Why your father-in-law will never really approve of you

Not only will you never be good enough for your wife’s father, you’ll find that your son-in-law is no good either.

May 3, 2017

“We’re invited to a baby shower,” says the good lady wife one evening. “Another one,” she stresses. I point out that we are well past the age of having friends who pop offspring.

“Precisely,” she says. “This is a grandchild on its way.”

All our friends, it appears, have married off their own spawn and are now letting them inflict another generation on this world. The conversation has not ended. I am asked when we will have some of our own. Since neither of my children seem to be in a hurry to procreate, I see no chance of this happening soon.

I’m told this is my fault. The reason my firstborn is not happily married is apparently because in an article I’d written that appeared in her youth, I stated that if she went out with anyone like me, I would shoot him. The absence of prospective bridegrooms is all because no one will have me as a father-in-law. 

“Why can’t you,” laments said lady wife, “be more like my father? After all, he put up with you.”

That he did. Although it wasn’t until my father-in-law discovered that he and I went to the same university that the ice thawed a bit. It also helped that we happened to support the same Premier League football club.

As one of the old school, I called him one morning asking if I could pop by his office for a moment. His reaction on hearing me ask if I might have his daughter’s hand in marriage was met by a moment of silence. After which, all he said was “About time. If you hadn’t asked soon, I was going to ask you.” It seems he’d tired of me hanging around his house with no intention of contributing to the family coffers in some way. 

Once the vows had been exchanged, my role in the extended family was initially relegated to being on call every time his newly acquired laptop would hang. But once he decided that, despite the puritanical roots of my own family, I wouldn’t be an embarrassment in social situations, he started including me in his evenings with the boys.

The “boys” were well into their sixties by then, with a few edging close to the afterlife, but there I was, taken under their wing to be taught life’s harsh lessons. I am relieved to say, all these years later, that my business flourishes despite the advice I was often urged to follow.

The thaw finally melted to something akin to sunshine and spring when I played my small part in giving him his first grandchild. Someday my daughter will outgrow the trauma of being strolled through the park in a pram, only to be parked in a pub next to a boisterous bunch of men. I tell her to give thanks she wasn’t abandoned by the bar, forgotten like a bunch of keys. Yes, boisterous men do that. 

To counter that, there is the picture of my wife’s father standing over a naked baby, dirty diaper in hand, trying to figure out what came next. A man who never noticed his own children’s need for changing all the years they were growing up, was happy to clean up for his granddaughter. Badly, perhaps, but clean up nonetheless.

Like all parents who have entrusted their firstborn to some man they consider to be barely worthy, I suspect he held the view, misplaced, I add hastily, that his daughter and granddaughter would starve were it left to my ability alone. I am told this is a universal belief, and there is nothing you, I or any other man alive can do about it.

Or, for that matter, anything else that might influence the opinion a father-in-law has of you. Accept the fact that you will be judged and found wanting in most aspects of life. Your opinion, whether on the state of the economy or the steak on the table, will be neither solicited nor valued. 

All this in private. In public, you will be a paragon unmatched by any other. Successful at work, a culinary master in the kitchen, a wizard with the tools when it comes to home repair. Oh, stop preening. He’s only saying that because he’s not going to tell the world at large what he really thinks. That would mean his daughter chose wrong. And that would reflect badly on him.