Steak Niokolokoba-grilled sirloin steak marinated with Senegalese spices and french fries, served in au poivre sauce. (Courtesy of Ponty Bistro)

June 19, 2020

A Promise for a Better Father’s Day

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The sound of two different alarms pierces the quiet calm atmosphere of an early Mother’s Day morning, followed by distinct thumps and rustling as my dad and I quickly scramble to shut them off and drag my brother out of bed. All of us slowly creep down the stairs, trying not to disturb my mom’s well-deserved slumber as she slept, for once, without an alarm, knowing she wouldn’t have to wake up early and prepare breakfast as it was our turn now.

Two hours later, we’ve set the porch table with fancy cutlery that rarely gets to taste a drop of food as it sits on display 364 out of 365 days a year, and with vibrant red roses plucked from the bushes in our front yard. On the gold-rimmed porcelain plate, we delicately place a heart shaped slice of homemade banana bread, still warm from the embrace of the oven and smelling sweet of raisins and maple syrup, accompanied by a colorful array of fresh and juicy fruits. From a gold-rimmed porcelain cup, emanates the nutty smell of cardamom and the earthy aroma of ginger stemming from my dad’s special chai recipe that he had passed down to me. As my mom walks downstairs, she is greeted with warm kisses, tight hugs and handmade cards from me and brother.

Fast-forward a month later: It’s Father’s Day and 12:00 p.m. in the afternoon, yet both me and my brother are still snoring peacefully in bed. My mom, irritated that her children could sleep 13 hours straight or even the whole day if not dragged out of bed, wakes us up, and with a passing remark she reminds us that today is Father’s Day. We greet our dad with a quick kiss on the cheek and a breezy “Happy Father’s Day, I love you,” followed by a curt  “Where are we eating?” The day passes normally, ending with a nice, yet usual, dinner at my dad’s favorite place — Ichiban’s Bamboo Garden. It’s an Indochinese restaurant where he always orders the same thing, and where we almost always have a coupon to.

In my family, food serves as the main instrument we use to express our love and appreciation for each other. More so than I love you’s, my brother and I receive bowls of cut fruit, a steaming cup of chai and sometimes a plate of obscure biscuits from India that neither of us knows the name for. These displays of affection occur randomly throughout the day, sometimes welcomed and other times not (throwback to my mom awkwardly crashing my Zoom discussion to give me coffee). Even for Mother’s Day, I (willingly) and my brother (grudgingly) drag ourselves out of bed to spend hours in the kitchen cooking and baking my mom’s favorite foods. So, why is it that we don’t even entertain the idea of setting foot into the kitchen for Father’s Day, when food is our family’s love language?

Many of the most popular Mother’s Day activities are food-centric such as baking your mom’s favorite desserts, serving her breakfast in bed and cooking her brunch. At least from what I’ve heard, the most food-centric activity for Father’s Day is a barbecue, and more often than not it’s the father himself barbecuing. The popular Father’s Day activities are usually sports-centric, such as going on a family bike ride, playing golf, watching sports and hiking. Why is it more common for kids to pour more time and effort into Mother’s Day than Father’s Day? Is it because the bond between a mother and her child, solidified for nine months in the womb, continues to exist figuratively, even after the umbilical cord is cut? Is there no such comparable bond between a father and his children? Or, is it because cultural norms and traditions have likened Father’s Day to the “side chick” while Mother’s Day continues to remain the center of attention? This difference could even stem from the old societal view of a father’s familial role: The sole breadwinner of the family, the dominating voice of reason, forever aloof from his children, yet an ever-present authority. But, times are changing, paternity leaves exist and father’s actually want to bond with their children!

It’s true that my mom played a greater role in raising me. She’s a very smart (my girl has a Ph.D. in statistics) and determined lady who sacrificed advancing in her career to raise her children and provide them with anything they ever asked for. My mom, for many, many years shuttled her two kids from school to piano and ballet class, to soccer and basketball practice, to play dates, all while balancing a part-time career and later a full-time career. She was the first face we saw every weekday morning before school, and the last face we saw every weekday night before bed.

So, it was only natural for my mom to end up having such a large influence on me, but I can also say I wouldn’t be who I am today without my dad. I am definitely my father’s daughter: We talk the same way, we sit the same way, we worry about the same things, we dislike and like the same things. Yes, my dad spent the majority of his time working, rather than spending time with us, but that doesn’t mean the moments that we did share and the effort that he did put in went unnoticed. I know that all the choices he’s made and things he’s done have been for us, even if at times I didn’t agree with his decisions. Even though our time together was limited during the weekdays, he’d spend the weekends teaching me how to cook, playing scrabble, watching movies, playing badminton, going on walks, arguing over stupid things and more. Going to college made it easier to forget the moments we spent together and the subtle, but no less meaningful, things he did for me than it was to forget my mom’s more obvious daily efforts.

And for that Dad, I’m sorry. I’m sorry I haven’t thanked you yet, haven’t appreciated you enough, haven’t apologized for all the stupid and mean things I’ve said, haven’t hugged you tighter, kissed you more often and made more of an effort to talk to you. Your passion for food and the hours you spent teaching me how to cook, ever since I was little, is what led me to this moment. This moment where I’m sitting on our dining table as a writer for the dining section of my University’s newspaper, turning an article that was meant to contrast the role of food in Mother’s Day vs Father’s Day into a not-long-enough apology. I promise that this Father’s Day will be different. It will be the beginning of my journey back to you. Starting from where I left you, waiting for me, in the kitchen.

To show support for our Dads, local businesses, and the Black Lives Matter movement, here are some New York City  local, Black owned restaurants you can carry out from this Father’s day (21st of June!):

BLVD Bistro — serving classic soul food in a modern light

Ponty Bistro — serving a Senegalese take on French cuisine

Melba’s — serving southern comfort food perfect for brunch

MangoSeed & ZuriLee — serving Caribbean classics and wood-fired pizza

Seasoned Vegan — serving popular dishes with a vegan twist and all organic ingredients

Isha Vaish is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected].