His Dinner

Over my 10 days in Ireland, I was reminded of something I had thought vanished – the concept of “his dinner”.

This refers to men who are unable to make their own meals, men who must be catered for as if they were toddlers. And the daily timetable of their woman must be adjusted so that she can be home in time to prepare and serve the man “his” dinner. Should the woman have other things to occupy her – her life, or interests, or emergency surgery – then two options are available to the man:

  1. He can go to the nearest town and have “his dinner” in a bar or take-away
  2. He can be dispatched to the nearest available woman in his immediate family who will then supply him with “his” dinner

On no account will the man be called upon to actually prepare any food, or do anything more complicated in the kitchen than make a sandwich or boil some water for tea.

Back when I was growing up, this was the common practise, as the vast majority of men went directly from their mother’s care to their wife’s care. And sure, my father worked a lot on the farm, but so did my mother, and she had the added responsibility of taking care of the children. So why she had the task of also fixing ALL of the food, I have no idea. That’s just how it was.

And this, I discovered, is still going on in rural Ireland. Both of my sisters have men who require “their dinners” on a regular basis, and who on occasion get shipped to other houses when the service is not available at their own. Maybe it’s just me having lived half of my life away from home, but I find this astounding and very sad.

Can these men not be curious about food? Aren’t they even the slightest bit interested in how to do simple things like bake bread, or throw a salad together, or fix a casserole? I find this amazing, that otherwise smart and curious men can be so totally uninterested in how to put a basic meal together.

And bear in mind that Irish rural fare is not terribly complicated—for example, I wanted some garlic when I was home a few years ago and was informed by my mother that, oh no, they wouldn’t have garlic in the local village shop. (They did, as it turned out).

While discussing this phenomenon, my mother brought up, as an example of male ability in the food area, the case of my brother-in-law who was so skilled that he could manage to make his own soup and fix some bread with it for his lunch. She said this as a positive thing, and I could only grin inanely, amazed that this was the best example she could come up with.

She also mentioned how versatile I used to be in the kitchen before I left home, in the late 80s. Oh yes, I was very versatile, as long as a thing could be fried, or deep-fried, or squeezed between two pieces of bread. Jamie Oliver of the deep-fryer, that was me.

How impoverished life must be for these men, to have to rely completely on somebody else’s cooking ability their whole lives. And, as well as this, to be deprived the pleasure of cooking for yourself and other people which, to me, is one of the great joys in life: hanging around a kitchen with an apron on, sipping wine, chopping things, tasting your way, trying things out and having a laugh.

Of course, now with divorce being available in Ireland, the risk is that a lot of these men may suddenly find that “their” dinners are not on the table as expected. And this means that they will have to learn to fry sausages in a great hurry, or else get a season ticket at the local Chinese takeaway.

Or perhaps a whole bunch of them can move together in a big house and learn to cook for each other, and we can make a very sad French movie out of it where at least three people hang themselves at the end because the lamp chops were overdone, the mussels weren’t fresh, or somebody didn’t leave the Pinot Noir out to breathe.

And we’ll call it, of course, “Son Dîner”.

/ paddy


14 thoughts on “His Dinner

  1. I think my dear late father had about three recipes he could manage – one was a strange concoction of fish, sliced potatoes and eggs, fried with loads of black pepper. The others were pancakes and French Toast. After he had his stroke, the occupational therapist mentioned that he would be working on simple tasks like making a cup of tea. “Oh good,” said my mother, “it’s about bloody time.” Which was possible unfair, but good for a laugh.

  2. Man, you really must pass that driving test and start getting about a bit when you come home – you can have a gastro-tour of Ireland. I’ll cook you my famous chillie, or perhaps spicy venison stew!

  3. Nice to have you back.
    My mother-in-law use to wonder how it is possible her three sons are so good chefs and do their half, or more, of the household work. “They never helped me as long as they lived here”, she says.
    Well, the fact is she did not allow them to put one step into the kitchen, and God forbid, never to touch the washing machine; there might pop out a light pink sheet or something else very fatal :-)

  4. Martin: I’ve more of a man that you will ever know.

    csrster: Yes, kids tend to not appreciate the finer things.

    DrDan: I am SO taking you up on that one. Venison stew sounds fab.

    Blackout: It was the same for me. SO maybe the whole “forbidden” aspect made it exciting.

    Bill Baxter: I am literally green with envy. Green, eh? Eh?

  5. ah, now I understand the argument my downstairs neighbours had the other night (him accusing her of not ‘having his dinner ready’). I didn’t realise this was such a crucial thing in the male psyche. It must threaten his masculinity not having his dinner fixed by the missus every night, so much so that he shouts at her for ages before proceeding to beat her up :|

  6. And that’s when you pick up your cast iron skillet and go downstairs and fix him… his dinner… yeah. That.

    Paddy: My dad is that way. He doesn’t think about it–mother just fixes food for him. And if she doesn’t then he doesn’t have anything to eat. In the summer, he’ll throw some meat on the grill–that’s MANLY cooking! open flame and hunks of flesh–but stuff in the kitchen is woman’s work. Completely beneath men.

    Mom and I went to New York for a week once and we we returned he’d managed to dirty every dish and piece of cutlery and hadn’t washed any of it. The kitchen looked like the one in Withnail and I.

    I suppose it’s good that women outlive men. Or else the men would starve to death shortly after their cooks and maids. I mean, women-folk.

  7. I’m fascinated by the fact that women actually do it. My mom made dinner because dad can’t cook, but he cleaned the house because mom hates cleaning, so it was a tradeoff. Not that expecting-it-to-be-on-the-table-bullshit. Blech.

  8. My ex, who interestingly now lives on the west coast of Ireland, had a repertoire of four meals:

    Lamb Dalestake and baked beans
    Chicken Dalestake and baked beans
    Ham Dalestake and baked beans
    Beef Dalestake and baked beans

    Dalestakes were basically oval burgers of such astonishing awfulness that you cannot get them any more.

    He told me once that he had an exciting new way of preparing baked beans: he would put them in the microwave and take them out when the first one popped.

    I blamed his mother. And my own preference for edible food. I don’t remember feeling particularly hard done by though: I’ve never mown grass in my life.

    (Good god – you’d think I was talking about the 1950s…!)


  9. “Are the men fed, are the men happy?” Ah yes, this is all too familiar. But it’s not just Irish husbands, but Irish sons as well, yourself notwithstanding Paddy. And quite frankly, the women must take some blame for this. Did you ever hear the story about some fellow ringng into Gay Byrne (his radio show) to say that when he left home he didn’t even know how many sugars he took in his tea. Think about it.

  10. Aphra Behn: Yeah I blame the mothers too – my own son gets the same slave treatment from my mum when he is there, without even asking for it. And I did not even taste pasta until one year after I left home. Jeeezus.

    OR Melling: That’s just great. The year’s best anecdote!

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