On Fatherhood

Anthony Bourdain was my dad. Not in a biological sense, not in an adoptive sense, not in any familial sense at all. I never met the man; he didn’t know I existed. Such a nonsensical allegation might disqualify any latter statements, and yet I stand by these words. It’s not so much that the man raised me, but that I saw so much of my actual father in him that for many years when I was growing up, hooked on the TV, I subconsciously transposed the two when one or the other wasn’t around.

1995, building a bike

My dad is an incredible man. Deeply intelligent, sarcastic, strong, compassionate, and loving to a fault. He would move the earth for his family, do anything it took to make his children happy. He wouldn’t dote on us because we were too rebellious to allow such an indulgence, but he’s always been the one putting in the hours, working in places with people he’d rather never met, to give us the best life possible. That’s why he was always traveling when I was younger, always on the job, seeing far off lands that I couldn’t begin to imagine.

When I found Mr. Bourdain and his incredible adventures, I felt as if it was some sort of glimpse at my dad’s secret life, of the places he would go when he packed up his bags and climbed into the bulky airport shuttle van once again. Granted, my dad isn’t nearly such a foodie, nor had time to cavort on the streets to seek out such wild exploits. His time was occupied by meetings with professionals in anonymous grey buildings that could have truly been located anywhere in the world. I had no idea, so I made up my own narrative. I wanted to believe that he was having just as much fun, too.



1992, my sister and I pile on

I realize all this in hindsight, as I try desperately to pull apart my intense reaction to the news of Mr. Boudain’s passing. He may not have as many fans within the vegan community, but that’s truly besides the point; it’s downright offensive that anyone could consider this anything less than a tragedy, a horrendous loss of a person with a lot of heart, and sadly, a lot of demons. It’s still hard to accept the fact that he’s gone, that he will never again shed light on a place where no other journalist would dare explore, speak to locals otherwise overlooked, try foods no average American would dream of consuming.

I cling even more tightly to my real father now, despite the physical distance that separates us. We send silly emails back and forth, commenting on ridiculous news stories or funny anecdotes from our days. Nothing big or serious; we rarely even say “I love you” outright, but it’s always implied. I feel so incredibly lucky to have this incredible human being in my life, and the loss of another is a powerful reminder of that.

1989, still new at this

If there’s one thing I ask of you, on this Father’s Day, is to really appreciate all of the fathers in your life. Past, present, honorary, or designated by birth. We need them- I need them- To teach us how to fully live, and to be better citizens of the world.

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Sift Happens

Antiquated; rarely retrieved from the back of the kitchen drawer, hidden behind stacks of nested mixing bowls and precariously arranged ceramic plates; even less commonly found in the first place with every passing year. The metal tin can sits alone in the dark, quietly collecting dust instead of churning through those fine particles as it was intended. I would ask what ever happened to sifters, but it’s no mystery to anyone who’s puttered about the stove for a minute of their lives. Once an essential piece of equipment, the simple sifter has fallen clear off the list of staples and straight into the recycling bin along with the empty cardboard boxes and discarded instruction manuals of every electronic purchase of decades past. As time rushes forward, no one wants to slow down long enough to simply sift.

Guilty of the same negligence, I’m not one to point fingers here. Even when a recipe clearly states “flour, sifted,” I’ll breeze right past that specification, pretending that a quick whisk or prodding with a fork with do the trick. Fluffy up the top layer of sediment, breakdown the pesky clumps, get on with the task at hand. No harm, no foul. Cakes still manage to emerge properly risen, pie dough comes out as butter and flaky as ever, and no one is the wiser to my procedural omission. But the point of sifting isn’t to make something adequate, to craft something that passes as edible. Such a low standard shouldn’t be considered a true success. Without sifting, untold heights will never be attained, and more importantly, so many less savory bits end up jumping into the pool, doing their best cannon ball to ruin the whole party.

Have you ever bitten into a luscious, devilishly dark chocolate cake, relished the intensity of flavor and tender crumb, only to discover a powdery mouthful of unincorporated cocoa in the very next forkful? A common pitfall, quite forgivable in most cases, but entirely avoidable. Why can’t we just take an extra minute to pull out that old fashioned sifter and wade through the murky mixture to remove those unwanted interlopers? Like overenthusiastic ideas or overwritten novels, why can’t we edit our actions accordingly to cut down on the messes left in our wake? In that same spirit, where is the mental sifter for our anxieties, our baseless fears, our unfiltered, indiscriminate consumption of all the junk we’re fed? I get indigestion just thinking about all those unchecked contaminants.

