Chestnut porridge and the father-daughter bondThere is an almost inevitable distance that develops between a father and daughter as the child grows up. Yet deep down, there still seems be a constant yearning in the father’s mind to restore the intimacy he had when his daughter was little.
This often frustrates me. One of my father’s favorite memories is of me as a very young child standing on his hands and playing for hours.
Indeed, everyone who knew me as a child has at least one or two stories about my father and me when I was young.
Father Kim, a priest who baptized my brother and me, told us years later how disturbed he was to see me hiding behind my father’s back throughout the Mass. Our old neighbors used to tell us there were nasty rumors in the neighborhood that my father was widowed, because they always saw a little girl hanging out at grocery stores with her father to pick up food when her mother was too lazy to leave home.
There are audiotapes on which my father recorded the voices of my brother and me as we grew up. In one of the series recorded shortly after I turned five, there is a part in which I start to cry on tape, complaining that my brother is getting all the chances to speak into the microphone. Shortly after, the voices are cut. Within a minute, the tape starts to roll again, and I start to talk about my kindergarten friends, chirping. You could only imagine what had actually shut my brother’s lips in that brief moment of disconnection. But my brother often uses that as a sign of the favoritism that runs in our family.
My childhood, though, deserved some compensation.
When I was born, my grandfather, who had expected a boy, was so disappointed that he protested by refusing to name me. He had a name chosen for a boy, but not for me. In the end I was the only child out of all the children of my father’s siblings whose name was not chosen by my grandfather.
The name that was supposed to be given to me was eventually donated to Ji-hwan, my uncle’s son. (Ji-hwan turned out to be a musician, and I became a reporter. So if my grandfather were alive, he should have regrets for not giving a reporter granddaughter the name of a musician grandson.) So you can see that there was a bit of guilt in my father.
The day I turned eight, I stopped playing on my father’s lap. It was almost a conscious decision for me. Ever since then, over meals my father tries to bring up episodes that took place between us. He probably has more memories than I do, which is how he frustrates me sometimes by acting as if he knows me better than I do.
When I woke up last Sunday, he called me into the kitchen and made me a bowl of chestnut porridge. I was half asleep, instinctively moving my spoon. I hate chestnuts. But by the time I finished the porridge, I grew curious about what he was really thinking while he stared at a 30-year-old daughter who had once stood in his hands.
How to cook
Ingredients: 2 cups rice, 1 cup chestnuts, 4 dates, 10 cups water, 3 teaspoons honey or syrup, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon sugar.
1. Soak the rice in water.
2. Grind the chestnuts fine.
3. Remove the pits from the dates. Cut into thin slices. Soak in honey or syrup for a few hours.
4. Using a mixer, grind the rice.
5. In a pot cook the rice, water and chestnut powder, stirring gently over low heat. When it comes to a boil, add sugar and salt.
6. Serve with dates and a sprinkling of chestnut powder.
By Park Soo-mee