Food relationships man repeller
The Complex Roots of My Relationship With Food and My Dad
08.21.18

T

he subject of the email is: Avocados.

The body of the email is short, bare-bones: “We will be bringing four (4) ripe avocados. Love you.”

The origin of this critical communique is my father. The concern is guacamole, to be made for a lunch at my house when he and my mother come to town, an event set to occur three weeks from the day of sending. It’s so simple, and yet, I have so many questions.

Why four? Why not many, many more? Why does my father include (4) in numerical form when he knows I am a proficient English reader and can comprehend the word “four”? How does he know they will be ripe in three weeks? Does this premature guacamole report violate the Jewish principle of not assuming anything is guaranteed, not calling eggs chickens, not even saying happy birthday one day before the event because we, in fact, do not know what will happen? Does this email provide proof that I am genetically predisposed to eat chips and guacamole to the point of physical and emotional discomfort, and when not actively eating guacamole, think about it on a frighteningly regular basis?

This behavior from my dad is not exceptional; it is standard. He is an organized, disciplined and obsessive man. Dedication to detail turn his obsessions into an unusual art: they become a channel for him to express himself. The art of planning, the art of eating, and mostly, the art of making plans to eat.

There are different lenses through which to view my father’s avocado email. One might suggest he is a gem of a man: so communicative, so helpful, so clearly looking forward to the visit, the lunch, the appetizers! Another might suggest his relationship to his family and to food are deeply pathological and should be investigated further.

Oh, the thin lines we walk, lines thin as hair. The situation gets hairy.

My father is not alone. Many people use food as art — to reflect our own creation through creating beautiful things. To participate. To embellish. To dress this living thing up and tell her to strut. We use food as praise: glory, glory to all the senses. To surpassing survival and being more than bodies. We use food as ritual, food as congregation, food as family glue, food to fill silence, food to celebrate, food to mourn, food to fuck, food to fuel the breathing machines that are our bodies.

But our love of food can also get twisted up with all our pain. We can obsess over food. We can use it to distract ourselves, to patch our soul holes. We can eat to feel full in our bodies when the work to feel full in our lives seems intangible and even unattainable. We make food fake. Color it with bright orange powder, put it in plastic, bleach the bread white, call it “grape flavor.” We use food as currency. We throw food in dumpsters when we know people are hungry. With food, we wage war on each other. Burn crops and privatize what naturally grows from the earth. Poison the water, poison the people, to keep the apples extra shiny, no blemishes, no holes. We also use it to wage war on our own bodies. And when our bodies get sad, we eat more toxic shit to silence the sadness, put a blanket on the sadness. Go to sleep, sadness, shhhh.

I spent most of my life being a fluffy-ass motherfucker. Some people say fat, I say fluffy. Until age 21, I was fluffy in an unhealthy way. Now I’m healthy fluffy, I have a relationship with food in which I feel like I’m the boss (most of the time). But my dad sets me off. He triggers me. I read that email and then proceeded to think about guacamole for hours. I treat guacamole like an ex-lover, putting as much energy into not putting energy into her as the energy I would put into her. If I see a smoky forest black with a hint of emerald, I think, that’s the color of that coat she wears before she gets undressed in the bowl. If I see a bright green leaf, I think, oh, the incomparable hue of her skin. If I’m at a party, I think, she always loved a good shindig.

I obsess over not obsessing, which is second-degree obsession. I think it’s my dad’s fault. He raised me to think and talk that much about food. We share appreciation, intention, enthusiasm — but we differ on the discipline, in that I don’t have very much of it.

I call him to confirm I will also contribute four (4) avocados to the pot. I joke about putting a reminder in my phone. He does not perceive this as a joke; he regards this as standard procedure. I tell him I’m so excited I’m going to eat guacamole every day until then. He also takes this seriously and responds with two letters: DG.

My father is a language originator. My sisters and I grew up learning English, Hebrew, and my father’s original lexicon. DG is not a word my father made up, but an acronym made into a word in its own right. Usually I get called DH — dummy head — but I also get a lot of reminders for DG: delayed gratification.

It’s not my strong suit.

Years ago, I watched a video that illustrated the famous marshmallow experiment, which was said to test children’s capacity to tolerate delayed gratification. In it, a woman takes children into a room, one at a time, and gives them a single marshmallow. She then tells each child they can either either eat the marshmallow right away or wait 15 minutes and be awarded a second one. Then she leaves the kid alone in the room with the marshmallow, their thoughts, and the heavy DG dilemma. Most of the kids are like, fuck it, we’re never guaranteed the next minute, I’m eating this marshmallow NOW. And then they stuff it in their mouth and look around the room as if they know they failed. But some of the kids really hold it together. They look like they’re in physical pain as they pick the marshmallow up and study it, smell it, lick it, close their eyes, hold it in their cheek then spit it out. They look highly uncomfortable, kind of like they have to pee, but they make it. And just as they suspected, after 15 long minutes, they are doubly rewarded.

My dad would beast that test. He uses his tactics to distract or channel his energy so he can stay committed to delayed gratification. If he were one those kids, he would also smell, lick and touch the marshmallow. He might even send an email: Mommy, in 15 minutes, I will eat two (2) marshmallows. Love you.

Generally, in life, my dad earns his bonus marshmallow. I’m convinced he enjoys food twice as much as the rest of us. I celebrate him for that. And I am grateful for him. But check it: After all that, this dude showed up with three (3) avocados.

Sometimes he can send me a fully planned menu for winter break in July but can’t ask me how my writing is going. Sometimes he can totally digest what I made for dinner last week but can’t listen to my stories. Sometimes he can reminisce about eating pierogi on Brighton Beach with my ex-girlfriend but can’t squeeze my hand when that wakes up an ache in me. Sometimes he can worry about my weight but not consider what heaviness he’s handed down to me. Sometimes he is the smartest and I’m a DH. Sometimes we are fluent in each other and sometimes we don’t speak the same language. Sometimes I feel like I redefined DG by not giving up on him. Most of the time, he tells me how funny and cool and awesome I am. He also calls me to tell me that, when I come home, we will eat vegetarian cheeseburgers and homemade onion rings and I will say, “No, no, that’s way too much,” then I will eat so many I have to lay on the floor for five hours while considering my mortality. Sometimes I’m on my game, in control, on my fitness, being disciplined. Then I go to my parents’ home and act like a pregnant raccoon.

I would have no other father. First of all, he is here. He is in my life. He is in my inbox. He is in my head. He is trying. He is crazy, as am I. He is organized, I’m getting myself together. He loves food. I love food. We love the world. We want to eat it. And then talk about how good it tasted. And then look forward to the next time we can enjoy it together.

So I will sit and dream about guacamole, drool, meditate, and try to make my DG mentor proud. I will be an avocado. I will have a strong, hard, smooth and perfectly round core, rich meat and sturdy skin. I will ripen. Become more of myself. Let my flavor unfold inside me. Be in my body and beyond. And then I will join forces with some cilantro, red onion, jalapeño, a little lime, salt and spice. I will blend, be many things, be delicious. People will dip in me. I will bring them joy. I will invite them in.

My father also taught me that faith is a language. So I will send an email to the ether:

World,
Not quite yet, but if we wait and work and will it, we can have it all. We are seven billion (7,000,000,000) ripe avocados.
It’s party time.
Love you.

T. Wise is a writer, comedian, and lyricist. Follow him @thatlittleboyblue and visit thatboyblue.com for upcoming shows.

lllustrations by Gabrielle Lamontagne.

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