Father Shops Best

From diamond rings to diapers, pet food to caskets, there’s little you can’t find at a warehouse club. Still, author Dan Zevin didn’t expect to discover the thing he had looked for all his life: a deeper connection with his dad.

Photo by Brian Ulrich/NotIfButWhen.com

A man should never stop learning, even on his last day,’ ” my father tells me. “Maimonides.” The two of us are standing at the entrance to a Costco near his home in New Jersey. It is our first trip there together. He’s about to demonstrate how to maximize the cargo space of the wide-load shopping carts he has selected for us. “Observe,” he says. With a flick of the wrist, he expands the folding baby seat.

“But why?” I ask. “Why must we expand these baby seats when the kids are at home with my wife?”

“ ‘All in good time thou shalt see.’ Cervantes.”

As the glass doors slide open, I experience a fight-or-flight sensation. My vision is blurred by an onslaught of flashing flat-panel screens. A man exhorts me to eat free samples of crabmeat salad. A guard demands to see my membership card. Then she notices my father. “Dr. Zevin!” she exclaims. “I wondered when you were coming!”

“I tied her tubes three weeks ago,” he says, as we walk away. (My dad is a gynecologist, FYI.) “Follow me,” he adds. “Wait till you see all the bananas here. My treat.”

Lately my friends are worried they’re turning into their fathers. I’m worried that I’m not. My dad is calm and collected. I am clammy and confused. His interests range from numismatics to philosophy. As the father of two young kids and the husband of a working wife, I care little about any activity that’s not preceded by the term “after-school.”

Above all, my dad is generous. Which, I’m afraid, has made me a taker. Specifically, a taker of the toilet-paper 36-packs he gives me, the casks of dishwashing liquid he gives me, the tallboys of wood cleaner he gives me. Although I appreciate my father’s kindness, I’ve grown uncomfortable about accepting his many gifts. It’s hard to feel like a man when you’re in your 40s and your dad is still buying you paper towels. In an effort to become a better provider, I asked my father to teach me all he knows—a journey that has led us here, to Costco.

This trip isn’t easy for me. Unlike my father, who can zero in on a carton of nine-volt batteries the way a hunter senses his prey, I can barely walk into a supermarket without being paralyzed by all the peanut butter. No wonder I’m instantly spellbound by a tank of orange cheese balls. “Monosodium glutamate,” Dad solemnly says. “Not healthy.” Ashamed, I follow him to the produce section. “Ever seen bananas like these, Danny?” he inquires, holding his harvest high in the air. He places a bunch in my cart, along with a mile-long vine of red grapes and the gross national product of Nova Scotia in blueberries.

Minutes later we are in aisle 4,000, clutching a shrink-wrapped 250-pack of paper towels. After getting hugged by a staffer named Rosario, whom he has treated for fibroids, Dad announces that it’s time to reveal the secrets of the expandable child seat.