The Dinner Dilemma

Tony - Saint James, New York
Entered on November 30, 2008
Age Group: 30 - 50
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I’ve often wondered why humanity is so irritated by itself. Though affection may be strong between family members and though there’s no intent to offend, the state of turmoil in many households suggests a hard-wired propensity to drive each other crazy.

It’s really no one’s fault; we can’t help stumbling over the residue of society’s rapid evolution. Ten thousand years from cave to condo isn’t a lot of time. A case in point is the Dinner Dilemma.

My wife and I enjoyed many happy years of marriage before the arrival of our first child, especially the tradition of dining together and lingering over a glass of wine for leisurely conversation afterwards. Our son was a healthy cheerful infant who made our joy even more profound – except at dinner. No matter that he had a comfy high chair that he liked being in, or that he was served first with all his favorite foods; when my wife and I sat down to dinner, he began to wail. Nothing could console him but that one of us should pick him up and hold him. We ate in tandem for years, and reduced portions at that, because our equally charming baby daughter had the same exasperating trait. Seasoned parents shrugged off my quest for a cause or remedy. “Always was and will be,” they sighed.

The enduring nature of the Dinner Dilemma stayed on my mind. Walking through the woods behind my house one evening, seeking serenity absent from the dinner table, I pondered an ancient forebear stalking big game with his hunting party. Searching for a bonanza to nourish his burgeoning brood back at the grotto, he was probably cold, hungry and tired. No doubt he longed for the cozy comfort of the cave – a fire, a feast, and a few days off. When he bagged a deer he expected to eat for days with his comrades in peace.

My brutish ancestor and his mates would likely have devoured much of the kill, leaving little but scraps for the women and children, curtailing the calories the little ones needed to become great hunters themselves one day. But nature insured the tribe’s survival by instilling a trait in the children that was unpleasant yet effective. As the hunters began to consume their food, a chorus of crying commenced, reverberating throughout the cave and convincing the hunters they would be better off back out on the trail.

The anxiety many wives feel when their husband commandeers the couch and the TV on the weekend is a corollary instinct. It’s not what he’s doing that’s so irritating; it’s what he’s not doing. While catching tomorrow’s dinner is no longer an imperative, cutting the lawn would be appreciated.

Gentlemen, take no offense. Your family appreciates your efforts, but instinct is hard to overcome. Relax in another den, like the garage or the pub, or head out on the jogging trail. Things will blow over, say, in another ten thousand years.