The Epicurean

November 27, 2013

The other day my eldest daughter asked if she was in any way like my father, who she never got to know. He died (suddenly, heart attack) when she was a toddler. It was a tough question, and I had to think about it. There’s no obvious physical resemblance (as I get older I look a bit more like him, but have always favored my mother, as does my eldest quite strikingly). One personality trait that perhaps has been handed down through the generations is the Epicurean instinct.

Dad appreciated the finer things in life, and his faithful service to this instinct kept him busy throughout his adult years. He wasn’t a careerist; he was a pleasure-seeker. This trait did not always lead to optimal outcomes in the grand scheme of things, but it meant for a great many excellent moments.

Though he never had any money, he knew how to shop at Brooks Brothers, or have a high time at Bern’s Steak House. He was a hardcore foodie long before anyone used that term. He knew where all the gourmet shops were in Tampa. He purchased the finest tobacco and smoked it in a handsome pipe. He discovered the best purveyor of coffee beans and devised a signature blend. Thanksgiving and Christmas gave him a chance to show his prowess in the kitchen. This was a man who had a strong opinion about the best kind of pepper mill (which he customized with a little washer inserted under the handle!). He did not want to save the world, but he did want to prepare a truly superior turkey.

For complex reasons, I do not have much in the way of memorabilia from my father, and have been hunting for some misplaced photographs to show to my kids. They’d have liked him, and vice versa. That they didn’t get to know one another is something I deeply regret. But of course Dad is with me every step of the way in life, even after all these years. When I make a pot of chili, I make it Dad’s way.

And I invariably think: Dad would say it needs more cumin.

Joel Achenbach writes on science and politics for the Post's national desk and on the "Achenblog."
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Joel Achenbach · November 26, 2013