August 2017. With a carload of young and adult men, I pulled into a small parking lot at the base of a 4-day long backpacking trail. We were there to summit the tallest peak in Utah.
As you can imagine, mobile phone reception was spotty, but a voicemail from my wife reached me as we pulled in.
She had been to the doctor.
The diagnosis: Papillary Thyroid Carcinoma.
Her doctor caught it very early; the post-operative recovery rate above 99%. She was one of the lucky ones.
It shocked her into making some pretty dramatic lifestyle changes which I’ve written about before. One noteworthy change which I’ve also written about: my wife decided to become a health coach.
By late 2019, her health coaching business was flourishing. She was — from my vantage point — always busy with clients, trainings, postings, meetings, phone calls, and the like. I found myself frequently tasked with preparing meals for our family.
I hated it.
I told myself this story — almost every time I cooked — that her business was more important to her than our family. I had also accepted a false assumption that because I had been the primary provider for our family for so many years, she should be the one preparing meals. (How’s that for responsibility bias?)
There was a culminating event for my wife and me in the midst of COVID-19. I was busier than ever in my work including work on a side hustle and so was she. For her business, COVID was a catalyst for a lot of people. Getting healthy was a way to mitigate the possibility of getting hit too hard — fatally hard — by COVID. Where so many businesses languished, hers flourished.
One night, I was feeling particularly frustrated after a hard day at work. I came home. It was late. Nobody had eaten dinner yet. My wife was busily working away with a client (virtually, of course) in her office. Without saying anything, I judged her harshly, again, for caring more about her clients than our family.
And then, I did something I had not previously done. I made a conscious choice NOT to be frustrated anymore. I accepted the situation for what it was. Really. My wife was absolutely not being inattentive to our family. The fridge and pantry were stocked. Our kids had easy access to the foods they love. The house was clean. Earlier in the day, she had taken kids to various activities that were accessible under COVID guidelines.
My perception was completely wrong. I really missed the details: she was working hard during the day when I wasn’t around to see what was going on; making sure most things were getting done. In the evening, when her clients were home from their own jobs, she would get busy with them. (I’m sure I’m the only husband in history who has questioned what his wife does while he’s away at work.)
That evening, I opened the cabinet where we keep our spices and some baking supplies. I opened a few of the small jars and slowly breathed in the aromas of the various spices: spices I knew by name but couldn’t identify by sight or smell.
If you’ve never seen the movie “The Hundred-Foot Journey” I recommend it highly. Manish Dayal’s character Hassan Haji, as a young man, learns to appreciate food in all its beauty. One of the opening scenes has young Hassan shopping in the market with his mother. They’re trying to get fresh sea urchin. I’m not going to spoil the scene for you. For me, it’s magical. It has risen the ranks to one of my favorite movies of all time.
I don’t remember what I made that night for dinner. We sat down to eat at 8:00 pm which is unusually late for us to eat dinner. I do remember, however, that my kids loved it. My wife appreciated it.
I experienced a dramatic change that night. Cooking for my family — in that single act — became one of my favorite things. To see the satisfied looks on my children’s faces and to recognize the relief on my wife’s. That’s powerful stuff! When I stopped resisting on the basis of some previously un-challenged notion I had in my head, I found unexpected love. It was never my wife’s job to cook dinner. When she wasn’t working, she did it day in and day out. Now that we’re both working, it’s a responsibility I’ve become happy to assume much of the time.
I still love when my wife cooks. I’m pretty sure she makes the best honey lime chicken enchiladas anywhere. They’re the stuff of legends. But, I love that I can contribute to her well-being by regularly taking the dinner concern off her plate. (See what I did there?)
The biggest surprise though: I love cooking! I love concocting special blends of herbs and spices for whatever dish I’m whipping up that night. I love seeing the repeated reactions of my wife and kids when I cook something they love. Cooking has become a new favorite hobby and has the major added benefit of actually reducing stress in my own life.
Now, when I go to the grocery store , I try to find my way to the spice section. Today, I discovered Tarragon which I plan to use in preparing dinner for my people tomorrow.
Here’s the moral of the story: sometimes I have to get out of my own way to discover the things I love. Cooking for my family has actually taught me to question a lot of biases in my life, but that’s a topic for another day.