A Weekly Column
Joseph Walker


Dinner was going to be late.

That was my motivation – honest, it was.  Anita was going to pick up Beth from college, and then they were going to do some shopping.  That meant that they probably wouldn’t get home until about 7, so we weren’t going to eat dinner until . . . you know . . . late.

Which was fine with me.  I’m like a camel.  I’ve got enough food stored in my hump to last me through five or six shopping excursions – possibly through the entire Christmas shopping season.  Delaying a meal or two won’t hurt me.  In fact, it would probably do me good to skip a meal or two entirely.

But Jon is another story.  Jon is 17, and still growing.  He is long and lean and about . . . that . . . far from starvation every moment of every day.  A delayed meal could destroy his delicate dietary equilibrium and scar him for the rest of his life – or until the next pizza delivery, whichever comes first.

Besides, the meal that was planned for the evening was a good one, but not the sort of thing that provides much comfort to a starving teenage boy.  It is a family tradition that when we decorate our Christmas tree, we open up a box of Swiss Colony and munch on crackers and cheese and summer sausage while we work.  We enjoy the tradition, to be sure.  But if you’re hungry – teenage boy hungry – cheese and crackers and summer sausage constitute a snack, not a meal to quell the ravenous beast within.

So as I was driving home to offer comfort and support to Jon, it occurred to me that this might be a good time for a little father-son bonding over beef, bread and special sauce.  I mean, we were still an hour and a half from dinner, at least.  It wasn’t like I was going to ruin his appetite or anything.  It would be a kind thing, a benevolent thing and I could be a hero to my son for at least as long as it took him to inhale a take-out hamburger.  The fact that I was getting a little hungry myself had absolutely NOTHING to do with it.

Well, OK.  Maybe it had a LITTLE to do with it.  But the way I see it, it’s entirely possible that my own hunger was actually a profoundly empathetic reaction to my youngest son’s plight.  Isn’t it?

Anyway, I picked up a couple of burgers and hurried home to surprise Jon.

“Are you hungry?” I asked as I poked my head into the house.

“Yeah,” he said as he looked up from his homework.  “But we’re not eating until Mom and Beth get home, and that may be a while.”

“Not necessarily,” I said as I walked in, proudly and conspicuously bearing the familiar fast good bag.

Jon’s eyes grew wide with wonder, awe and excitement.  “You read my mind!” he said.  “You’re my hero!”

Yeah, I thought as I handed his hamburger to him, this was a great idea!

Jon and I had a meaningful bonding moment as we enjoyed our hamburger hors d’oeuvres together.  Unfortunately, however, the mix of hamburger, cheese, crackers and summer sausage proved to be too much for Jon and he ended up . . . um . . . indisposed most of the night.  And to be perfectly honest, by the end of the evening I wasn’t feeling so well myself.

The thing is, my intentions were good – empathetic, if not completely altruistic.  But sometimes being an effective parent is more than just good intentions.  It’s also thinking things through, and realizing that a little short-term hunger is better than a long-term tummy ache.    

No matter how late dinner is going to be.

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— © Joseph Walker

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