My father was a couch potato. My husband makes the whipped potatoes.
In her exploration of gender roles at Thanksgiving, author Linda Lowen asked:
“Could a holiday so clearly rooted in patriarchal traditions ever evolve into a more gender equitable celebration?”
If you compare my family of origin to the way my husband Steve and I currently take on turkey-day, the answer is a resounding YES.
Allow me to show you how by walking you through the course of a year in our lives from one Thanksgiving to the next as it manifested in the past and as we do it now.
Twelve Months in Advance.
Thanksgivings past: My mother begins planning next year’s meal before we have cleared the dishes from the current thanksgiving. My father eats his turkey at the head of the table.
Thanksgivings present: We enjoy our meal and give thanks.
Four Months Out.
Thanksgivings past: The guest list is finalized. My mother activates a phone tree and the location (always our house) and diners (always everyone) are locked in. My father remains blissfully ignorant of this difficult negotiation.
Thanksgivings present: Steve and I go about our regular life.
Three Months Out.
Thanksgivings past: The menu planning begins. At every gathering and on every phone call we talk turkey. Some might call it tiring, but not my mother. My father stays out of it.
Thanksgivings present: Steve and I happily figure out that we are hosting again.
Two Weeks Out.
Thanksgivings past: My mother runs her first of many food shops. She selects non perishables which then cover our counters, as Thanksgiving literally as well as figuratively takes over our life. My father grumbles lightly when he has no place to butter his toast.
Thanksgivings present: Steve plans our menu, down to our “pie-fecta.” A trio of pies that he bakes every year. He reviews the menu with me for small tweaks.
One Week Out.
Thanksgivings past: My mother and I review the menu for the 76th time. There is also a food shop. One again my father is MIA for the unloading. It is his MO.
Thanksgivings present: Steve orders our turkey.
Four Days Out.
Thanksgivings past: My mother and I polish the silver that comes out once a year and set the table. That’s right. We set the table four days in advance. Once again we shop for food.
Thanksgivings present: Steve goes food shopping. I am there to help him unload and battle the full fridge. Nothing stays out on the counter.
Three Days Out.
Thanksgivings past: Finally we can bring in the fresh food. My mother calls my father to bring in the groceries. This is his first Thanksgiving task. However he takes so long to respond that she has unloaded the car and put away the food (on the counter when possible) before he ambles in.
Thanksgivings present: The pie-fecta prep begins. Steve is up to his elbows in flour. The boys are there to eat the scraps of pie crusts. I am rummaging around for our table linens which somehow end up in a different place every year.
Two Days Out.
Thanksgivings past: My mother sets out all of our serving dishes and utensils on the kitchen table. My father shuffles away in defeat as he has neither a place to butter his toast nor to eat it.
Thanksgivings present: I set the Thanksgiving table (at least it isn’t four days out). Steve begins cooking. We eat at the kitchen island.
In the Wee Hours of Thanksgiving morning.
Thanksgivings past: My mother is up to her elbow in Butterball turkey as she transfers the beast into the oven. My father snores.
Thanksgivings present: My husband is up to his elbow in local organic turkey. I snore.
Thanksgivings past: My father carves the turkey. My mother stands so close directing him that she risks being carved herself.
Thanksgivings present: Steve carves the turkey. I entertain guests during this 1 hour process. He is an engineer after all. This bird is about to be taken down with precision.
Thanksgiving 4 pm.
Thanksgivings past: My mother begins planning next year’s meal at the Thanksgiving table. My father eats his turkey at the head of the table. My mother nudges my father to begin a thanksgiving toast. My father looks surprised.
Thanksgivings present: We enjoy our meal and give thanks. My son starts expressing his gratitude.
Thanksgivings past: My mother and I clean up. My father “watches” football.
Thanksgivings present: Steve and I clean up.
Our sample size of one family can’t tell the whole story, yet just one generation removed from my 1950s-style upbringing you will find my husband in an apron with a rolling pin and me on the couch watching football.
Right after I have helped clean up, of course.
Photo credit: courtesy of the author.