We'd strap on our feedbags and talk sometimes long after our plates were clean. Except Maggie — she never cleans her plate because she doesn't like vegetables.
Our chats ranged from family, to friends, to school, to books, to movies. Sometimes we'd reminisce. Sometimes we'd examine the future. Because of our evening mealtime ritual, I know that Maggie wants to be an actress and Evien wants to be a lawyer. Evien even knows that only 13 percent of potential students who apply at Harvard get accepted.
Because Amy insists on eating together as a family, I know my daughters' hopes, fears, friends names and teachers’ idiosyncrasies. I also know the triumphs and challenges of my wife's work, the places she traveled before we met, and the places she'd like to visit when Evien's studying at Harvard and Maggie's performing on Broadway.
Since my daughters have meandered into adolescence, our dinnertime conversations have changed. Evien may say something like, "I Googled some really funny memes on my Chromebook today. Dad, please pass the butter."
Maggie may say, "I downloaded an app on my tablet so I could create an avatar and send emojis to my friends."
Amy talks about things like Facebook, Snapchat, Pinterest and Schoology. Sometimes the only part of the conversation I understand is, "Please pass the butter."
Oftentimes, I feel like an exchange student sitting down to eat with a host family from another planet. I can make out some of the words they say, but the words don't congeal into a legible sentence. One evening I asked, "What's a meme?"
My family looked at me agape, then they broke into laughter. After they stopped spitting particles of food from chortling and wiped tears, Evien said, "That was really funny, Dad, pretending not to know what a meme is."
I grinned uncomfortably and said, " Yeah, I really had you going for a minute." Then the grin dropped from my face and I said, "Seriously, what's a meme?"
"You really don't know?"
Even after Evien explained in painstaking detail what a meme was, I still didn't understand it. Finally, she said, "Forget it."
I went back to my mashed potatoes. I understand mashed potatoes.
Almost every night I walk away from the table feeling like an antique, an object that once had a purpose but has outlived its usefulness like a protractor, CB radio or TV antenna. When I was younger, books were made of paper, not chrome; apps were something you filled out when you were looking for a job; tablets were swallowed with a swig of water; and google was something babies did on your shoulder. The words are the same but the meanings have changed.
I can't help it, I'm just not interested in technology. I have a college education, but in my own home, I feel illiterate. My wife has a smartphone that is way smarter than me. All she has to do is pick it up and say, "What is the capital of Denmark?" In seconds, a calm, relaxed voice responds, "The capital of Denmark is Copenhagen."
If she had asked me, I would have responded in a perturbed voice, "Who cares? Why do you wanna know that?"
A few days before Mother's Day, I took Evien and Maggie shopping. "I know exactly what Mom wants," Maggie said. "A Fitbit."
As we entered the store, I was expecting dumbbells or a Thigh Master. Instead, the girls brought me to a counter filled with tiny boxes.
"That's just a watch," I said.
"Oh, no," Evien said. "This counts your steps and calculates your heart rate."
"I don't know how this thing is going to help Mom get into shape," I said. "Are you sure this is what she wants?"
"Yes!" the girls said in unison.
On Mother's Day, Amy was surprised and pleased when she opened her new Fitbit. She strapped it on and programmed it. She walked around the kitchen and said, "I've logged 10 steps already." Then she asked me, "Will you go for walks with me?"
"Do you mean actually strapping on shoes and pounding the pavement, or are 'walks' some kind of new computer lingo?" I asked.
"I mean, will you go for walks with me outside?"
Walks. With my wife. Outside. Now that's something even a technologically illiterate guy like me can understand.
— By Grant Berry, Tribune community columnist