By Alex Smith
I don’t really know how to cook. That’s one thing if you’re a single guy with a cupboard full of takeout menus, but as a married father of two, it has put a bit of pressure on my wife, being that she’s the sole member of the household who knows how to actually prepare meals that involve more than operating a toaster. The fact that my wife is also a remarkably resourceful and accomplished cook doesn’t help matters. One could argue that she’s enabling my culinary incompetence.
When I was about 12 years old, I remember my stepfather marching me into the kitchen. “Today,” he informed me, “you will learn how to cook.” It hadn’t really occurred to me at the time that cooking was something I should consider learning how to do. I mean, Mom seemed to be handling that task with reasonable aplomb. Who needed me clogging up the proceedings in the kitchen? Besides – I was 12. I had baseball cards to collect, KISS records to listen to and “Star Wars” to obsess over. My schedule was already jam-packed. Regardless, my stepfather was adamant, and my first cooking lesson began in earnest.
Despite the best of intentions, the lesson ended as soon as it began. Instructed to try my hand at making scrambled eggs, I dutifully grasped a fragile egg in my hand and brought it down, as demonstrated, against the side of a bowl. Evidently, I applied a bit too much force, as the kitchen counter, my stepfather’s tie and my prized “Planet of the Apes” T-shirt were instantly covered in yolk. My stepfather proceeded to laugh like a hyena. The fact that my first stab at food preparation reduced him to fits of hysterics didn’t go over too well. Defiantly flicking a bit of eggshell out of my bangs, I declared that I was not, in fact, going to learn how to cook … just to spite him. From that point on, I went out of my way, as a petulant teen, to avoid learning how to cook. It was a vow I found all too easy to keep, but who got the last laugh?
Twenty years later, I found myself newly married. As a birthday gift, my wife gave me a gift certificate to sign up for this photography class I’d been ruminating about. Already feeling guilty about my failings in the kitchen, however, I suggested that I should take a cooking class instead. Not only did she love the idea, she decided to take the class with me.
As fun as the class (“How to Boil Water 101”) was, though, I was still way out of my depth. We poached a salmon in the first class, for cryin' out loud! I took zealous notes and paid furious attention and even completed a few honestly edible dishes, but that all happened under the watchful eye of our instructor. Sure, with him barking orders over my shoulder, of course I’d know the exact moment when to flip my omelette. But in the unforgiving wilderness of my own kitchen, I’d be on my own again.
The cooking class was fun. I still look back at my notebook and see my wife’s catty comments scribbled in the margins. But I didn’t really retain a thing and went right back to my old habit of basically steering clear of the kitchen unless there was some rudimentary pot-stirring or the dishes to do.
Soon afterward, we had a couple of children, and in no time at all, those kids graduated from baby food to “proper” food. I was able to help make their lunches and serve them up the odd bowl of macaroni and cheese (or virtually any dish that involved a microwave), but put me near the stove or oven, and all those confidence issues came rushing back. Without supervision, I seem to be convinced that I’ll screw something up. I’m deathly afraid of deviating from a recipe … something my wife can’t stop herself from doing. I freeze up and worry that I’ll either set off the smoke alarms or undercook something and make everybody sick.
Now, as a dad in my almost-mid-40s, I’m trying to make amends. I look around and see my peers who have handily tamed the forbidding frontiers of their own kitchens and are capably adept family-feeders while I'm still struggling with the coffeemaker. I am determined to put on the apron and “man up” to my responsibilities as a husband and father. As it happens, today is National Men Make Dinner Day, the ideal opportunity for men like me to stop making excuses and get cooking. Tonight, my wife gets to sit on the couch with her feet up while I toil in the kitchen (desperately trying to avoid burning the house down). Tonight, I make dinner. Men, who’s with me?
Just don’t ask me to crack any eggs.
Parents, do you have any recipe suggestions for slacker dads and husbands out there who are otherwise all thumbs in the kitchen? Share your ideas in the comment section below.