Jon Bailey and his family embarked on an adventure of a lifetime when his daughter Sophia first wrote a letter to President Obama about her two dads. Since then, they have traveled all around the world, and Jon documents his family adventures, parenting tips, and recipes on their LGBT Family Travel Blog, 2DadsWithBaggage.
In this Q & A, Jon talks about some amazing trips he’s been on, the significance of food in his life, and shares some words of wisdom on being a dad.
I grew up in a big Italian family where food equals love. From the time I was little, I remember standing on a chair in my Nana’s kitchen and watching her cook something delicious. At our house, there were always people over and my mom would cook these big wonderful meals to feed the masses. Both my brother and I watched her make her famous recipes without anything written down, so we learned to make them from memory just like she did.
Now I make these same recipes with fond memories, but I’ve pared down the serving sizes and subbed in more healthy ingredients to modernize the dishes. A lot of what I cook now is based on those fundamentals I learned in my mother and grandmother’s kitchens. Give me a refrigerator and pantry with a few ingredients, and I can whip up a meal!
Because my childhood was spent with family meals, an important part of our lives, I wanted that tradition to carry over into my family and friends. I’ve always loved to cook for people, and we regularly had (and still have) dinner parties with folks over to share a meal and good times. With our kids, we feel it is important to set time aside for family bonding moments over the kitchen table. Eating, talking, laughing, and sharing our day’s highs and lows have been a part of our daily ritual since the kids were toddlers.
As parents, we get to hear about our girls’ days and the things they celebrate, and those that frustrate them. We get to do the same, and model for our girls that life is not perfect for anyone but it’s how we manage through situations that provide us a happy outlook. They hear how we deal with things that can up, and can see transparently how adults handle their own highs and lows. It’s been very rewarding to see our kids learn from these conversations in real-time, over the dinner table in a non-confrontational setting. Just a circle of love - lots of love!
My favorite times in the kitchen are when we can cook something together as a family. Even if it’s a taco bar that I set up on the counter, it gets everyone up and interacting with the food rather than sitting and being served. My girls love to make desserts, so we often will cook something together and share the experience of making some sweet treats for the family to enjoy. During these moments, the conversation invariably turns to things going on in our lives and we end up talking about all kinds of things that have nothing to do with the recipe we are making.
Haha - oh gosh there are so many! We love trying new things, and experiencing the food that locals enjoy in the country we are visiting. We’ve taken cooking classes together and learned to make some amazing dishes, and we’ve been invited into people’s home kitchens to see them prepare their specialties. I think our best memories tend to be around strange things we have eaten that we would not have tried at home. For example, ant eggs in Mexico. Or deep fried larvae in Cambodia. Snails in Spain. In Japan, we ate sashimi so fresh the fish was still moving when they sliced a piece for us. The list is long and memorable!
The list of delicious surprises is just as long. The girls had never tasted macarons before we visited a shop in Paris, and now they beg for them. They learned to love Vietnamese food in Hanoi and street market tacos in the Yucatan. Now we make some of their favorite travel dishes at home - sometimes we get pretty close and sometimes it takes nothing like the original!
Wow, that is a big question. I would have to say the most important lesson we’ve tried to teach our kids is empathy. If we can understand where another person is coming from, we can offer them kindness and understanding. They can feel seen and heard without judgement. They can feel safe and respected for who they are and what they are feeling and experiencing. Learning the gift of empathy teaches people to be kind, and to appreciate what makes us all different - and the same. I would hope that learning empathy helps our girls feel independent but never alone. Strong but aware of our need for others - and others’ needs for us. That they love themselves, and also accept themselves for their very natural and human foibles.
Raising girls - especially teen girls - requires enormous patience. The mood swings are epic, unpredictable and constant starting around age 11 and lasting until, well, I can’t answer that because we are still in the thick of it! We have found it’s important to listen a lot, and allow our girls to talk through their feelings and emotions. They often don’t want advice or solutions, they just want us to listen. Now that they are 17 and 19, our girls are getting more independent and mature and our conversations now are more comfortable. They feel like they can share pretty much anything because they know we won’t have an immediate blow-up or yell. When something needs to be addressed, we wait and come back around later when emotions aren’t running so high. We’re careful not to escalate!