The 6pm Dinner
When my father first moved up here 2 years ago from my childhood home in New Jersey, one feature of his community that my brother and I loved was the scheduled dinners with the same people. The idea was: it would force him to substitute his worn bathrobe for actual clothing, get some minimal exercise by walking down the halls. He’d have to interact with people in the elevator on the way. He would sit at a table with the same people with whom he’d inevitably becomes friends. He’d have to engage in conversation to keep him sharp. Plus we’d know he was eating well. As an added bonus, if he didn’t show up to dinner, they’d know and quickly figure out why. It seemed like a dream.
Mostly that’s because it was. That’s a system designed for Sandwich Generation fathers like me, not the actual people involved.
My father escaped this system by accident. Literally – his incontinence is what broke him free. Once his community’s director started indirectly referencing that “others” were complaining about his smell at meals, even the ones he hadn’t attended, his response was to stop coming and order dinner to his place instead.
Here’s what this means. Now, my father calls down at whatever time of day he feels like and has lunch and/or dinner delivered to his room. He gets room service every day! Every day! When I described it to my kids, it blew their minds because I’ve described hotel room service as a treat for special occasions. Sometimes he finishes the whole meal, but often, he sort of snacks on it all day. Which itself is healthier. He’s not that hungry late in the day so he orders earlier. Also healthier.
Thanks to his incontinence problem and his DVR, for the first time in 50 years he is also freed from the constraints of the clock. He might love this most of all.
We ate my childhood dinners at 6pm on the nose, with the dinner bell (yes, a dinner bell) at 5:58. My mother always blamed this rigidity on my father who expected things a certain way. But now I am learning that this (too) wasn’t exactly true. She was always one to complain about something, and blame it on someone else while all the while she had wanted to do it in the first place. So it was with our 6pm dinners, it turns out, because she wanted to watch the 6:23pm weather from the local Philadelphia station, the 6:26pm weather from New York, and then World News Tonight (first with Frank Reynolds and then Peter Jennings).
They did this every day. Apparently my father hated it. So being freed from the 6pm dinner seating at his place is another revelation that in hindsight is obvious.
Now he has freedom of his own schedule and his own place and his own meal choices and the safety net of Sandwich Generation sons who can understand that their notion of meals was all wrong. Well meaning, but all wrong.