My dad whips up a mean slice of toast. His freshly brewed tea is hard to beat, and his omelettes are amazingly edible.
That said, when my mom left more than two weeks ago to visit family in China, she took fundamental solo-husband-survival precautions and left a week’s worth of home-cooked meat dishes in the freezer. My dad, like many of yours, I imagine, needs meat to survive. Unfortunately, he just isn’t particularly adept at cooking it himself.
My mother’s stay slowly trickled over the expected eight days, and I began to joke to my friends that my dad had probably resorted to eating his own shoe leather. (Don’t worry — he didn’t.) But while he managed to satiate his hunger (one frozen stir-fry at a time), it was loneliness that proved more difficult to stave off. My parents both work primarily at home, a relatively solitary lifestyle but for the presence of each other. My dad couldn’t pull an aluminum-wrapped plate of company out of the freezer quite as easily.
In the weeks leading up to this new and glorious fall break, I toyed with a hodgepodge of potential ways to spend it. A cabin in Vermont? Perhaps a hiking trip to New Hampshire or Maine? I thought about inviting two suitemates home; my Facebook newsfeed notified me of some classmates galumphing around London.
My mom was still in China, and my thoughts in lecture continually drifted off to visions of my dad gnawing on his L.L. Bean slippers. On top of everything, the weather was looking grim — meteorological PMS to the upcoming “Frankenstorm.” By Tuesday afternoon, as the sky began to drizzle, I just wanted to go home, read by the fire, and, if my dad was going to eat his slippers, to at least marinate and bake them for him first.
When my mom heard that I’d decided to head straight home and pass up what she’d misinterpreted as hoards of Yalies pleading for my company, she told me that she and my aunt were deeply impressed and extremely grateful. When she told my 26-year-old Chinese cousin that I had passed up fun invitations in favor of going home and spending time with my dad, he was so touched that he apparently began crying.
My aunt told me I was such a good daughter, and asked me repeatedly what I wanted her to buy me, until I finally relented and said I like boots, but I already had a pair so I said it wasn’t necessary. “I’m buying you boots,” she said, and there was no further arguing. All of my Chinese relatives (and there are many), it turned out, were moved by what had been to me a simple desire to relax by the wood stove, hang out with my dad and spend time with my now half-blind, half-deaf golden lab. To me, the admiration was unexpected — my actions complied with one of China’s most hallowed social codes: filial piety.
Filial piety aside, this praise felt wrong. Was going home to spend time with family over friends an action that merited commendation? How mediocre of a daughter must I be? Admittedly, over the last three or four years, I’ve been strikingly absent from home: my parents are lucky to see me for more than two weeks of summer, and I haven’t been around for spring break since 10th grade. The truth is, I don’t seem to be an anomaly: over the course of a year, the bulk of my fellow Yalies pass similarly brief stints at home. Our families generally tend to encourage our endeavors and joke (or pretend to joke) about how they never see us anymore.
What has changed, at least for me, is that all my life my parents have been the ones supporting me. Only recently have I realized that they also need me to support them.
I’m not about to return every weekend, and my mom and dad yet again won’t have my company over spring break, but I feel a greater pull towards home than I have ever before. And above all, I never again want to be praised for coming home to keep my dad company and cook his slippers.
Tao Tao Holmes is a junior in Branford College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .