Me and Dad, 2016, somewhere in California. (Photo by my son.)
My father, as with many men of a particular generation, can be a tough nut to crack. He’s just so opaque.
A holiday – a birthday, say – arises. A question is voiced – “Is there anything you want?” And the response, every. single. time?
(You know what it is. Your dad does this to you, too.)
“I don’t need anything.”
Cool, cool. Except it’s your birthday, and I’m your only child, and I’m OBVIOUSLY GOING TO GET YOU SOMETHING SO HELP A GIRL OUT.
Nearly four decades of intensive parental study has taught me, alas, that what my dad truly (truly!) wants is not *stuff*. (I say “alas” because, ya know, barbecue tools are slightly easier to arrange for than cross-country road trips.) And besides, if he technically wants something, he’ll virtually always just buy it for himself. (Usually on the day before Christmas, when Mom and I have already bought said thing for him. Always a good time.)
What my father would prefer to physical gifts, I have learned, are experiences. Memory-makers.
You know, just playing with manta rays in the Indian Ocean
Except…ahhh…Covid. Lockdowns make experiential gifting a little tricky.
But it’s been nearly a year since I’ve seen my parents, and I wanted to do something cool, even if it was necessarily limited by the pandemic. So I started thinking about simpler – but equally wonderful – times we’ve spent together.
You know what I kept coming back to? The nights back in New York, when Dad and I would get tickets to a random cheese tasting somewhere in the city, or walk the ten blocks to our favorite cheese-only restaurant, where the best way to order is to let them do it for you.
Why? Because, well, cheese. But also because it turns out that something about the conversation that a cheese tasting requires is what Dad and I need to start just…talking. The expectation of sitting down to dinner To Talk About Important Things is subsumed by the more pressing question at hand – does this blue go better with sour cherry jam, or with bitter chocolate? And with the erasure of expectations, we’ve found, comes actual communication. Which is the point.
We usually end up drinking a glass more wine than we’d intended, and chatting with the server over chocolates. We keep talking for the whole walk back. Sometimes we share an illicit cigarette.
I miss those nights.
So here is what I did to celebrate my father’s birthday: I put together a night that was close to our cheese tasting evenings as I could get. This was made vastly simpler by the existence of Harbor Cheese – a company that I discovered through Olivia, who loves it so much she put it in last year’s gift guide. The Long Island-based, woman-owned business offers all sorts of virtual classes, from Mozzarella and Burrata Making (#zomg) to Cheese Board Design, but I decided to go classic, and booked a private 5-cheese tasting led by the company’s founder, award-winning cheesemonger Jessica Affatato.
The day before the tasting, the box arrived, filled with oh my goodness, so much cheese. (I’m pretty sure this was supposed to feed at least 2-3 people. I ate it all. You guys, I don’t even know what to say about how good these cheeses – literally all of them – were. Cheese this delicious gives me writer’s block.)
On the day of our tasting, Dad sat at his dining room table in New York City, and I scooted my barstool up to the counter in my Southern California kitchen. We had each prepped little boards with accompaniments (olives, jams, chocolate, etc) and poured liberal glasses of wine.
I enjoy that “Cheese” gets its own meeting screen.
We logged on to our assigned Zoom Room and met Jessica, and it was all so much less weird than I could have ever imagined last March. We cheers-ed each other. We sampled one cheese, and then another. And then there we were, once again: Talking about cheese, but mostly just talking – distance or no.
Happy Birthday, Dad. I always love our hangs, wherever they may be.