Most of us are concerned with those “endangered species” lists. Among the species that are threatened with extinction are the orange-foot pimpleback pearlymussel, the black-capped vireo, the pallid sturgeon, and the fat pocketbook. (I’m not kidding — we always expected the fat pocketbook to go extinct, but this one is a mussel, and the scientific name is Potamilus capax.)


          Of particular concern to me is a species called “Family Dinner.” You do remember the family meal, don’t you? Familius Dinnerensius. You know, that ancient custom of parents and children actually sitting down — actually together — to eat the evening meal? This is a species that thrived when I was a kid, in the ancient era of hula-hoops and Davy Crockett hats. I remember one variety of this species called “Sunday Dinner.” You got home from church and opened the door to the most wonderful fragrance of roast beef in the oven. Then there were the potatoes to mash, water glasses to pour, kids to call to the table, and the communal meal, where we actually talked to each other. It’s a species that is all but extinct in a fast-food and fast-everything world.


          One single dad learned about the family meal from his two sons. It was during a quick, gulp-it-down-and-I’m-outta-here evening meal when he heard his sons talking about how wonderful one of their teachers was. Wondering why they didn’t rave about him like that, he asked what was so great about this teacher. “He really listens to you,” they answered. “He takes the time to be interested in us.”


          That night the Dad hatched a simple plan. He decided that, at mealtime, every time one of his sons said something, he would put down his fork and listen — really listen. So that’s what he did. Every time one of the boys spoke, Dad put down his fork and paid attention. 


          That simple act led to two miracles. The first miracle was that the evening meal went from fifteen minutes to forty-five minutes; and the second miracle was that Dad lost twenty pounds! All because he took the time to listen and to make the family meal a time of relationship, of sharing.


          So the next time you have an opportunity to spend some quality time at a table with those you love — and save the endangered species of the family dinner — try it. Share yourself. Listen. Linger awhile. And don’t forget to put down your fork.


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