Just eating that blueberry muffin, I believe, is how I express my love for my father. I don’t particularly like muffins, but when I’m visiting, my Dad doesn’t ask me what I want for breakfast or even if I’m hungry. Instead, he bakes a batch of muffins, using fresh Maine blueberries in the late summer and frozen ones the rest of the year. He’s been baking blueberry muffins my whole life. I’m forty-six, so that’s a lot of muffins.
We’re a reserved family. We never talk about emotions. Both of my brothers are married and have children, and as far as I can tell, they’ve all carried on the tradition. I think I’m the only person in the family who has ever said, “I love you,” to someone other than a lover or a spouse. In fact, I said it to my Dad, 18 years ago, when he was about to be wheeled to the operating room for open-heart surgery. He was heavily sedated, so I was relatively sure the shock of hearing the words, “I love you,” wouldn’t kill him. When he woke up in the ICU, after a quadruple by-pass, I’m not sure he remembered what I’d said.
He made a complete recovery and started cooking muffins again, adding oat bran to the recipe to make them more healthy. My mom liked raspberries, so sometimes he’d make blueberry-raspberry muffins, just for a change.
In my early twenties, I simply refused to eat his muffins. I’d say I wasn’t hungry and go without breakfast. In part, I wanted to eat what I wanted to eat. And though, even then, I recognized that his muffins were an expression of love, I wanted a father who could say, “I love you,” or “What’s wrong?” or “Talk to me about what’s going on in your heart.”
But my father wouldn’t stop with the muffins. On my last day, he’d bake a fresh batch so I’d have some to take home with me. I asked him not to do this, but he did it anyway. I found it annoying. Not wanting to be a complete brat, I’d sometimes say “Thank you,” and then intentionally forget to bring the plate of muffins out to the car. Or I’d take the plate and throw it in a trash can at a highway rest stop. Sometimes the muffins would make it all the way back to the city with me and I’d give them to the first homeless person I saw.
In my late 20s I switched strategy and tried to avoid the whole muffin confrontation by getting up early on my last day and driving off before my father had time to bake. But then he started getting up earlier still. Things escalated. It got to the point where I’d set my alarm for 5:00 a.m. and miss a whole beautiful summer morning in Maine, just to avoid a muffin.
Like a lot of people, when I reached my 30s, my relationship with my parents mellowed or matured. I’m not quite sure what happened, but things got easier. I started eating the muffins again. My father would put two on my plate. I’d return one to its hole in the muffin tin, but I ate the other one, slathered in butter and raspberry jam. It seemed, in some ways, like the easy way out. But it also seemed like a way to express the gratitude for all that my father had given me, all that I’d never actually said.
I got married and my husband would eat three or four muffins of my father’s muffins. I wasn’t sure whether to love him or hate him for this. And years went by, and everyone in our family ate dozens and dozens of muffins.
A lot has changed recently. My mother died. I got divorced. Some summer mornings now, it’s just my Dad and I at the breakfast table in Maine. We read the papers. We talk a little. And we eat our blueberry muffins.
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