firewood, fired grills, polished silver and copper ware, put on clean aprons, mopped the floors during shifts as foodie’s poured in and out of the kitchen in gawking droves, interrupting the flow of work in their self-absorbed insistence in having their picture taken at the stove or with the Chef. Cooks have learned to deal with this as best they can, but there are inevitable conflicts between the internet celebrities and the cooks trying to get the work done.

Cooks deal with it. Confrontations can be violent, both in-house and out, but are short lived in the face of the work to be done. We did what had to be done.

Through it all, my phone rang. My wife called over and over and over, demanding that I come home, pleading with me to walk out on my team members to come save her from loneliness. It was her first Holiday spend away from her family and she was devastated. My parents called, over and over, asking if I would be there tomorrow. Or the next day. There was food, my favorite dishes, and I was raked with consciousness and guilt. What do I do? I wanted to go home. I wanted to see my wife and son, and I did spend Christmas day with them. That was a lot more than most of the other cooks got to do.

I couldn’t leave my team without me, although I’m sure I wouldn’t have been missed. Not much. Cooks are resourceful. The truth was, I had become comfortable there, with myself.

Away from there, as I am finding this year, people make excuses for consuming alcohol, or whisper amongst themselves, “Should we hide it? Are we bad hosts? Should we even invite him? After all, we don’t have a problem.” Wine continues to flow, and even the ones most dear to you, those who suffered through the addiction and the sickness after, begin to fold to the temptation. “Do you mind?” They ask. “I’ll just have one beer. Do you care? Will it make you uncomfortable?” Or, “I’ll go to the bar, so you don’t have to be around it.” As people spill alcoholic drinks in increasingly sloppy celebration, the people that you know look increasingly worried, even guilty for the wine that they’ve been saving for so many years.

The addict, embarrassed and weary beyond belief, wishes the floor would open and swallow them. That’s how I feel sometimes. Not often, but sometimes. The other inevitability for an addict, whether it’s your first year of sobriety or fifth, is that you will, as some point, be reminded of your past. Someone dear to you, perhaps loosened by their own first or second drink, or irritated as they remain sober and ever-conscious of the presence of alcohol, will hurtfully remind you of the pain you cause.

I recently paid the price for too much exercise, strain, salt and calories. Overnight, my liver revolted and deposited ten pounds of fluid, special delivery, straight into my abdominal cavity. This was two days after the doctors gave me the cleanest bill of health I’d had in six years. I suspected the swelling was due to Ascites, but when I mentioned it to my wife, she told me it was probably too many hot dogs. I hoped she was right.

Most likely, I will be physically fit enough to overcome this reminder of my sickness. I’ve begun to realize that despite the changes I’ve made and the battles our relationship has endured, neither my wife nor I will be quite the same. We’ve made it hard on one another at times, yet joined together in others. Her blunt reminder tonight that my temporary setback makes her think of why I’m sick is just that, a reminder.

Those reminders aren’t pleasant for the addict. Then again, a lot of things aren’t. You’re reinventing yourself in the face of a lot of adversity. It can be overwhelming, shameful, lonely interminable. The thought will hit you, “I could just have one.” Don’t. Maybe you can. Maybe you can’t. There is no way of knowing.

Put your back against the wall, smile at everyone, and be gracious, no matter how you truly feel. After all, our loved ones are really why we’re here. Remember how it could have been, and be grateful for the present and the promise of a future.

Things will get better. I promise.

Happy Holidays.

Ron