Danville Express

Newsfront - June 15, 2007

Folks identify with 'Dinner with Dad'

Author finds simple idea to be complex in reality

by Natalie O'Neill

For one year, author Cameron Stracher conducted a family experiment.

The idea seemed simple enough: Cook and eat dinner with his wife and kids five times a week. Reintroduce a dying ritual - make a meal, sit down, and share food and conversation.

"Too many of us think we have to work, work, work and always have our Blackberries or cell phones on us. You have to be able to say, 'I'm unreachable right now,'" he said at his reading at Rakestraw Books in Danville last week.

With picky eaters for kids, drastic career changes, and a wife who enjoys her space, his simple idea quickly became complex.

"I'd find myself screaming at them, 'Eat your food!'" he said at the reading, provoking a laugh of recognition from an intimate Danville audience.

His book "Dinner with Dad" is all about this journey - learning how to break bread without breaking your back. He shared his personal experiences and a pivotal chapter of his book as part of a fundraiser for the San Ramon Valley YMCA last Thursday.

"Strong families are what the YMCA is all about and I thought that was a great tie in," said Michael Barnard of Rakestraw Books.

As a strained-but-successful lawyer and professor, some major life changes came along with Stracher's commitment to dinner with his family. Before the book, he commuted from Connecticut to Manhattan and then into Kansas City by plane twice a week, an exhausting task. He usually ate dinner alone on the late train home.

"I rarely saw my wife and kids awake," he said." I don't know how I thought I could do it. That's just my personality."

Then one day he had an epiphany. His kids were getting older every second, his wife was distant, and life was passing him by, he said. In his reading, he noted, "Once I walked my son to preschool. Now I can't recall his teacher's name."

His storytelling prompted a fervent and enthusiastic discussion about balancing family with work. Danville audience members related their own experiences to Stracher and some made comments about the evolution of the family and child development.

"When I was growing up, if it was Tuesday, I would know exactly what would be for dinner," said Alamo resident Randy Nahas in a conversation about why modern families so rarely gather together for a meal.

Even in a family oriented community like Danville, with busy kids and hectic work schedules, it's hard to get everybody together, listeners agreed. But much of it is about prioritizing and making the decision to change your habits, Stracher said.

"You can do it, you need to make choices. Life isn't easy. I hate to be cliche, obviously you have to pay the bills to support the family. It's about making time," he encouraged.

Kathy Chiverton, executive director of the San Ramon Valley YMCA, attended and was pleased that the subject matter - forging solid family connections - related to the mission of the YMCA.

"The Y feels having a strong father presence is key to a child's development," she said, noting the YMCA's adventure guides program in which kids go on outdoor expeditions with their dads.

The trips recently included white water rafting, an overnight campout on Alcatraz, and pinewood derby races. It's a chance for daughters and sons to bond with their dads, she said.

Danville and Alamo fans sat engrossed as Stracher talked about how, in some ways, dealing with work is easier than coping with family affairs.

"At work you have more control over your environment ...You can't schedule a meeting with the kids," he said.

Work is usually organized and outwardly rewarding, whereas home can be chaotic and often is thankless, he added.

This, along with feeling unappreciated and the realization that his wife was content with having the house to herself were obstacles he had to overcome when writing "Dinner with Dad," he said.

"As my wife put it, it was too much 'togetherness,'" he said, prompting more laughter.

"Dinner with Dad" explores themes pertinent to the modern family and is available at Rakestraw books in Danville. To sign up for next school year's YMCA adventure guides program, call 831-1100.

"Work is about being away, home is about being present," Stracher said.

Contact Natalie O'Neill at noneill@danvilleweekly.com

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