Bringing back the family meal
MANO-A-MANO - Adel Tamano () - May 20, 2012 - 12:00am

What makes a family? I think that a big part of what a family is is breaking bread and having meals together. Think about it: what daily event best allows the members of the family to interact in a pleasant, comfortable and nourishing environment? It’s at the table. Most of our lives as families tend to be separate: our kids are at school a majority of the day, we parents are at work, and the sad reality is that other people generally have more time to interact with us than our family does. We do spend more time — excluding sleep time, of course — with co-workers than with our family; and similarly our children spend more time with their teachers, classmates and caregivers. But when the family comes together to share a meal — breakfast and dinner — then despite the fact that we spent most of our day away from each other, we are able to reaffirm the primacy of our family.

Let me give a real example. When my family was living in Fairview (or “far view” as my friends would put it) and my wife and I were working in Makati and Ortigas, respectively, we’d rarely get to have a meal with our kids. We had to leave our house very early in the morning, usually by seven or before that, to get to our offices by nine, so our breakfast was a hurried affair, if at all. Then after work, generally using up two hours for travel time, we’d get to our house by 8:30 or 9:00. By that time, usually, the kids would be asleep, so we’d miss out sharing dinner with them. But after we finally moved to our Condo in Ortigas, we’d have unhurried breakfasts and dinners with the kids. Sharing our meals together, getting to talk about work and school, and joking around during our mealtime has greatly improved our closeness as a family. Now family meals aren’t something reserved solely for weekends our holidays and instead have become part of our daily, regular routine.

And a family meal is truly a unique affair as opposed to eating by yourself or eating at work, although breaking bread with colleagues also develops a sense of unity and closeness. But family is different and there is more than social interaction in a shared meal with the family. There is a spiritual aspect there, particularly when your family, like mine, prays before we eat, thanking God for the food and the opportunity to be together. Family meals don’t merely nourish us physically but it also feeds our family’s spirit, heals our differences, and makes us care more for each other.

Part of it is just about us taking the time and effort to be together as a family unit. Particularly in this fast-paced modern life, the best gift that we get to give our family members is the gift of our time and our presence. And this gift is best shared during our mealtimes with them. Sometimes, when we are forced to be away from our family because of work, we think, well, this is for them anyway and my working supports our family. That’s true of course and there will be times when we’ll have to sacrifice family time for work. However, we should also consider that our family, particularly our small children, will benefit much more from our time and attention, than from the increased salary that we get by working overtime. I can understand how others may have no choice but to be away from their families because of work, and this is probably the biggest sacrifice of our OFWs, but it is also important to consider that our economic needs for our family shouldn’t always trump our family’s spiritual and developmental requirements.

And do you notice how, when we know our meal will be with the family, we take more effort to prepare a good meal? As a law student, when I’d get home from law school late at night, I’d pretty much eat takeout or maybe just open a can of corned beef and it’d be fine — anyway I was only trying to get some fuel in my system. But now, when we prepare our meals for our family, we consider what our kids might like, what my wife and I would like, and, since my children and I are Muslims, we take care to insure our meal is pork-free. Just this mere process of deciding what to serve for breakfast or dinner is already a lesson in tolerance, empathy and graciousness, traits that hopefully our family will imbibe.

As an aside, this is why I’m not a fan of “diet” fads. Sure I want to give my family healthy meals but mealtime should be fun as well. When we eat together, it shouldn’t be a time for strict calorie counting and for serving low-fat, low-salt, low-carb and no-taste meals. Sure, if you have a medical condition, then I understand the need for a strict diet, but otherwise, I don’t mind a few extra calories if it’ll make the meal time more enjoyable.

And one thing we should remember is that great families aren’t effortless affairs where everyone gets along perfectly; instead great families take real effort to spend time and engage with one another. I say this in relation to eating because as I’ve seen how my in-laws have a happy family, I think a big part of having a great, happy family (though no family is perfect of course) is the traditional Sunday meal at the Kapunan house in Tandang Sora. On Sunday, my mother-in-law, who’s in her ‘70s, oversees the preparation for a great family meal. It is a tradition that my kids look forward to, a time to interact with their cousins and to visit their grandparents. While I look forward to the delicious food, largely free of pork in consideration for me and my kids, I see the larger purpose, which is to strengthen family ties and keep everyone in touch.

During the Ramadan season, the Tamano family also gets to have a special excuse to break bread together, specifically for the meal to break our daily fast, which is at about 6:30 p.m. We are all busy with our work and careers but once in a while, my brothers, sister and my mom get to share a meal during Ramadan and it strengthens both our faith and our family. I have great memories of waking very early, 3:30 in the morning to be precise, to have a delicious meal prepared by my mom to ready us for a day of fasting during the holy Ramadan season. There was always a sense of festiveness, regardless of how many viands there were prepared, and seeing my family share the meal together in readiness for the trials of fasting deepened my faith as a Muslim.

As a final thought about sharing a meal, although I am a Muslim, I appreciate the great symbolism of Jesus, whom we revere as a prophet, using a meal to symbolize his deep relationship to his disciples, his spiritual family. The Christian Holy Mass is predicated on a meal shared by Jesus and his disciples. That in itself demonstrates to us how a simple repast can be elevated, with enough love and mercy, into something spiritual and special — a time for bonding, forgiveness, celebration and healing.

CHRISTIAN HOLY MASS DURING THE RAMADAN FAMILY KIDS MAKATI AND ORTIGAS MEAL MEALS TIME TOGETHER WORK
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