An Extra Seat at the Thanksgiving Dinner Table

Thanksgiving Features

By Andrea Kayda

As a chronic sufferer of “only-child syndrome,” one practice I never learned to perfect was that of sharing. I never enjoyed projects involving group work and I definitely don’t like to share my food. So earlier this month when my dad informed me we would be spending Thanksgiving with his girlfriend, Cathy, I wasn’t exactly thrilled.

I knew that my dad was dating, my parents have been divorced for years and I had met other girlfriends of his in the past, including Cathy briefly, but none of them were ever included in the holiday lineup. I have always spent Thanksgiving in my home state of North Carolina with just the three “F’s” — my father, food and football; but this year, I struggled with the idea of incorporating a “G” — girlfriend — into the mix. I had nothing against Cathy; I barely knew her, yet I couldn’t help but feel wounded.

So when Dad called a few days before my trip to let me know Cathy would be joining us for Thanksgiving dinner, the news came as quite a surprise. I didn’t know what to say, so I said nothing. My dad must have been able to sense my discomfort because he immediately assured me that I would love her once I got to know her. I wasn’t convinced, but was too embarrassed to challenge him. This didn’t sit right with me. My dad and I have always been so close; I worried that Cathy would create a wedge between us. I was nervous about being replaced in his life.

After brooding for a few days over the change in plans, I decided to embrace the holiday spirit and accept spending the evening with my dad’s plus-one at the dinner table. I packed a dozen recipes and boarded the plane.

Waking up on Thanksgiving morning, I felt anxious about seeing Cathy. Thankfully, I had the distraction of cooking and getting everything ready in time for dinner, which, for Dad and me, has always been a casual meal with no-frills turkey, gravy and stuffing, before retiring to the couch to watch football.

But this Thanksgiving was different. I could tell my dad wanted to make the day a memorable one: he spent extra time in the kitchen, was more hands-on with the menu and even, shockingly, turned off the television while we were getting ready.

Four dishes and three burned fingers later, Cathy arrived with a pumpkin pie. My dad left us alone to “do what women do best” — talk. She wanted to know about my classes and whether or not I was dating anyone. She was just as I remembered her — skinny with blonde, curly hair; but somehow she looked more beautiful to me that day. I found we shared a sense of humor and bonded over teasing my dad about his bad jokes. We cooked the last Thanksgiving dish, a green bean casserole, together.

It was refreshing to see my dad and Cathy interact because they seemed to genuinely complement one another. They were silly and fun and were constantly giggling at something the other person said. My dad seemed younger in her presence and, I had to admit, I had not seen him so happy in years.

I was suddenly ashamed for not accepting Cathy more readily. She clearly loves my father. I was reminded that this is, after all, a day of giving thanks and showing appreciation for what we have. I realized that I was grateful that my dad, who spends most of his time alone, especially as my visits become less frequent, now had Cathy in his life

From this Thanksgiving forward, the three “F’s” will become the four “F’s,” because, also over the weekend, my dad made Cathy his fiancée. And I couldn’t be more thankful.