Family Dinners

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By guest writer Dominic Cooray.

I came across an idea over at Art of Manliness that I took for granted as a kid:

In his farewell address to the nation, President Ronald Reagan declared, “All great change in America begins at the dinner table. So tomorrow night in the kitchen, I hope the talking begins.”

Reagan was a great champion of the power of family dinners, but a commitment to this tradition crosses partisan lines.

President Obama has made family dinner an almost inviolable part of his daily schedule. No matter what is going on, at 6:30 he takes a break from work to sit down and eat with Michelle and their daughters. He’s made it a strict rule not to miss more than two dinners a week.  This dedication is unusual, even among past family-oriented presidents, and sometimes gets in the way of diplomatic outreach and political back-slapping.

Now that’s a wonderful and heroic commitment. Think about it: the President of the United States – if anyone has a valid reason to miss family dinners, it’s him – has a rule that he will not miss more than two dinners a week.

Reading this, I am reminded of my own family meals growing up. I remember something similar – although perhaps not as conscious because I doubt that my parents knew all the ‘theory’ that you’ll see in the Art of Manliness article. Looking back I am grateful for my parents’ commitment to family time and conversation. My father, thankfully, worked a very short drive away from our home. So he had lunch with mother almost every day. And if he got stuck at some meeting mum would be on tenterhooks until he got back, and wouldn’t have her lunch until he did. Dad also almost always had dinner with us. On the rare occasions when he’d go out for dinner with clients or for some company dinner, it was obvious to us that he’d prefer to skip it. And he’d try to leave early so mum wouldn’t be waiting for him too long. Dinner on those days seemed a bit weird and we’d be listening for the sound of dad’s car. And on the occasions when mum had to go out, she’d rush back home to be in time for dad to get back.

I never thought of mum and dad as romantic in the usual sense of the word. My sister​​ and I still keep prodding them to go out for a meal together on their anniversaries and other special occasion (we’re usually unsuccessful in persuading them to do so). But I’ve come to realise that romance can be hidden in the most unassuming places.

The circumstances in Singapore today are very different from those in Oman, where I grew up. However, I have met friends in Singapore who guard their family time jealously. They make it a habit to leave office, hospital or school on time (I marvel at how they manage this when so many people around us are stuck at work until late at night) and often rush home, sometimes travelling long distances, just to make it in time for dinner. They turn down activities and engagements if these clash with dinner time too often. And it’s obvious that this isn’t a burden or a curtailment of their freedom and effectiveness: it’s a sweet duty, something that they cherish.

Do drop by Art of Manliness and read their article on family dinners. I have a feeling it might convince you to start your own family dinnertime ritual.


Dominic Cooray lives in Singapore with his wife Krizia. He’s a political junkie, and enjoys reading, gardening, cooking and taking photos of ordinary objects and places. He can’t make it through the day without coffee.

This article was originally published at For Better, For Worse: The Beauty of Marriage.

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