My Father: The Eater, the Trickster King
A man of many appetites gets a diagnosis that demands he suppress them
The family myth goes like this: 10 years ago, my aunt asks my father for the recipe to his famous red-braised pork. He sends her home with written instructions, but the results are not quite right. A year later, she asks again, and again he gives her instructions, exactly the same as before. With one added ingredient. The next year, one added step. The year after that, one less ingredient. Ten years later, she still does not have the right recipe.
My father is a man who seems to have been made for mythologizing. A man who is too smart for his own good. Too inventive for his own good. Too romantic, too impatient, too driven, too mischievous, too jealous. He is a tangle of superlatives, and none have made his life any easier. The stories I tell of him could easily fit into the canon of trickster tales, my father arm in arm with Br’er Rabbit, Anansi the Spider, and Sun Wukong the Monkey King.
There is “My Father and the Highway Bamboo Heist,” in which after months of commuting along Maryland’s Clara Barton Parkway, with its untouched bamboo forests, my father pulls over one Sunday with an empty tofu bucket and a knife. Surely the forest will not miss a couple tender shoots. For many Sundays, he sits at the bottom of our garage stairs, bucket between his legs, whittling the husk away from the pale yellow meat. Then, as the story always goes, my father gets bolder. He moves beyond the remoter reaches of the forest, edging closer to the interstate until, one Sunday, a police car pulls up next to him. My father wipes the sweat from his eyes and waves. To this day, he maintains that he stopped collecting the bamboo because it didn’t taste “as good as it does in China.” Though the police nearly arresting him “had some impact.”
Another favorite is “My Father and the Sky Chestnuts.” Growing up, we spent weekends hiking Sugarloaf Mountain. One day in early fall, we return to our car to find fat, spiny burrs caught in our ski rack: chestnuts, fallen from nearby trees. We bring them home and my father roasts them in the oven for what feels to us like hours — and apparently to him as well, because as soon as he takes the tray out, he pops a chestnut right into his mouth. He…