Me, Dad, and Cheesecake for Breakfast.

posted in: Family, Food, Word Nerd 11
Wayne Thiebaud. Pies, Pies, Pies. 1961. Oil on canvas, 20 x 30 in.

Incidentally, that Thiebaud painting lives in Sacramento’s Crocker Art Museum. I saw it with my own two eyes, which, incidentally, are usually bigger than my stomach but never as large as my mouth.

My trip to California over the weekend wasn’t for business. I went and spent time with Leesa, my favorite aunt. She was my favorite aunt before the weekend; now I feel like we should fill out some kind of embossed certificate to announce it. Thanks, Auntie.

It had been a number years since Leesa and I had spent time together. The last time I saw her was when her father died in 2009. That was a suboptimal visit, as you can imagine. Everyone was sad about grandpa being dead and busy with funeral and burial stuff. “Sad and busy” is a dreadful state, and it inevitably comes upon you when someone you love dies. Me and my aunt wanted to reconnect without trying to work around a wedding or a funeral, so I flew out to California to see her, her adorable dog, Otto Lieberman, and the beautiful rosemary bushes that line the patio of her well-appointed California home.

We talked a lot. We drank a lot of coffee. We went to the Crocker Museum to have lunch and see art. We attended a black-tie dinner party. We talked more. We made another pot of coffee. It rained all weekend, so the main component of the visit was conversation. Lucky for me and my aunt, we’re good at conversation and share many (all?) of the same values and interests. And since 75% of my family members are also her family members, there was plenty to discuss in that area. The Fons side of the family was broken up into chunks early on in my life and it’s been a Humpty Dumpty ride ever since. This is true for me; I suspect it feels the same for other Fonses I know aside from my aunt, but I won’t speak for them.

Over the course of our visit, I got some information about my father. I haven’t seen him since Grandpa’s funeral either, but Leesa (his youngest sister) stays in contact. I am wary when I’m about to get information about him and hardly eager to ask for it; the presence of my father in any sort of reportage rarely bodes well. His issues are many. Despite my numerous attempts to make even a surfacey relationship work over the years, we have long been estranged.

I looked up “estranged” in the dictionary. I thought it meant “not in contact.” It’s a bit sadder than that:

estranged |iˈstrānjd|
(of a person) no longer close or affectionate to someone; alienated: John felt more estranged from his daughter than ever | her estranged father.

My aunt told me something by accident that made me at once very sad and very happy, which is an emotional combination more common than being sad and busy, but not any more comfortable. We were talking about pies, Leesa and I, our favorites and methods for making them. We were at the kitchen table.

“You know, we Fonses have a real sweet tooth,” she said, coffee mug in hand. It rained so hard that day, leaves and mud fell out of the gutters onto the sidewalks.

“Really? Like, all of us?” I asked, instantly brightening.

My love of sugar causes me much anxiety. I’m usually worried I eat way, way too much of it, but when I try to eliminate it from my diet (or even cut down on it) I see no point in being alive. That I was somehow not responsible for it, that my sweet tooth was a genetic sentence, that my love of pecan pie and pistachio ice cream actually served to count me among my tribe, well, this made me feel fantastic and warm inside. I instantly thought about eating another one of Leesa’s gourmet marshmallows from the pantry.

“We’re definitely sweets people,” Leesa said. “Your dad, he’ll eat dessert for breakfast. Always would, always loved to. Pie, cheesecake. That’s not for me, but that’s what he would eat for breakfast every day if he had the option. Isn’t that funny?”

I swallowed too much hot coffee. It burned the back of my throat but couldn’t melt the insty-lump that had formed there when Leesa said the words, “Your dad” and “dessert for breakfast.”

I love eating dessert for breakfast. It’s my favorite thing in the world. If there’s cheesecake in the house, I will eat a slice for breakfast and genuinely take no interest in it the rest of the day. In my world, apple pie and coffee are perfect 7:00am foods. Just today, a hazelnut Ritter Sport chocolate bar and a pot of Earl Grey tea constituted my breakfast and you betcher bippy I was at my olympic best all day.

