Regular readers of this column, those two or three of you out there, may remember my Mother’s Day piece a couple of months ago that focused on mothers-in-law and how mine – both of them – were blessings to me. That they were blessings doesn’t necessarily comply with the traditional view of them or the urban legends, folklore, media treatment, and myths associated with mothers-in-law.
In all fairness to the War of the Sexes and our Father’s Day celebration in June, I thought it appropriate to write about fathers-in-law. Like my mothers-in-law, I have had two fathers-in-law and both were blessings to me. Both accepted me as a son and treated me like blood kin. Both are sadly gone now, passed on to the Great Beyond. I know there must be bad fathers-in-law out there somewhere, but thankfully bad ones just weren’t a part of my life’s experiences.
Of course, mothers-in-law “take it in the shorts” (as we used to say in the Marines) … meaning in this case that they “are treated more poorly” by urban legends, folklore, and the media than are fathers-in-law. There’s probably some sex discrimination somewhere in the reasons behind this … but also maybe a smidgen of truth in the sense that mothers are more critical of the man taking their daughter away than are fathers.
And I’m sure you’ve found like me that there are far more mothers-in-law jokes and stories out there then father-in-law jokes. Mark Twain was quoted as having said, “Humor is the good natured side of a truth.” And Dick Clark said, “Humor is always based on a modicum of truth. Have you ever heard a father-in-law joke?” So maybe truth really is a part of the disparity.
But even if you have to search for them, there are some pretty good father-in-law jokes and stories out there too. There’s the old one that says, “I decided to call my father-in-law ‘exorcist’ because any time he comes to visit he ‘makes the spirits disappear.’” And there’s the one about the girl telling her future husband to be aware that her father was “very formal.” The first time he met his future father-in-law he was greeted at the door by her father holding a very formal, white shotgun asking his future son-in-law very politely to leave hale and hearty or alternatively leave with a load of buckshot in his backside.
But the best father-in-law stories, like the mother-in-law yarns, are the real ones … the stories that really happened. A friend tells of his first meeting with his girl friend’s father in Beaufort. He tells it so well, I’m quite certain there’s a bit of truth in the story even though we typically embellish our stories, including this one.
So even with a “modicum of truth,” whether the joke or the story’s antagonist is mother-in-law or father-in-law oriented, they’re all semi-tall tales. But back to my friend’s story.
He arrived at his future fiancée’s home and was introduced to her father. Her father, without offering his hand or batting an eye and absent even a hint of a smile contemptuously said, “By the grace of God I’m a southerner, a Methodist, and a Mason. What are you?”
Also without batting an eye my friend responded, “Well Sir, by the grace of God I’m a Marine, a Yankee, and Catholic so I can’t be a Mason.” Puffing up and pointing to the door the father said, “Get out of my house and don’t come back!”
“But before you leave,” the father said, “have a drink with me.” The father poured two fingers of clear moonshine into two well-worn shot glasses and offered the toast, “Here’s spit in your eye!”
My friend brought the glass to his mouth and even before reaching his lips the fumes from the corn squeezin’s watered his eyes. He lowered his glass and said, “Sir, I can’t drink this poison.” Downing the moonshine in a one gulp his girlfriend’s father said with a new raspiness to his voice, “Well then. ‘Cough.’ You’re not much of a man either, are ya?”
There was drywall to be hung in the house that day, and taking no offence (as a Marine he knew he was man enough for both of them) and not leaving as he was ordered to do, my friend took off his shirt, clapped his hands and rubbing them together said, “Well Sir, let’s get started on hanging that drywall.”
Eight hours later, both covered in sweat-laced ghostly white chalk dust, and the dry wall job finished, his future father-in-law poured another two fingers of the moonshine, this time in a single shot glass. With a warmth absent during their earlier exchange, and a smile, his future father-in-law’s toast this time to his soon to be son-in-law? “Son, you’re a gentleman and a scholar and a good judge of bad liquor!”
My friend, the one with the as-it-turned-out good father-in-law, and his wife? They’re still together and married 60 years and counting. No joke.
Newspaper columnist Barry Fetzer lives in Hubert.