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Cameron Stracher became fed up with the daily grind of his career as a corporate attorney, which often left him too tired, or too late, to join his family at the dinner table. To reconnect with his wife and two children, Simon, 11, and Lulu, 7, he decided to cook for his family five nights a week for a year. He is the author of Dinner with Dad: How I Found My Way Back to the Family Table.
What motivated this culinary experiment of yours?
I was really looking for an excuse to change my life. As I describe in the book, I was burning the candle at multiple ends. When I got home everyone was asleep and I left the house before they were awake. I realized I was missing the most important part of my children's lives and my wife. I felt trapped and didn't know what to do to fix it and came up with this crazy idea. And it wasn't ambitious enough to just come home for dinner, but to actually prepare dinner -- to be a fairly equal contributor to the family life.
Do you think this is the wish of a lot of dads out there?
I definitely think a lot of dads want to be home for dinner. Everyone I spoke to expressed envy, amazement, dismay, jealousy. They all wanted to do it in some form or another. That desire to be home with the family for supper is deeply rooted in not only women's lives, but men's lives as well. We grew up with that as part of our own childhoods, but don't have that now with the increased pace of work. Even when we're home, we're not home anymore. We're home but sneaking a look at the BlackBerry at the table.
And like so many Americans, your work hours really were ridiculous, weren't they?
I think it's a problem across the country. It's worse in the big cities. It used to be that everyone killed themselves in New York and LA. And now everyone kills themselves everywhere. People used to move to Chicago to have a lifestyle. People don't have that anymore.
Fast Food chains like KFC are marketing the "return" of the family meal, as in take-out, but that's counterproductive to what you were trying to do, right?
I think that's right. They make the food for you but are they making it possible to sit down and eat it together? I know that's what happened in my house. If we order pizza chances are we're not going to eat the pizza at the table. With my experiment it was literally about having my daughter dip her hands in flour and making gnocchi and making my son clean the table. We still have struggles with it, but it's a good opportunity to sit them down and ask, hey, tell us about what's going on in your life.
Tell me about the family meal as it relates to your gender role in your own marriage.
My wife and I fell in love making food and we never really wanted that Leave It to Beaver life where I'm working and she's cooking. This isn't what I thought our marriage was going to be. I don't like being the guy who earns the money and doesn't know what's going on in my family's lives.
A lot has changed then?
Oh, yes. One of the happiest moments was when Lulu turned to me and said, Dad what are we having for dinner? That changed everything for me. She saw me that way after never seeing me that way. Now she routinely asks me that.
Originally published on LHJ.com, June 2007.