I didn’t know I shared this trait with my father. I didn’t pick up my love for coconut creme pie with my morning coffee by seeing him eat coconut creme pie with his morning coffee. I couldn’t have; I’ve been seated at a breakfast table with the man no more than a handful of times since the divorce. To be thirty-something and discover things about your father, (e.g., he likes cheesecake for breakfast just like you) this information would be bittersweet if he were dead. But as my father is alive, these sorts of discoveries are bittersweet as well as bizarre. We could technically have cheesecake for breakfast together in the near future, my dad and I.

Technically, we could. But emotionally, we can’t. Philosophically, we can’t. Historically, we simply can’t.

I made a pie tonight for Yuri. Buttermilk-brown sugar. Seeing as how it’s delicious and wrapped in foil on the little table where we eat, breakfast is served.


11 Responses

  1. HelenMarie
    | Reply

    My son (43) and I (73) are “estranged”. You see, at 40, he charmed his immediate family into sharing a wonderful vacation at the beach, so that his children “would have the vacation experience he had through his childhood.” Then he went home to CO with his family, knowing that by New Years, he planned to leave them for a new “love.” His children are now 10 and 13. He wanted them to experience a vacation like his but not a life like his, with parents who don’t always see eye to eye, but who manage to compromise and keep our love alive. I have no respect for my son.

    • carly
      | Reply

      Well I’m sure he feels the same for you.

  2. Kitty
    | Reply

    Good God, Mary, I’m so glad you came out of this deep misery the radiant, dynamic and positive person you are!! I sincerely hope your sisters have come out of this ordeal practically undamaged too!! From my own experience during my divorce I know what the custody battle can do to children and I sadly have “lost” one daughter because of it.
    It’s a good thing your “genetically determined” love of a pie breakfast has not suffered from the discovery of its source, because you are you and you will never be somebody else!

  3. craftytammie
    | Reply

    I actually just finished a slice of pecan pie with my morning coffee. I’ve never understood why doughnuts get all the fun. Although, if there’s no pie around, I’ll happily scarf down a ring (or two).

  4. jennifer ward
    | Reply

    Hi Mary, Discovering commonalities with our patents can be discouraging & humbling! It can also help us forgive them (letting go of our expectations & disappointment in them).

  5. Gay Barrett
    | Reply

    Hi Mary,

    To see “human” characteristics of someone that we have long vilified or grown apathetic towards can be jolting.

    It is impressive that you embraced the commonality with pie for breakfast.

    Being an “adult” isn’t always easy, but it is always more spiritually rewarding.

  6. Cris Longacre
    | Reply

    Many people suffer from parental and child estrangements. Most don’t talk about it for fear of being labeled a bad parent or child. I belong to a support group called Estranged Stories which helps a lot. They have a facebook page. We were wishing recently we had a way to make this problem more open. There is little research in the area and most that is done is biased. We are the product of our genes, family and memories even if buried deeply. Estrangement often continues from generation to generation and often is from parental alienation syndrome that occurs in some divorces. Thank you so much for bringing this touchy subject up. Life is happier if we know what we like and dessert for breakfast sounds like a winner to me.

  7. Daynora
    | Reply

    I and my father were also estranged. However unlike you, (I get the impression your father is away) my father and I lived in a town no bigger than a postage stamp. He too traded in one family for another. The thing I think that bothered me the most is he did not trade up. He passed many a moon ago. I think it is a lot easier after they die. Then you don’t have to wonder if you should reach out or whatever. It puts a nice little bow on it, and makes it all done.

  8. Mary Jean
    | Reply

    Mary, I wish I could put my thought into words like you. I think you are a very strong young woman.

  9. […] And so:  me, my dad, and cheesecake for breakfast. […]

  10. […] for breakfast and want to tell you about it, I can do a search for “cheesecake” and probably find something relevant. If for some reason someone starts talking to me about baseball and I want to tell you about it — […]

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