I often find myself thinking things like “Dad’s lucky, he never lived in a world where Trump was running for president” or “How strange, when Dad was alive people were even less understanding of trans people than they are now (see: Caitlyn Jenner).” It’s been less than two years since he passed and yet the world we live in already seems far off from the one he knew. Sometimes this is comforting—no one should have to experience this Trump run—but it’s also upsetting—frankly, I’d kill to hear my Dad’s invective-laced response to it all. I know how he’d react in most situations, but that doesn’t fill the void of experiencing those reactions.
Last night this void felt particularly deep, as I learned that his best friend (and my pseudo-Uncle) Jonathan Waxman won the Beard Foundation’s award for Best Chef in NYC—one that is no surprise, and a long time coming, but that I wish my Dad had been alive for none the less. I know exactly how he’d react, bragging endlessly with pride, continuing to talk about it for days as if there was so much more to say than just “wow, great!”
One of my favorite things about my Dad was his willingness to admit that superficial titles, awards, and the like actually meant something to him—it was so striking to me that someone, for once, was not trying to play it cool. That, even if he knew they were meaningless, he allowed them to excite and to motivate. And the accolades didn’t have to be for him—not at all—but merely for those in his orbit: the people he loved. He got off on success, as long as it was going to someone who had really worked for it… someone who wasn’t simply served their rewards on a family-crested platter.
He’d probably speak to Jonathan this morning, exchanging various expletives about how “the fuckers” took so long, and sprinkle his joy with a lot of “Dudes,” which would be served right back to him by Jonathan. The emotions, however suppressed via gender norms, would be thick—my Dad having been Jonathan’s partner-in-crime since before the start of his career, as they navigated different apartments, women, jobs and, of course, recipes.
Though they were strikingly different in some ways, Jonathan’s presence is still very much my Dad’s. Being around him is comforting, even if its not the same. In him I can still glimpse the food snobbery of Craig (on-point snobbery, but snobbery nonetheless), the dark humor, the occasional existential malaise. When I eat his food, it doesn’t just feel like home, it is home—made with all the ingredients I was weaned on via my Dad. It’s one of the few times that, for me, indulging doesn’t feel so scary, but instead feels like following a most-pleasant decree. And friends who don’t even know Waxman, or the extent of our families’ history, are transported in the same way, sent to a warmer place via breadcrumbs on kale, the perfect roast chicken or fresh, green garlic-laced gnocchi.
What Jonathan does, for most people, is an art, but for me and my family it’s become that and much more: an edible outline of our history, a reminder of a rock that’s gone but not forgotten, still presiding over that corner table at Barbuto with his French rosé, taking a messy, too-big bite out of life and, in doing so, encouraging the rest of us to do the same.