Friday, November 11, 2011

How to Say "Thank You" in Father-In-Law-ese

My across-the-street neighbor--a sixty-something single retiree--is the busybody on our block.  But she has never directed any of her meddling toward us, despite our dirty cars and disreputable-looking lawn.  Our next-door-neighbors on either side have referred to her as "Gladys Kravitz" in separate conversations I've had with them.  She has a reputation.

But we've always gotten along just fine with her.  Somehow, we've developed a symbiotic relationship.  I occasionally fix things at her house or just pick up stuff that's too heavy for her; and she hangs bags of fruit from her backyard trees on our doorknob.  When we're out of town, she picks up our mail and sometimes waters our plants.

One day, maybe two years ago, I went over to ask her a favor of some sort--taking care of something while we were on vacation.  "Sure," she said, "but you have to promise to thank me."

I chuckled and said that of course I would thank her.  I didn't really get it.  She says weird stuff sometimes.

"No, really," she went on.  "All those times that I got your mail, or watered your plants, or that time I gave you a ride when you lost your car've never thanked me once.  Neither you or your wife." She was shaking.

I was stunned and embarrassed.  And maybe a little indignant.  Surely I had thanked her.  My wife and I are both very conscious of basic manners.  We frequently bitch about people who don't say "thanks" when we open doors for them.  So I must have thanked her.  Of course I did.  I'm pretty sure.  She's just a little batty.  And demanding.  Some people need you to grovel in exchange for every little favor.

Ever since that episode, I've been sure to thank Gladys at least five times when she leaves a couple lemons on my doorstep.  And she, in turn, has upped the ante by giving me a bottle of wine whenever I help her out with some little household task.  It's a game that I don't care to get involved in, this escalation of gratitude.  Saying "thanks" is important; but, hey, we're neighbors--we watch out for each other.  There's no need for theatrics.


My father-in-law used to get on my nerves.  A lot of that was due to the fact that he didn't really want me to marry his daughter.  That made his character flaws all the more glaring to me.  He was a blowhard and a braggart, a so-called Christian obsessed with the trappings of social status and financial success.  He was way too self-confident, and way too sure about his convictions.  Granted, he had come to this country as a refugee with nothing but a wife, two babies, and his elderly father who all depended on him for survival, and had managed to not only keep them fed and clothed but to eventually send six kids to college.  But did he really need to keep bringing it up?  I got it already the first time. 

Over the twenty years since I first met him, a lot has changed.  We've both relaxed our standards regarding the faults we see in each other.  He has, by all accounts, become less rigid in his judgment and expectations of others in general.  I probably have too.  We get along fine.  We help each other out.  I fix things around the house when we visit my wife's family.  He helps me work on our house when he's visits us.  I've helped him deliver heavy pieces for his furniture repair business.  He gave us an almost-brand-new minivan.

I like hanging out with my father-in-law now.  Most of our sustained talks happen when we're involved in a project, which has always been the most comfortable conversational situation for me, with anyone.  If we're doing something that I'm good at, I explain every step of the process.  If it's an area of his expertise, he instructs me.  When we're both flailing, we bounce ideas off of each other.  We never have to wonder what to talk about, and we never trip about who's in charge.  We just get shit done.

After picking up our Sienna from the freight hauling company last year, I tried to thank my father-in-law for straight-up giving us the nicest vehicle I've ever owned.* He brushed it off.  It wasn't like I tried to make a speech or anything, but he interrupted my fumbling gratitude with a question about whether the radio antenna had made the voyage intact.

As far as I can recall, Dad-in-law never said "thanks" (at least never made a production of it) to me.  There's no question (if we're keeping track) as to who has done more solids for whom.  My contributions of a half-day's labor here and there are a pittance compared to the hours and dollars that he and my mother-in-law have dedicated to our comfort and security.  So I never felt slighted by a lack of verbal recognition for my attempts at recompense.  I was happy just to be able to be able to chalk up a couple meager gestures.

During our visit to the in-laws (on the other side of the country) last week, I wasn't able to get involved in many of the projects my father-in-law had insanely undertaken in the run-up to my youngest brother-in-law's wedding.  Our kids were more than a little jacked up by the change in environment and time, and they needed both Mom and Dad almost constantly.  But I did manage to slip away for a total of maybe six hours to work on Dad-in-law's beat up Corolla--the one that took the place of the minivan he gave us.

