Going out to dinner with one’s parents is rarely a bad thing; well there was that one time my brother took out his retainer to eat, forgot it at the restaurant, and my parents took him back and made him dig through the garbage for the expensive orthodontic apparatus. He never lost it again. No, mostly dinner out with the folks is a treat, but over time the relationships and roles we play during meals out change. Last night for instance, I served as the chauffeur driving my dad’s boat of a Lincoln rather than riding in the back seat. But that was not the least of the role reversals.
We arrived at a local Greek restaurant I looked to the right into the main dining room that appeared warm and inviting with lots of tables open. I glanced left and noted the secondary dining room that shared space with the restaurant bar and does not appear to be as inviting as the main dining room.
“Three this evening?” Queries the hostess.
“Yes, three.” Replies my dad.
“This way please.” The hostess turns to lead us past the bar into the secondary dining room.
“Hmmm,” I wonder, “why are we being led over here when there’s room over there?”
We pass the gaggle of women at the bar who seem to be a mixture of soccer mom’s (sorry for the cliche) and friends out for their weekly wine tasting and are directed to a table just past the end of the bar and near a door.
“Does that door open?” Asks my dad.
“Um, yes, but we don’t have in out policies so it doesn’t open much.”
We are seated and I notice in the far corner diagonal to us is a family of eight or ten at a large table, probably celebrating a birthday or something, and they’re all that are in the room with us. Soon after sitting down, the previously mentioned door opens letting in a cool breeze, which would have been more appreciated come August.
“Let’s see…what do I usually order here?” Mom ponders aloud.
“Dear, we haven’t been here very much, and the last time was quite a while ago.” Says my dad.
We proceed to look over our menus,and make our choices.
“They always have such good food here. Now, what is it I usually get?”
“Dear, you can get whatever you want. We don’t come here often.”
“Ok, it all looks so good. They always have such good food here.”
While waiting for our server to take our order my dad mentions he is going to be speaking at a local high school for its “Day of Respect”, which is a program that involves people from varying backgrounds and ethnicities talking to high school kids about respecting peoples differences. My parents have been involved in the program since it’s inception 15 years ago, though my mom hasn’t participated in it for the last few years due to her Alzheimer’s. Since I teach high school my dad was wanting to pick my brain for ways to engage high school kids. I said, “I ask myself that every day.” The server arrived and took our orders; Mom had decided on chicken Marsala.
Our dinner conversation revolved around my Dad’s upcoming speaking event at the high school, news from the extended family, and the woeful lack of good reliable public transportation systems throughout the Untied States. (Yes, we really did talk about that last topic and also the fact that the number of centenarians in the U.S. has grown nearly 60% since the last census. We have interesting, though arguably nerdy, conversations.) When I say ‘our’ conversation or ‘we’ talked about, I mean me and my Dad. As we talked our pauses were punctuated by my mom saying either “We’ve been involved with that for a long time.” and “Now when are you going speak at the high school again?” referring to “Day of Respect” or “The food is always so good here.” and “I’ve always liked coming here.” or some variation on those themes.
For most of the evening, except for the occasional repeated phrase, my Mom was not really engaged in the conversation. In fact I felt as if she wasn’t there. Perhaps it was having to concentrate on communicating with my dad that led to me feeling that way. There were several challenges to our conversation including his recent recovery from laryngitis, the fact that he forgot his hearing aids, and the occasional outburst from the cackling gaggle of women at the bar. I knew my Mom was there of course, and wanted to include her in the conversation, but could not. That is a big change in our family dynamics.
As we wrapped up the meal, indulged in some dessert, the check arrived and my Dad and I haggled over who was going to pay, the end result being I would get the tip. My dad put his card in the bill holder the server spirited it away and back again. Dad opened to sign the receipt and proceeded to write in a tip.
“Dad, I was going to give cash for the tip, remember?”
“Oh, yes, well just give me the cash.”
I handed him the cash, he began to close the bill holder with the receipts and his credit card still inside.
“Um, are you going to take one of those receipts?”
“Oh, right, I’d better do that.” So he did and began to close the bill holder again.
“Um, your card is still in there.” I say.
“Oh..” he chuckles, “…that’s why we invite you.”
The evening ended with me driving them home and our exchanging hugs and “I love you’s.” This morning I get a call. “I can’t find my car keys…” says my Dad.”
“I hung them on the hook thing.” ( The ‘hook thing’ is a key shaped piece of plywood I made when I was a Cub Scout that has “Dad’s Keys” painted on it with hooks to hold the keys.)
“Ah, yes, here they are, I usually put them in the bowl on the table.”
That call brought to mind all of the little ways our roles have changed. I thought of how vigilant/aware/observant my parents had to be of me and my brother to make sure we were safe and had our shit together because that is what we’re doing for them now; driving them places, making sure they don’t leave things at restaurants, and helping them find their keys.