Says Father Ted to a middle age woman whose husband is domestically helpless. I’m thinking of this, because I’m currently staying with dad while mum is being settled into a nursing home. Dad is in his mid seventies. He enjoys his food and has been ‘spoiled’ (his words) by forty years of mum’s excellent home cooking. It’s always been her domain and he rightly points out that whenever he tried to help she would irritably shoo him away. Once when I mentioned that The Husband was away for a few days, mum sighed and said: ‘Isn’t it grand not to have to cook a dinner when they’re away?’ The idea of wanting to cook a nice dinner for yourself or even more radically, asking your partner to cook for both of you was unthinkable to her.
But despite knowing all this, I find the combination of learned helplessness and the unspoken expectation that because I’m female, I’ll take over the domestics, incredibly irritating. Yesterday when I suggested he cooked dinner for The Girl and myself, as I’d been working all day and racing round nursing homes, he looked shocked, before producing what looked like a plastic packet of cubed brown stuff from the fridge. ‘I could cook this,’ he said hopefully, waving the noxious bag under my nose. It smelled like curry coated poo. ‘How are you going to cook it?’ I asked.
‘Don’t know,’ said dad.
Years ago, I had a boyfriend who invited me round for dinner and produced two salmon steaks which he ‘hoped’ I could cook. I laughed but he was serious. Shortly after I left him with his salmon steaks. He didn’t understand why I was so annoyed.
But my dad is from another generation, so maybe I should be more patient. Yesterday I made his favourite pork chops with a mustard sauce and he stood in the kitchen, shuffling about, and hands behind his back like Prince Phillip, as the chops browned and I whisked them onto a warmed plate, poured a glass of wine into the sizzling juices, and added some mustard and a small spoon of cream. When I turned round to ask him to give it a stir, he was fumbling through the cutlery drawer cursing because he couldn’t find the forks. The forks were obviously hiding from him, purely to get at him. Like the plates yesterday. They were hiding too. Bastard things. His frustration at inanimate objects goes from 0 – 60 in ten seconds.
Later I typed out the recipe for him and suggested buying a simple cookbook. Jamie Oliver? No – he can’t stand Jamie Oliver. It’s the mockney accent. What does that have to do with cooking? Nothing – but he can’t stand Jamie Oliver. What about Two Fat Ladies? No – they’re fat. And fat women only appear on television to annoy him personally. I take a deep breath and mention that Robbie Coltrane is also very large but he doesn’t rail against him. Veering between compassion and the desire to throw something at dad, I finally suggest Delia Smith. He agrees.
Of course, dad can manage to feed himself – even if it’s just packaged stuff with the vegetables he grows in his allotment. But such is his fear of failure/trying anything new, coupled with a low tolerance of frustration that I fear he’ll give up too quickly at putting together nice meals for himself. Even if there’s nobody to witness his efforts much less eat them. But I do wish he’d try. He loves food and once he’s mastered a few recipes, he’ll grow in confidence. I tell him this and he kisses me and says he couldn’t have gotten through the last few months without me.