My Dad: master of child labor exploitation

While people are reflecting this weekend about their fathers, and some posts in the blogosphere have already made me cry or laugh, I decided that I would just complain.

My Dad has been there all my life. I have special memories of him from my childhood, and I value the time that we spend together now in my adult years. But I have come to a very stark realization about our relationship over the years:

I’m not talking about the typical use of kids by parents – laundry, dishes, mowing the lawn, etc. It has become clear to me that my father has been grooming me since childhood to be his own personal chef when my Obachan and my mother can no longer fill that role. Between those two women in his life, he’s had it pretty good. Obachan handles all the Japanese foods, and my mother cooks him wonderful semi-gourmet meals on a near-daily basis. Ever since she stopped working, he’s become totally spoiled, and half expects there to be fresh-baked bread in the house for his sandwiches. But it seems that he has realized that this can’t last forever. So my Dad, ever forward-thinking, has either consciously or unconsciously been making sure that I can fulfill his complex dietary wants and needs into his golden years.

This all started when I was very young, and it started off simply. My Dad has worked a swing shift as a janitor for a large local school district all my life – except during the summers. During the summers, he works a day shift. When I was about six or so, he suggested that I start making his sandwiches for his lunches during the summer. Now, being a six-year-old and offered the chance to do something special for my Dad that only I could do at that point, I jumped on it and eagerly took his sandwich orders. He usually wanted two of whatever lunch meat we had in the house (mostly bologna, but sometimes it was different), and one peanut butter and jelly. It rarely varied. This continued until I was a little older, and then he moved me on to the next stage in my culinary apprenticeship: chocolate chip cookies.

It is well-documented that my Dad is a chocolate chip cookie fiend. In fact, he used to make his own to satiate his desires. Then he taught me to do it and he’s never made another cookie since. All he had to say was, “I want chocolate chip cookies – when can you make them?” and I would spring forth with the recipe (long since covered in a plastic sleeve to protect it from the elements) and whip up a batch. When I was making them, he would always come and pick a chocolate chip or two out of the dough – in fact, he wasn’t above just eating the dough by itself. When my siblings tried this, I smacked their hands with the wooden spoon I’d been stirring with. That was Dad’s sole privilege – and while I complained, I never messed with it.

All of us kids were required to learn how to “help with meals” – which meant that we had to know how to cook. As a result, all of us, including my brother, are quite handy around the kitchen. This was my mother’s doing, though my Dad has a few specialty dishes that he taught us. He can make really good meatballs, he likes to pretend at being Bobby Flay and experiments with his own rubs and sauces, and he makes a fantastic fried rice. But the ultimate prize lay ahead, and for that, I was going to have to study under his mother, my Obachan. The goal: funyu (or funu) chicken.

I don’t know where the term funyu comes from, and all that Obachan can tell me is that she learned the recipe from her mother, who came from Okayama-ken in central Japan. All I know is that the stuff runs in my blood, and our entire family looks forward to New Year’s Day, when Obachan holds her Japanese feast and we gorge ourselves silly on it. I have never met anyone who didn’t instantly love it. The year before the Munchkin was born, I spent time with Obachan learning the mysteries of the chicken, and helping her fry it up on New Year’s Day. After a couple of tries, I could make it on my own and no one could tell the difference between hers and mine. Even she couldn’t. At that point, I received her blessing: “Good, so you’ll be able to make it for your Dad when I can’t,” and I came into my own as chef-in-waiting.

Now, there are still things that I need to learn from her while I still can. She soaks the age for her inarizushi in her own special marinade (and she buys it fresh, not canned), and I need to learn that, and her recipe for makizushi. I do have her recipes for Korean chicken (it uses nanami togarashi, chili pepper mix) and her own recipe for chow mein (which I have not yet attempted, but I have all the complex instructions for it after writing down each step while she made it). But she and I also go shopping at Uwajimaya together, where we buy chirimen (dried anchovies) and takuwan (pickled daikon radish) for my Dad.

My Obachan and my father sort of have a Raymond-Marie relationship (at least where food is concerned, though my mother is an excellent cook and a superb baker, which Obachan is not). And it’s quite clear that she expects me to carry on after she’s gone. My mother has not learned all of these things, but I am her granddaughter, and this is apparently my destiny.

In the meantime, my father is eating well. But I’m starting to think that he may have a back-up plan. For example, the Munchkin and I made chocolate chip cookies a while ago, and we took a dozen or so to my Dad. The Munchkin proudly informed him that she had helped, at which he smiled and thanked her.

Auntie was observing this whole scene. Then she turned to me and said, “I just made chocolate chip cookies for him yesterday.”

We both turned to Dad, who said, “That’s okay – now I have more!”

There is no way that I am being replaced now after being groomed and trained for so long. Besides, I can make funyu chicken and she can’t! Ha ha ha!

Happy Father’s Day, Dad.

2 Responses to “My Dad: master of child labor exploitation”

  1. Dozeymagz
    June 16th, 2006 08:05

    Can you make some choccy chip cookies for us too?!

  2. Linda
    June 16th, 2006 08:31

    Thank you, Deanna, again for celebrating All Dad’s! My Dad was just as guilty of ‘training’ me to cook his favorite foods! And, all who ate Dad’s food agree that he was a great cook!
    How about sharing your ‘Chocolate Chip’ cookie recipe?! George loves them and his two ‘furry four legged kids’ need to learn a new recipe!
    Happy Father’s Day, Andy and [Webmaster]!
    hugs to all!