on cheesecake, or missing my father

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I’ve been craving cheesecake lately.

It’s a little odd, because I don’t much care about cheesecake. It’s pleasant, and frankly I make great cheesecake, but it’s not something I’ve ever craved. Not until now.

Thanks to social media, today I’ve been privy to several groups of friends chatting at length about what gifts they should get their fathers. And I realized with a pang why I’m thinking about cheesecake.

It’s almost the anniversary of Dad’s death. And instead of thinking about it, instead of reasoning out my sorrow and loss, my body tells me to eat cheesecake.

My dad never needed much, which meant coming up with a gift for him was either very simple or very complicated. The complicated gifts were fun: The big bag of homemade firestarters, fatwood kindling, extra-long matches, and telescoping marshmallow forks, and s’mores ingredients to make the most of the fireplace in my parents’ new home, about which he was so excited. The big flat basket full of fancy paper clips, pens (appropriate for one leftie, from another), nice paper, and magazines to celebrate the completion of a new room on their house, the study he’d wanted for several years. The balsa-light, elegantly carved wood-and-wool dusting tool to clean the top shelves of its built-in bookcases without taxing his overworked lungs and frail arms.

But most years, there was one simple thing he asked for and one simple thing I gave him: a cheesecake. Nothing fancy, nothing gussied up. He liked it as plain and simple as it could get. That’s how I learned to make it when I was a child, and that’s how I like it, too.

When he was young and stronger, I’d make a whole cheesecake for him to keep in the fridge and eat huge slices of until it was gone. As he got older and his appetite failed, I made smaller cheesecakes, or made a batch of two-bite cheesecakes or bars to keep in the freezer so he could nibble away on them for months. He’d call me up, days or weeks or months later, to tell me how much he loved it, and we both knew it was more than cheesecake he loved.

I’ve made cheesecake since my father died — once, for a party a few months later. I don’t think I even tasted it. I haven’t made it since.

But this winter, I will. I’ll make a simple cheesecake, just cream cheese, eggs, sugar, and a spike of vanilla and lemon in a barely-sweet crust. And we’ll eat it. And I’ll remember my father, who loved complicated things and simple things. And I’ll think about how our relationship was complicated and simple, and how much I love him.

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