Posted by: jt | September 1, 2008

catching up

10 year old son: Mom, can I get the ketchup?
Mom: Yes, you may.
Dad: You can put ketchup on your potatoes, but no one is putting ketchup on their fried chicken.
[I consciously refrain from asking for the ketchup to slather it on my chicken.]

10 year old son: Dad, can I please put ketchup on my chicken?
Dad: No.
10 year old son: But –
Mom: (warning tones) Ethan.
5 year old daughter: Why can’t we put ketchup on our chicken?
[no answer]
5 year old daughter: Dad, why can’t we put ketchup on our chicken?
[Dad studiously ignores the 5 year old.]
[I lean over and give the 5 year old a hug.]

I spent Labor Day weekend with my extended family, first at my aunt and uncle’s house and then at my grandparents’. I adore my aunt. I think of her as love personified. She’s warm, caring, considerate and always finds a way to say something positive in the face of a negative. She will deliberately un-judge someone else’s judgment.

Supporting the tired cliché that opposites attract, I think of my uncle as almost judgment personified. He’s a good man and is dedicated, generous and I have a certain level of respect for him, but I fundamentally oppose his worldview. He knows best, you see. He knows what your religious beliefs should be (the Bible, taken literally), he knows what your political beliefs should be (the Bible, taken literally) and, as demonstrated, he knows how you should eat your chicken (did Jesus take a stand on ketchup?).

I have no shortage of opinions. I have no fear of voicing my opinions. I enjoy explaining the reasons why I hold my opinions. I am passionate and, generally, don’t mince words when discussing my opinions.

But you don’t have to share them.

As I watched my cousins eat their ketchup-free chicken, I recalled growing up in a house where I was frequently told to stop sassing. I was frustrated – infinitely frustrated – because I didn’t know what that meant. Sassing seemed to be rude and I wasn’t being rude. All I was doing was trying to understand.

Today, I understand; I was questioning authority. It was inadvertent, but nonetheless, my relentless need to know why was frequently problematic in an all too arbitrary world.

I hugged my smart, thoughtful, inquisitive little cousin, in part trying to comfort her in the midst of her confusion and the frustration of being ignored. The other part was a purely selfish joy that someone else had a need to question the blind authority my uncle demands – however inadvertent it was. She had no intention of being subversive. It wasn’t her goal to be disrespectful. She just didn’t see a problem with putting ketchup on chicken, or why anyone would care how her brother ate his chicken. She needed to understand.

My sassy little cousin gives me hope. One more little girl who isn’t afraid to question her father’s  authority.  One more little girl who asks why.

One more little feminist in the making.



  1. Thanks for sharing. Yes women were meant to be strong.

  2. I think ketchup on chicken sounds gross, but your uncle’s behavior is just weird. It sounds like maybe he had a bad experience w/ chicken and ketchup as a child.

  3. I know, I’ve never before wanted ketchup on fried chicken…but damn, was it tempting.

    And, rest assured, he’s just a control freak. It’s all a big power trip. :P

  4. Just goes to show, if you make something forbidden, suddenly it becomes that much more appealing.

    “DON’T HAVE SEX!!!!!!!!!!”

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