With St. Patrick’s Day upon us, so comes the inevitable confrontation with my ethnicity because my name, as they say, is as Irish as Paddy’s pig. Assuming Paddy stuffed his sow with kielbasa and sauerkraut then drenched her in marinara.
My mom’s parents emigrated from Italy. My dad’s relatives, to the best of his knowledge, are German and Polish. Consequently, every March 17 of my childhood consisted of facing a table of corned beef boiled beyond recognition and green-tinted Carling Black Label, and devising new ways to conceal the stench of mushy cabbage under mashed potatoes, used napkins or assorted condiments. Not exactly material that has the Ancient Order of Hibernians clamoring for me to marshal a parade.
Without a true family tree of Killarney strawberry to root me, a few years ago I decided to start our own traditional St. Patrick’s Day fest, holding it the Sunday before the real day. I found a recipe to my liking after consulting with the culinary experts of Google: a meal consisting of rubbing down a big point cut of corned beef with brown sugar, cutting up some carrots, onions and red potatoes then simmering it all for 12 hours in a Crock-Pot amid a loch of that one staple of my presumed ancestors’ homeland that does regularly run through my veins – Guinness stout.
When the time arrived, I poured myself a shot of Jameson, put on a CD of Celtic songs and let my little clan dig in. Shockingly, the meat was incredibly good – sweet, tender and slightly intoxicating though not in the sense that feeding it to my kids would result in a knock on the door from Family Services.
My Love claimed it was the best corned beef she ever had. She also believes it was the first corned beef she’d ever had. It’s believable. She’s a Midwestern farm girl of an undetermined Middle European stock that has most likely never even tried Lucky Charms.
The children, however, hated it. Most belligerent was my son who pronounced it “HOR-rible” and “dis-GUST-ing.” Given his lawyerly tendencies for arguing and citing precedent, even at age 5, I’m surprised he didn’t make a case for us eating shamrock-shaped McNuggets. He might have won that debate because they are, like our family, Irish in name only.
I felt a bit wounded by his rejection of our imaginary heritage. If I, as a father, cannot provide my children with some sense of where they came from beyond “mommy’s tummy” or “the hospital” and what that means, am I really doing my job? How will my children learn about the value of the family bond, the strength of blood over money and the need to remember lest we forget?
Then I sobered up and concluded I was reading an awful lot into the dismissal of a slab of fatty red meat.
Still, the next day – on St. Patrick’s Day proper – my son greeted me with a reassuring surprise.
My boy, who is that rare type of morning person whose fits of groggy attitude could make Attila the Hun soil himself, came downstairs dressed for school though not in the clothes I had laid out for him. Instead, he had put on a pair of brown corduroy pants, a green sweatshirt and the oversized foam leprechaun hat his mom had brought home for him last year after a business trip to Dublin.
“And look!” he yelled as he stood in the kitchen just a few feet from the previous day’s scene of heartbreak and heartburn.
With glee, he undid the button to his pants and let them fall to the floor.
Underneath, he sported a pair of shiny, emerald green soccer shorts.
Erin go bragh, my wee little laddie. Erin go bragh.
A version of this first ran on Always Home and Uncool. Photo: Kevin McKeever