Sean is deep in mid story. He’s on a roll. One hand is extended up in the air, the other, holding a fork, is flying in a different direction. Nothing is stopping him now. Erin’s got a hand over her mouth and Stephen’s laughing so hard I worry he might fall off his chair.
In the deepest voice Sean can muster, he tries to imitate me: “Let’s go Sean, we need to get going. I have to go to work.” He uses mini air quotes as if the others didn’t already know that he was quoting me. “And then dad goes and makes his coffee and spends the next five minutes in the bathroom.”
And the others all break out in an even bigger laugh. “He’s yelling at me about being late and he’s the one who’s making us late. Can you believe it?”
Kathy looks at me lovingly, but lets out a little laugh. Sean takes the laugh as a sign to keep going on his mini stand-up comedy routine: “He takes all that time in the bathroom getting ready. What’s he doing in there? I guess he’s combing his hair or something. ”
He pauses for effect and then says, “And he has no hair.”
The table breaks out in a roar. I simply shake my head. In a mock threat, I warn him that he better watch it, because Karma can be . . . well difficult. I remind him that my mom’s father had a full head of hair and I have still lost most of mine.
Sean doesn’t care; he’s not hearing any of this. He’s laughing even more now. Sean has adlibbed in spots and is having fun at my expense, but I also know that I wouldn’t change our family dinner for anything in the world. It’s been a long, challenging week and we all need the laugh.
Kathy and I have made our share of parental mistakes over the years, but one of the best decisions we’ve ever made was making family dinners a priority. We try to eat as a family as many days a week as we can. We’re nowhere near perfect and we miss plenty of meals, but it’s a priority that’s pretty important to us.
I thought that’s the way it was for most families until I read the other day that barely 50 percent of families today regularly eat together each evening. The story went onto highlight a number of studies showing that children fare better emotionally, academically, and health-wise when they have frequent family dinners.
I can’t speak to the benefits the researchers studied, but I know what the dinners have meant for us. Our dinners are stuff of family lore. We’ve solved the national debt crisis and the cost of paying for college; cracked the Middle East crisis; brought about world peace; ended poverty and homelessness in the U.S. and world and figured out a host of other problems — all over dinner.
The simple act of sitting down together has brought us together as a family, forced the kids to put down their smartphones and electronic games, and talk about their concerns and day. We’ve been able to track their classes and to remind them about future tests and papers. In the same vein, Kathy and I have been able to wipe off the dust of our day and remember why we work so hard in the first place.
More often than not the dinners have been a chance for us to come together and laugh. We’ve laughed at funny things each of the kids have said. And I’ve been the brunt of more than a few jokes. (No respect for dad.)
When the kids were little, I fought for everyone to eat together, mainly because I was the last one home and hated eating by myself. (Yes, poor, poor me.) As the kids got older and more involved in after school activities, it’s been Kathy and me waiting on them. I’ve probably gained an extra pound or two, eating junk food to hold me over until dinner, but I’ll certainly pay that price for everything else we’ve gained.
I’m not really sure what the kids think about our dinners. I’m sure they’ll mock this column and I know family dinners are a bit old school . . . but, that’s okay, I can live with that, just remember to pass the salt and pepper.