When I was thinking of things to blog about today, my thoughts naturally went to Father’s Day. I thought perhaps I’d compile a list of cool Father’s Day movies, a recipe to cook for your dad, or perhaps even my observation from Twitter traffic of late about the number of people I follow who find it difficult to find Father’s Day cards, since there are no mad-at-your-dad-for-________ cards. But then I remembered my dad, and low-cal chicken, and it all came together.
My dad didn’t have a normal job when I was a kid; we moved to Atlanta from Orlando, Florida in 1989, and in 1990, my dad got a job as a late-night talk show host on WSB, the big talk radio channel in Atlanta. As the late-night guy, my dad’s audience was made up of the late-night work crew, people getting off work from bars, clubs, restaurants, and even stores, tuning in for my dad’s particular brand of talk radio, which he described as (and titled his show after), “off the wall.”
Off the Wall with David Paul. That’s my dad.
Back in those days, (and this happened only on the weekends), my dad would come home from his show, still keyed up in a way I only came to understand after I began working late shifts as a waitress in college, and brought us snacks. He woke up me and my little brother, and loaded us up with orange juice, Little Debbie snacks, potato chips, and sat with us on the couch and watched late-night TV, mostly Nick at Night. And then he sent us back to bed, full of sugar and sleepiness.
[Incidentally, I wrote a character just like this, who woke his kids up when he got home from his late-night talk show gig, fed them snacks, watched TV with them, and then put them back to bed with the promise that they wouldn’t tell their mom. People in the workshop found it unbelievable that a father would do this, pit his kids against their mother, keep secrets, wake up sleeping children to feed them junk food, but my dad did. And it’s one of those memories I cherish.]
Where most kids’ parents only met their teachers on PTA or parents’ nights, my teachers all listened to my dad’s radio show once he moved to the afternoon drive time slot. When my mom sent us to school with red socks on every Friday, they knew it was because, on my dad’s show, it was Red Sock Friday. I was never allowed to participate in Kiss My Butt Friday, but all my teachers knew about it. (Sometimes, I kind of wish it still existed.)
In 1991, for a Father’s Day article, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution came to our house to interview my dad and take photos of him cooking with me and my little brother. The article’s headline read, “Radio Stud Gets Thrilled in Kitchen.” In it, they quoted my dad as saying he was “really a bore who cooks with his children.” Despite all my dad’s Howard Stern-like antics, he was still a dad. The dish we cooked that day was low-cal chicken. When I asked my dad for the recipe today, he told me he actually got it from my mom. “You think I came up with that?” he asked, as if the joke was on me for believing he might think up a recipe on his own.
I don’t remember that day; because there’s a photo to go with it, I know it happened. I remember low-cal chicken because we ate it from time to time growing up. When my dad told me the ingredients today, almost all of them were a surprise to me because I had only the vague recollection of chicken and tomato.
In so many ways, my dad is tied to my learning to cook. Most of that education came five or six years later when I started cooking meals for us at his apartment after he and my mom split up. My dad set me loose in his kitchen, bought me ingredients and gadgets, watched in horror when I attempted to deep fry things (or make caramel sauce), and happily ate the things I made. When I got burns or cut myself with knives, he let me handle it myself, and we came to have quite the collection of first-aid gear at his house. All that independence taught me confidence, so that I didn’t flinch in front of intricate recipes, unknown ingredients, or (after a certain age) blood on my fingers. I was a lost girl in that kitchen, making meals for my dad and my brother, to save us from another trip to McDonald’s. I was on my own, and that kitchen was my world; I could make whatever I wanted. And on Father’s Day, that’s one of the things I’m most thankful for, that my father, the “Radio Stud,” the “bore who cooks with his children,” also gave me the confidence and the freedom to cook on my own.