1 family. friendly food. » Half-a-Banana Man (An essay: Part 1)

Bananas usually make me think of children. Like little kids, they are sweet and innocent. Just think about the way toddlers squish a banana with their chubby little fingers as they try to peel it, turning it into mush. Or the noises babies make when they chew on a chunk, chomping it down with their puffy, toothless gums. Bananas are fairly easy to swallow, unlike so many other things in life when you grow up. They provide a misleadingly smooth, uncomplicated introduction to food and living.

But the other morning, a banana triggered thoughts about my father. To be more exact, it’s half a banana that made me think of him as I stood in the kitchen alone, still in my PJs, my hair uncombed. My husband and kids had left home for work and school. Finally, the house went quiet. It was my turn to eat breakfast. Thick yogurt, a drizzle of honey, a trickle of walnut oil, a sprinkle of toasted almonds, a fistful of shredded oats, and half a banana, sliced, added on top.

I think about my father every time I eat only half of a fruit because he used to do that whenever he visited me and my family. I suppose he treated his fruits the same way at the house in Los Angeles where he lived by himself the past two decades. Planning ahead the night before, he would take any chilled fruit he desired out of the refrigerator and leave it on the countertop to warm to room temperature; he didn’t like cold foods. Even when he stayed with us, he still ate his breakfast alone and by the time we got there, he was already midway through or finished with his breakfast. Then, I’d find half a banana, half a peach, and half an orange left on a plate, on the countertop, cut side down to prevent it from browning.

“And what am I supposed to do with the second halves of all these fruits?” I asked.

“Well, why won’t you eat them?” he replied simply.

“But I don’t want to”, I rebelled. “Just because you chose to eat these fruits doesn’t mean that I have to finish what you had started!”

“Well, it’s too much for just one person,” he explained.

“So why won’t you eat one whole fruit instead, like a normal person?” I shot back at him and couldn’t help but wonder: was this the result of years of living alone?

I didn’t grow up with my father—he left when I was about three years old. We didn’t live on the same continent or state other than those first few years of my life. In my thirties, we reconnected as the geographical distance between us got smaller—only one state, Oregon, separated us. We visited each other once or twice a year and talked more often on the phone. Then, he got his chance to try to educate me with his long speeches to which I was only half-listening, and I had my chance to object and rebel. It’s the closest we’ve ever been; we had seven good years. Eleven months ago he died of leukemia, a ruthless type that killed him in less than a year after he was diagnosed.

It’s funny in a way for me to see how I am like him sometimes even though I wasn’t shaped under his influence for most of my life. For example, when I go to a restaurant with my husband and children, I catch myself chatting with the servers about topics not related to the menu, just like he used to do. Oh, he loved to befriend and joke around with the restaurant’s staff! So much in fact that many times I felt neglected and ignored to the point that it made me angry and disappointed in him. He would interact with a waiter or a waitress more than he did with us, his own family who was sitting at the table with him. I’d get furious: why does he waste these valuable, rare moments that we are together by talking with strangers instead of us? (So, unlike him, I keep my interactions with the wait staff friendly but short.)

 “You never use the garbage disposal?” he asked me once. “It’s good to turn the garbage disposal every now and then, you know, it will keep it in working condition. If you don’t let it run, it will get stuck,” he would reprimand.

“I don’t care if it gets stuck. I don’t use it anyway.” I rejected his suggestion.

These days, turning the garbage disposal on, letting it run for a few seconds has become a weekly ceremony for me because of his continuous nagging. I can hear the bits of food the dishwasher washed away through the pipe that had gotten stuck down there. I admit it, he was right.

I think about him every time I use a paper napkin at the kitchen table. “No napkins? How can you not have napkins on the table?” he complained.

“OK, OK, I’ll buy some napkins,” I gave in.

But now. . . Now I haven’t a clue how we got by all those years when we didn’t have paper napkins on the table. A child has a runny nose, or has red pasta sauce smeared all over his face, or watermelon juice dripping from her chin onto her rounded belly on a hot day and, ta-da! I have a napkin within immediate reach to clean up the mess or my kid’s face.

I certainly think about my father when motherhood becomes so tiring and stressful that I fantasize about running away from my family to be all by myself, free. But it scares me to death to do so. How can a parent do such a thing? I never will.

(Part 2 here.)

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