Sunday, February 1, 2015


One of the most terrifying events of a young man’s life is meeting his father-in-law. One of the most terrifying events of an older man’s life is continuing to meet his father-in-law. Like mine, for instance.

Don’t get me wrong; my father-in-law’s a rather nice guy, and we get along well.  It’s just that a dad always want the best for his little girl – even if his little girl turns 60 this month. I mean, if I were the leader of the free world, and still found time to create an mp3 player that didn’t freeze, I’d still feel like a slacker.
I suppose it’s my fault.  I’ve always had a problem with authority figures – depending on the situation, they’ve either made me tremble or irritated.  

Now, my father-in-law isn’t an authority figure, per se. But if my wife’s family was a company, her dad would be the CEO. I, on the other hand, would be the outside consultant. I’d have my own cubicle with a nameplate, but technically still not be part of the team.

And unlike most son-in-laws, I still find myself unable to call him by his first name. In fact, it took me years to remember what it even was. In my mind, he was always “sir,” even if I never called him that. In fact, I’ve never called him anything at all. I say “hi,” and let it go at that. That’s friendly enough, isn’t it?

It seems unbelievable to me, but my father-in-law was about my age now when I first met him, yet seemed older. Make that more seasoned. Booming voice, self-confidence to spare, a hail-fellow-well-met quality about him. 

Everything, in other words, lacking in me. From his first firm handshake – something akin to a gorilla squeezing a gazelle’s neck – I thought I was in trouble. 

Even worse, he’d been a star athlete in school, and in his later years would become a medalist in the Senior Olympics. The walls of his home gym (where a basement should be) is covered with decades worth of trophies and newspaper photos. You can’t walk a two inches without tripping over an exercise machine.

I, on the other hand, can’t swing a baseball bat without spraining my wrist. My knowledge of sports goes only as far as which athletes have been arrested this week.  So when the conversation turns to, say, what a great year the Packers are having, I figure he’s talking about a fish cannery.

Not that he’s interested solely in sports. He’s very much up on current events, as am I. Once we share some common ground there, I can relax, certain that I’ve finally been accepted after a quarter-century. After all, the rest of the family seems to be OK with me. 

But then I go and ruin it by responding to one of his political opinions with “Um…”  And I see that look in his eyes that puts me back to square one. 

It makes no sense. My wife and I have a strong marriage. Our daughter turned out better than we could possibly have hoped. Is it because I’ve been unable to land another job since getting laid off? 

Not necessarily. I’ve been like this since I was working steadily and earning money on the side freelance writing. But it certainly doesn’t help, especially since he became unemployed the honorable way: by retiring. 

My father-in-law and his wife visited New York last December for the Radio City Music Hall Christmas show with our daughter, who came in from college to continue their decade-long tradition. Afterwards, my wife and I met them for dinner, when I once again felt the need to prove my mettle once more. 

I've mentioned this to my wife every time. She of course tells me that I'm crazy, that her father loves me, and knows I’m a good husband and parent. And, somewhere inside of me, I know that to be true. 

But when he crushed my hand and gave me a hearty “Hello, Kev!”, I was psychologically back in my cubicle, working overtime to justify another year of employment on a never-ending project.


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