Earlier this month I challenged Forward readers to a #DadLatkeChallenge, inviting fathers to be the ones who make the latkes happen in their homes. This didn’t just mean the peeling in the frying, but also the menu planning, food shopping and guest inviting. As our Who Sets the Table? survey project has shown us, moms are still the ones doing the bulk of the labor required to make Jewish holidays happen in our homes. By challenging dads, we hoped to shake things up a bit, and possibly create new traditions while upholding old ones.
Here’s how it all went down in our house.
November 21, 2015
I tell my husband about my idea for a #DadLatkeChallenge. “We should probably do it,” I say. He agrees, with an attitude that lies somewhere in between enthusiasm and a tender sense of duty. I told him that this includes figuring out which night to make them, inviting guests and the planning and execution of the food.
A few things to I’d like to get out of the way before we carry on. Nathaniel’s not the husband who ever tries to shirk responsibility. He is an active and engaged father — not a “babysitter” — and is not the type to continue talking at the end of the meal while he waits for the womenfolk to take away the plates. (In fact, he’s often the first one up to help clear the plates when we are guests in other people’s homes.) My husband helps, often, and never does he think himself a hero for doing so.
That said, we were still raised in a period in which the division of domestic work was fairly gendered. Neither of our fathers were responsible for executing holiday meals; our mothers, on the other hand, had been trained to do so by their mothers, and so on and so on. We, as members of a generation who don’t just want but also need (with so many families dependent on dual-incomes) both parents to be fluent in both domestic and office work, want to change these old ways. But doing so doesn’t always feel natural, or come easy.
I went to bed that night worrying whether he would remember. Or if he would remember too late. Or if he would remember but the latkes would be terrible. This worrying was partially a result of me being uncomfortable with giving up control, and partially because it is very important to me that our three-year-old son experiences Hanukkah as a special night. I know he wouldn’t remember this particular one, but those visceral impressions of Jewish holidays, of the joy and warmth, endure. There was something more than my perfect table-setting at stake.
November 23, 2015
I break my own zero-intervention policy and remind him to send out the invites. “Hanukkah is soon,” I say. “People’s schedules fill up.”
That day he emails a few friends and after a eight or so emails back-and-forth they settle on December 6th.
December 3, 2015
Without any provocation he texts me menu ideas.
Nathaniel Popper: i see a whole column about having lentil soup with latkes you ok with that? i seems like a good combo to me
Elissa Strauss: Haha yes With a few embellishments (crudités, olives, cheese)
The truth? I didn’t love the idea of lentil soup and latkes. (So salty. And not that Jewish. Who ever speaks about their bubbe’s soup?) But I don’t say anything. This is his night. So lentil soup it is.
December 6, 2015
I’m worried. People are coming over in three hours. He’s not home with groceries. Before he left he insisted that one recipe had told him three big potatoes would make enough latkes for 8 people. I told him no way.
He gets home. There are enough potatoes in his bag (well not as many as I would buy, but enough for everyone to get at least 2-3 latkes), but the rations for crudite and a cheese plate are meager. He got one nice cheese (to be added to one meh one purchased from Trader Joe’s the day before), and only cucumbers and whatever celery he would have leftover from the lentil soup for the crudites. Hmmm.
I get upset. There’s a little shouting. At some point he says, “I’m sorry, I’m just not as good at this as you are.” I try to calm down. He’s right.
Our toddler son comes in the bedroom, where I now am combing my hair. He asks why I am upset. I tell him daddy didn’t get enough cheese or vegetables for the party. He says, “I know. Why don’t we go to the store and get some more? I can call them and see if they have veggies and cheese.” He stiffens the palm of his hand into his approximation of a smartphone and began to dial.
My sister-in-law comes in a few minutes later and comes up with the same solution as my son. We live in Brooklyn, the closest market is two minutes away by foot. There would be enough to eat.
So how did we do? He learned how much effort goes into making holidays feel special. I learned that trial-by-fire isn’t the best way to get him into the spirit of party planning. For now on, we’ll try to find more ways to do these things together.
But was there a heaping plate of golden — and tasty! — latkes? A young boy who saw his dad make them, grated skin and weeping onion eyes and all? And a group of friends who gathered around a crowded table and smothered them in applesauce and sour cream? There was all of that. A happy Hanukkah it was.