David Davis struggles to put food on the table, literally.
I stood mid-kitchen holding a large, steaming skillet and peering into whatever it was I had just spent the afternoon fixing for our evening meal. My wife and daughter waited at the dinner table.
“This is no good,” I growled over the irritating whir of the stove’s exhaust fan.
“It’ll be alright,” my wife called optimistically from the dining room.
“No it won’t. We can’t eat this crap,” I responded. “You guys should probably just go out.”
“It doesn’t matter,” she said. “Let’s eat.”
While I knew she was trying to be supportive, those words—it doesn’t matter—infuriated me. It did matter, goddammit; if not to them, then to me.
Disgusted, angry, and embarrassed, I suddenly wheeled around and from five feet away launched the whole nauseating concoction—skillet and all—into the sink, where it clanged off the faucet and caromed around the stainless steel basin like a rim shot, spattering countertops and floor with a clumpy, oily, greenish-beige slough that was supposed to have been our dinner.
I stormed onto the side porch, which abuts the kitchen, to pace and smoke. A few deep puffs later, I was starting to calm down when I looked up and through the window saw my wife and daughter cleaning up my mess. I stomped back into the kitchen.
“Leave this stuff alone,” I ordered. “I’ll clean it up. You two just go on.”
Pausing, they looked at one another then did as I asked.
“Okay, then,” my wife said, wiping her hands on a dishtowel. “Guess will go out for pizza. Want to come?”
“No, I don’t want to come,” I spat back with unchivalrous sarcasm.
To my wife and daughter, it must have seemed I was throwing a tantrum. At one level they were right. But the frustration and anger I felt were unfeigned. After they had gone, I continued the clean up, thinking that, if I couldn’t put an edible meal on the table for my family, then it was only right that I go to bed without my supper. I didn’t, of course. After an appropriate display of self-imposed fasting, I shared a fully stacked, late-night ham sandwich with the dog, for he had missed his supper as well.
During my career, I was no more than a faceless corporate bureaucrat, but I was a good at my job. Over the decades, I had come to know every speck of my tiny niche of the business universe. In short, I was a competent employee. This was the bedrock of my professional confidence, self-esteem, and image.
Then, in the wake of the 2008 financial collapse, my employer offered a buy-out. My wife was still working, so with her encouragement, I took the opportunity for early retirement and started my new job as house cleaner, grocery shopper, and family cook. Cleaning I could do. Grocery shopping took some getting used to but I caught on quickly enough. But my cooking, at which had I very little experience, was a litany of culinary disasters. I was useless.
In the corporate beehive, incompetency cannot hide for long; eventually, it is fired, marginalized, or promoted. But at home there is no place to hide. For the first time in many, many years, I was simply incompetent—couldn’t do my job—couldn’t feed my family—literally. Failure is humiliating, especially so in front of loved ones, and I took the matter seriously. I don’t think my wife and daughter fully appreciated this. It may have been the flying skillets that finally convinced them.
I am happy to report that gradually, meal-by-meal, my cooking skills are improving. I am regaining my self-confidence—and competence. It’s now been—oh, I don’t know—several weeks at least, since last I launched any heavy-metal cookware into my bruised and long-suffering sink.