I once overheard a teenager tell her friend that she and her mother had not eaten a meal together in four years, though they lived in the same house. “She’s on some kind of diet, so we just eat what we like, whenever we like,” she said with a shrug.
I don’t mean to sound judgemental or unkind, but in Reverence: A Forgotten Virtue, Paul Woodruff likens this behaviour to that of the family pet going to its feeding dish whenever it feels hungry. “Something is missing from these people, something that makes a difference between feeding time and meal time, between a home and a kennel,” Woodruff writes. “If you ask them why, they will answer, ‘Who has time for family dinner? It’s only an empty ritual, after all.’ True. Without reverence, rituals are empty.”
Speaking of rituals, my mother and sister and I have a new one: Sunday evenings watching an episode or two of Downton Abbey. There is much I find admirable about this show and the era in which it takes place, not the least of which is the oh-so-genteel habit of dressing for dinner. Life is a lot more informal these days, and (thank heaven) it’s no longer necessary to don evening gowns to eat dinner in one’s own home. But this doesn’t mean that families should no longer gather round a table to eat at least one meal a day with each other. For my family, dinner was always our meal together, but why not another meal if it suits your family’s schedule better? When my mother was growing up, my grandfather often had to attend evening social functions for work, so the family meal together was breakfast.
Flash forward to the other night. Friday night often means sushi for my mom and me. I headed to our regular place after work, got there early, was seated by our usual smiling server. She went off to get me a pot of tea, and I opened my book, but was distracted by a little girl coming in with her father. Dad helped his little lady off with her coat and got her settled in her chair. The sight of them reminded me of my own dinner dates with my dad—our “one-on-ones” we used to call them. We used to go for sushi too, and it was one of the deepest sources of security for me, to know that I had a couple of hours alone with my dad when I could tell him anything.
A family that prays together, stays together. So does one that eats together, I say.