Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Feeding My Father

The time we spent in Pittsburgh earlier this month was everything I was hoping it would be.  I wanted to spend quality time with my father.  I wanted the kids to get plenty of Pittsburgh family time.  And I wanted my mom, who works as a flight attendant and has to tend to our home in Mexico, to feel like she could leave for a few days at a time without worrying about my dad and siblings.

During this visit, my dad was in the best spirits I've seen him in since the diagnosis.  My mom was able to leave town for a few days, knowing I'd be there to pick up any slack her absence might create.  I'm sure it also put her mind at ease to see my dad doing so well.  He was energetic enough to be downstairs amidst the chaos of kids most of the day (in recent visits he spent many days in bed coming down only occasionally) and even accompanied us on a few outings (including the kids' fist movie theater movie).  He was stubborn and cracked cheesy jokes - it was as though he wasn't sick.  Best of all, for me anyway, was that he had a hearty appetite.  It gave me something simple, concrete, and loving that I could do for him.  Everyday.  

Pasta Carbonara (a la Pioneer Woman)

I started out by asking him if he had any requests.  He didn't, so I chose a few meals that I thought he might enjoy and my mom and I did a big grocery trip before she left town.  While she was away I prepared family dinners each night.  I even tried to make breakfast and lunch a little extra special.  Shepard's pie, pasta carbonara, ravioli and pesto cream sauce, apples and cinnamon oatmeal, grilled cheese with pickles, or fresh squeezed lemonade.  Leo and Zoe ate well.  I noticed my siblings made it home for most family dinners, even pitching in with prep and clean up.  My dad?  He had seconds of nearly every meal.  He had three helpings of the shepard's pie.  Three.  

Exactly the reaction I was going for

Toward the end of my visit my dad did start to make some requests - some more subtle than others.  One morning I came downstairs to find four boxes of brownie mix on the kitchen counter.  

"You know I'm pretty good at making stuff like that from scratch, dad?  If you want brownies I'm happy to make them without the mix."
"Those were on sale.  I got them for a dollar each."

Of course he did.  That's my dad.  So I made dark chocolate fudge brownies with walnuts. 

I use Alton Brown's recipe for my shepard's pie

I'm not unfamiliar with the drawbacks of using food to show love - but I am ok overlooking them from time to time.  Food is powerful.  And sometimes its the best tool for the job.  I have been on both sides of the equation.  I know I have poured all the affection, sorrow and empathy I had no words for into a meal I've prepared after someone close to me lost a loved one.  I have felt looked after and supported when eating fresh meals delivered to our door when our babies were new.  I have tasted just how very happy my grandmother was to have us visit by way of her cooking.  I hope my dad, siblings and children could tell how much love went into the meals I prepared for them.  

A meal out with the gang
At my dad's last appointment we learned that he will be starting chemo again next month.  It's good news in that there's still something worth fighting for...but difficult because we know his quality of life will take a nose dive.  I'll be back to visit next month, but I imagine it will be different.  It makes me especially grateful for the time we had this past trip.  

My father feeding my daughter

We will make the most of our time together no matter how rough going things are.  Hey, we had a great trip that time Leo was so sleep deprived he threw a tantrum complete with flying spaghetti.  So, dad, if you still have an appetite after starting this next round of chemo, start thinking of some requests.  I'd be happy to make anything that sounds appetizing.

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