“What’s for dinner?”

I wish I could answer this differently, but the question I’m most frequently asked is “What’s for dinner?”

Did Richard Feynman hear this question? Was it one of his 12 favorite problems? 

How about Mark Twain? As he pondered the peculiar weather patterns of the Bay Area, was he considering the family menu?

When I last answered this question in cohort four of Write of Passage, I assumed that my FAQ should be work-related. 

I ditched the filter this time. My list of candidates included:

After much deep thought, one question didn’t bubble to the surface. It lept from the water:

“What’s for dinner?”

There is no other question I’m asked as often. Though it’s not as pedestrian a question as it might appear at first blush. There’s a lot packed into this simple question.

Sometimes, answering the question is fun. Magical. A chance to bring smiles to the faces of people that I love. 

More often, though, it’s a chore. I try to embrace the process, but I secretly wish Gordon Ramsay would knock down my door and cook for my family tonight. I might open a cookbook and consider going to the store, or I might decide that pasta-and-cheese-and-wet-salad is good enough.

I wish I loved to cook.

Mostly, though, I just hope that someone else answers the question. 

My thoughts drift to Albert Einstein and his famous attention to eliminating choice. He wore a consistent daily outfit to from depleting his mental tank with superfluous choices.

Then I think — I’m not Albert Einstein.

I think again about the question. The answer isn’t “salmon, salad and a potato” or “chili” or even “pork chops and broccolini.” 

When my kids ask me — “What’s for dinner?” — they’re asking if I’m still willing to provide them. Is this yet another choice that they don’t yet have to make? Will you be making something we like or are we having pasta-and-cheese-and-wet-salad again? We’re not complaining, of course. Just asking.

When my wife asks — “What’s for dinner?” — I can hear the desperate hope, almost pleading that I have an answer to the question. She doesn’t want to assume that because she made dinner last night that I’ve at least thought about it, but she does assume it. She’s asking me if we’re equal partners in this journey.

“What’s for dinner?” underscores the responsibility I took on as a parent. Care and feeding for eighteen plus years? I had no way of understanding the breadth of the promise I’d made when I decided to help bring kids into the world. How could I? How can any of us? 

When I’m asked — “What’s for dinner?” — I’m reminded of that choice.

Though the question may be rhetorical, I settle on an answer — presence

I’m going to make something and pay attention to every detail. Immerse myself. Revel in the answer. Then we’ll sit down together as a family and eat. 

We’ll talk. 

We’ll listen. 

And we’ll discuss other questions knowing that we’ve answered the one most frequently asked.

— John

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