Miraculously (it's been a long time since I worked on cars regularly), I was able, with the assistance of my father-in-law,  to pop the dents out of the passenger's side so that the doors locked and unlocked and the windows went up and down.  Then I replaced a side-view mirror and all guts of the driver's side window mechanism so that it would function for the first time in over a year.  Thanks to the internet--which didn't exist when I used to fix my own cars--I found videos that showed how to do the repairs, and websites that sold the parts at a fraction of what the dealer wanted, and a fraction of the time a junkyard visit required.  The interwebs and I probably saved the old man a thousand bucks.

I was pretty stoked at having fixed stuff on a car without the expense and frustration I remembered from the old days; and of course, I was glad to have reminded my in-laws of my usefulness.  But I was not prepared for the acknowledgment I was to receive from Dad-in-law.  

After going over how much money we had saved, and how cleverly we had tackled the repairs, Dad-in-law said, "I could not have done all that by myself."
Other Stuff

I wrote about a cool woodworking project I did at Man of the House. 

I wrote about how to maintain alpha-son-in-law status at Aiming Low.

I wrote about using Elmo as an anesthetic for pediatric surgery at Insert Eyeroll.

But most importantly, I continued to grow a mustache to SAVE MEN'S LIVES!!

Weird. I never really had a craving for Skoal before.

 So, before you waste any time reading the nonsense I wrote elsewhere, go to my page at Movember, and donate a teeny little bit of money toward research and prevention of cancers that affect men's nethers.

*Screw you, haters.  Minivans are the pinnacle of automotive achievement.



  1. I don't know if its an Asian thing or generational.. I do know that when my grandmother was alive she assumed my mother would take her in in her old age... Now under normal circumstances it may have happened .. not when you have a son in law who has never felt wanted (male ego) or having a daughter who butt heads w/grandma... I do know as far as your lady neighbor, she should not assume that your thank you wasn't good enough.. She may have expected you to lavish her.. Would she have lavished you w/thank you's if you had watched your house? People should not get bent out of shape if others do not perform the way they expect especially if nothing was mentioned... and btw, culture plays one hell of a part in this- right?
    I know I use to shock my grandma (who was born up in Sunnyvale,Ca)w/my opinions and openness.. I also do not think I could not take my mom in since we butt heads...Nor do I expect my kids to do so in turn for me...Guess, I am too independent... I've already thought ahead of what to do...
    As far as your FIL, and fixing his car, it definitely is cultural...

  2. We had a self-proclaimed "Gladys" at our old neighborhood, but he was a bald gay man of 50. Still, he kept the neighbors informed about one another and really was a great neighbor, which is essential when one lives in town (hell, he even called the cops when one of my black friends came over--a lawyer in a Range Rover).

    As for the FIL compliment? Congrats. I'm not sure I've received such yet. His wife used to email me job opportunities before I started my own firm, as I guess they'd decided I wasn't providing well enough for his daughter. Luckily, she's quit doing that.

  3. After going over how much money we had saved, and how cleverly we had tackled the repairs, Dad-in-law said, "I could not have done all that by myself."

    Nothing tops that as a gift BD.

    Finished the wine yet?

  4. You should tell the old lady you're a recovering alcoholic. And then add a, "So, thanks."

  5. Great post! So weird how our communication styles are all so different making it hard to understand eachother.
    Funny stuff about the neighbor lady! That obviously stems from either a poor memory or never having felt important in life.
    Interesting stuff. Keep it coming!

  6. Great article today. It ties in nicely to the book I'm reading called, "The Science of Good and Evil" (basically everything ties into it). Topics you mention such as reciprocity, mutual-ism, via family and neighbors etc.

    Anyway, you're all good (mostly)..... except for that nasty spit bottle.

    Copenhagen chew was (probably still is) my weakness. I guess some folks can take it or leave it upon command(lucky bastards). Unfortunately I'm an all or nothing sort.

    I'ld probably still chew if it didn't destroy my gums and cause cancer. At least I can still enjoy coffee!

  7. Looks to me like you need to be trading in that mini van for a pick up truck to go with your fashion sense!

  8. beats by monster we all know this word has it, it is the new fashionableheadphones called the monster headphones,many people like to listen to the music rhythm street dance or play games, iphone mobile phone calls can also support the fashion of Lady Gaga, Justin Timberlake than Peter endorsement , meet the people 's favorite monster , the audience free shipping .

  9. Personally, I always thank people for their kindnesses but I find that I'm always shocked if someone thanks me for anything. It rarely occurs to me that the things I do for others warrants gratitude from them since I feel so good for doing it in the first place.

    But gratitude from someone who rarely concedes my worth at all, well, that's priceless.

    Note: you currently remind me of a motorcycle cop...maybe you should get some mirrored sunglasses.

    2nd Note: Minivans ROCK!!!


Don't hold back.


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