Thursday, June 21, 2007

Dinner With (Bad) Dad

Now that S. has taught me how to use Borders like my own personal library, well... okay, I went last night and I read all of Cameron Stracher's Dinner With Dad.

(I couldn't help it, it was right there when I walked in the door, and it had gotten so much press in the NYT...)

The premise: Stratcher, a high-powered lawyer AND professor, spends most of his time on the road and sees his family for about eight hours a week. He decides to change that by promising that he will be home at least five nights per week for dinner and cook at least half of those dinners by himself. For a year.

(Book deal to follow.)

While I appreciated Stratcher's goal, I was very disillusioned by the portrayal of family life he lovingly detailed in his book. Well, not so lovingly, because he spends half his time furious with his children (Simon, age 12, and Lulu, age 6) and their behavior. He spends about the other half of his time trying to figure out why his wife resents him. And he spends approximately 120 nights in the kitchen.

Cameron and his wife Catherine come off as rather inept parents; the sort who solve problems by yelling impotently at their children and might, in a few months, be begging for the help of a SuperNanny. (Except, of course, that they're in the wrong economic class; the people featured on SuperNanny are usually lower-middle to "white trash" and the Stratchers have enough assets to bypass the television offer and hire their own British nanny themselves.)

The children are pulled at the dual poles of overwork and overindulgence; they attend high-pressure schools, have a myriad of extracurriculars (when Cameron spends one afternoon driving his children back and forth after school, he logs five hours in the car), and -- most importantly for the book -- have never been taught to eat what's in front of them. Catherine has been preparing separate meals for the children since their Gerber days, and thus both Simon and Lulu exist on high-end Kraft dinner.

And when Dad puts down a homecooked meal, they throw tantrums. Both of them; Lulu with the kicking and the screaming (she's six -- isn't that a little old for the behavior?), and Simon with the adolescent "you're ruining my life" crap.

Sure, Cameron might be bulking up the conflict for the sake of his book, but... it's rooted in truth. As is the extraordinary tension between Cameron and Catherine (she's also an academic, though perhaps part-time, as she does all the stay-at-home parenting before and after school). The first day Cameron comes home to cook, Catherine tells him to get out of the house, as she needs it (all of it?) to get her academic work done.

The atmosphere is one of extreme selfishness all around. Halfway through the book Cameron quits his lawyer job because he is discovering the joys of being with his family (despite the fact that over half of the dinners he describes seem to end with Lulu screaming "I don't like artichokes!" and Cameron screaming back "you have to eat them!"). Soon he discovers that his academic's salary won't cover the family's NYC suburb expenses (gee, he could have done the math before... thank goodness he had that book deal waiting in the wings).

It would seem that frugality would be the order of the day, but Cameron heads in the other direction, purchasing fancy Williams-Sonoma cookware to further his project, as well as new gadgets for his kids because he believes that they will need to be up on their computer/iPod/Playstation skills in order to make it in the rat race working world.

(Note to Mr. Stratcher: Wanna know how to help your kid make it in the working world? Don't name her "Lulu.")

Anyway. Long story short, the book paints a pretty picture of a self-absorbed, entitled family who all scream at each other when they don't get exactly what they want. Oh, and they eat dinner together.

And the fracking book's a bestseller.

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