January 16, 2000



Bad Dad


Okay, so I'm a bad dad.

Your first instinct is probably to blame it on gluttony or selfishness or insensitivity or something equally negative as that. Well, you'd be wrong. The roots of this little fridge faux pas can be found way back in the fertile ground of bachelorhood.

I was a bachelor for a lot longer than I've been a husband and a lot-lot longer than I've been a dad, so I have a long and not-so-shining history of being an opportunistic and not particularly discriminating eater, a "skill" which was honed to razor perfection in my early college days when I lived in a frat house and lived on a budget of $20 a week, $15 of which was for beer. Now, while this comes in handy now that I'm married to an enthusiastic kitchen experimenter and eater of ethnic foods often built around oddly prepared fish, it doesn't exactly lend itself well to household harmony when the household rations are dwindling. Which, and I'm not pointing any fingers or anything but..., they tend to do around here sometimes.

Look, many's been the day when a "good" dinner for me consisted of a plate of spaghetti with margarine, and if there happened to be some beef jerky laying around to toss in for protein, well, so much the better. And that was good eatin', boy. Living at the frat knocked down a lot of my gastronomic inhibitions, lemme tell ya. It got to where if something didn't move, something might be lunch.

When I moved out of the frat and on up in the world, my menu improved considerably -- I started stocking the larder with things like bread and lunchmeat and, if I felt like a hot meal, Hamburger Helper. You know: actual food items. But it had to be quick, it had to be easy. It pretty much had to be nukeable. Just because I was eating better didn't mean I wanted to actually spend time putting it together. Boil water, brown hamburger meat, push buttons on a microwave -- that was all the cooking I was interested in. It was either that or a sandwich.

I lived that way for a lot of years, through several girlfriends. I'd get fancy early on in the relationships and pull the bachelor's trump card -- "Let me make dinner for you" -- and they all got spaghetti with garlic bread on the side. And no lie, probably half those times the garlic bread came out of the broiler in flames. But that was all the cooking that happened at my house. It was nuke it or stick it between slices of bread or call for take out.

So I've long been conditioned toward eating anything remotely edible, especially if it's easy. Marriage can't change something as in-your-bones as that. Even now, I'll complain to Beth that there's nothing to eat in the house, and she'll point out a cupboard stocked with soup and a freezer stocked with steaks and ingredients galore for everything from Beef Wellington to shepherd's pie. Me, I just don't see it. If I have to cook it, it ain't there. She shows me all these things and I go make a ketchup sandwich.

Which brings us to Lunchables. A bachelor designed them, I just know it. Targeted at moms, marketed as the ideal snack for kids, these things are catnip for bachelors -- or bachelor-types like me. You've got your lunch meat, your cheese food product, your crackers and your dessert -- all in one easy-open package! No longer do you have to hassle with opening four packages and using a plate, no, now it's all right there for you in one shot. And it's the perfect sized snack, too! It just doesn't get any better than this.

Used to be I'd be up late watching something Important and Deep and Meaningful on Showtime (read: tits and ass) and if I got hungry I'd have to go to the kitchen and mess around with the bread and the cheese and the lunchmeat and the mayo and scrounge up a clean knife and find a paper plate and find counter space to put it all together ... and I'd do all this while leaning way over so I could see the TV, because you don't want to miss a single moment when it's a Chicks In Prison movie and they're talking showers, believe me. Big hassle. Big.

But with Lunchables... Oh my God, could anything be simpler? You wait for one of the inevitable dialogue scenes, dash for the fridge, grab a Lunchables and a Coke, and you're back on the couch before the matron has even mentioned the upcoming strip search. You don't miss a thing getting your snack, and then it's so ingeniously designed that you don't miss anything building it, either. None of that pesky looking away from the TV while you fix it; there's a separate compartment for each component -- meat, crackers, cheese -- so you can build each two-bite-sized morsel by touch. Then when you're done, there are cookies in yet another compartment! You get your shower scene and cookies too!

So it's true that I've been eating Zoe's Lunchables. Guilty as charged. But can you blame me? These things were so obviously made for men like me that they should have called them Chuckables. Well, maybe not. Chuckables sort of conjures the wrong mental picture, I think. But do you take my point? These things are what I was born to eat.

So yeah, I'm a bad dad. I eat Zoe's Lunchables. But it's not my fault; it's genetics -- and marketing.

But if a few Toy Story 2 cookies go down in the fray, well... Maybe somebody should have hidden the box better.