Let’s stop pretending like those lumpy, cracked loaves are exactly what we intended to pull out of the oven. They’re fine, perfectly okay, but we should really demand more of our baked goods, and of ourselves. Bring back the sifter, allow extra time to churn through the list of dry ingredients, watch the fine powder fall like snow, soft and fresh, into the batter. Feel the resistance of the creaky springs snapping back as we release our grip, squeeze and release, squeeze and release, showering small flurries downward with each motion. Take a peek inside when the full measure has been dispensed, and with great pleasure, discard the excess. Leave out the bad, the unnecessary, the mischievous interlopers that bring fragile pastries down. Sift once for due diligence, sift twice if you’re feeling particularly reflective. It doesn’t hurt to comb through the full recipe before setting it to bake. What goes in matters just as much as what doesn’t.

Marriage

Marriage changes everything. Or, it changes nothing- It depends on who you ask. So much goes into a wedding, from the time and logistics to the pure emotional energy, it’s easy to understand how much pressure the average bride and groom must feel. Surely, after all the hard work, legally binding documents, merriment and revelry, everything must seem different from this point forward. The truth of the matter is, I think that the shift has already happened, quietly and without fanfare, before you ever discussed floral arrangements or said, “I do.” For all intents and purposes, you’ve been married since the moment you met.

Brian, I’ve never seen my sister happier than when she’s with you. Rachel, I haven’t remotely liked a single one of your suitors before this, and in case you’re still wondering, I’m officially giving this one my seal of approval. You two are so good for each other; encouraging one another through challenges big and small, laughing off the little things that don’t really matter and tackling important issues that do head-on.

The world needs more complimentary pairings like you two, because that’s what marriage really is. It’s the love you two share, nothing more and nothing less. A piece of paper won’t change that. This momentous event, joyous as it is, won’t change that. We’ll have a clearly defined date to celebrate now, happily marking the years as you grow old together, but you’ll go home tonight and realize that everything feels the same. If you ask me, that’s the truest indication of your love, because it doesn’t depend on any external validation. Your love is enough- more than enough.

Rush Hour

Rhythmically, persistently, a small child is kicking me in the shins. Propelling his legs with blissful abandon beyond the constraints of his stroller, the rubber-soled shoes strike with a dull thud as regularly as a metronome. This is the least of my concerns though, as I struggle to find an open pocket of air in the overcrowded BART car. A nauseating bouquet of sweat, cologne, and Chinese takeout infiltrates my lungs, mingling together in one pungent, irrepressible plume. Each inhalation skews slightly to one or the other, though none holds particular appeal. Breathing becomes a careful, measured effort, akin to meditation.

Hurtling through tunnels, cutting across highways and open fields, chasing after the fading sun, the train starts and stops, yet not a single person moves an inch. Wedged firmly in place, it would be impossible to fall, even if one gave up standing on their own volition. Familiar vistas flash by through smudged windows, but from my vantage point staring directly into some tall man’s armpit, the scenery looks all the same to me. Somewhere between Embarcadero and West Oakland, I find myself wearing someone else’s headphone wires. Perhaps the whole mob, myself included, is beginning to merge into a single person.

Compared to many, my trip across the bay is mercifully short. Swimming upstream against the current of writhing arms and legs, it takes many gentle shoves, a few accidentally trampled feet, and many profuse apologies to disentangle myself from the mass when the doors finally open at my home station. The stagnant but open air has never felt so good. To all the faithful, tireless workers who continue forward on their journeys, to repeat the trip once again the next day, again and again with no end in sight: I salute you. That onerous commute is a full time job, in and of itself.

Summer Rains

I never thought I’d say this, but I miss the summer rains.

The cool relief of a cloud burst washing away the built up pressure of the day. The rumble and crack of rolling thunder in the darkness, a lumbering giant invisible in the night sky. The damp long grasses, freckled with pinpricks of dew in the morning. Each component, tactile and visceral, makes up its own flashbulb memory; distinctive, yet distinctly separate. There’s no timestamp, no geolocation, no metadata to click through and extract more information. Surely there were many rainstorms that visited through my childhood, appearing and fading away much like the last, blending into one amalgamated vision, softened by time and distance.

I don’t know how I grew so attached to the comfortable rhythm of weather patterns, so predictable that they were more reliable than the calendar as an indication of the passing days. Back then, summer was endless, stretching on through countless unscheduled weeks, lazy afternoons one after the other, not a hint of stress or guilt associated with inactivity. Punctuating the sweltering evenings with a quiet, soothing staccato on the window panes, their whispered song serving as a lullaby. Filling my mind and washing away the harsh edges, the summer rains were my meditation.

There are no more summer rains these days, far removed from the climate of my childhood. I miss them deeply because their music sang of comfort, an audible reminder of my shelter from the storm. It was my song, set on repeat for days on end; after so many years, it became my anthem.