I knew long before considering marriage the likelihood I would call my in-laws Mom & Dad was incredibly slim. I assume for some it’s either an uber close relationship or level of great comfort that enables them to bestow the same moniker on another person as they do the one they peed, pooped and puked on for any number of years (dependent upon how much fun they had in college). For others, it’s just tradition or even obligation. For me, none of that had a thing to do with it.
Nearly 20 years ago, I lost my father. I knew on that day even if he were the perfect combination of Steve Jobs, Kanye West and Daniel Craig, I could never call another man Dad. Thankfully, the closest my mother has come to remarrying is her unwavering love for the programming team at HGTV, so I lucked out in the step-dad department and a father-in-law was the furthest thing from my mind.
Then one fateful night, I put my fake State of Wyoming Identification Card in my quite possibly acid washed denim jean pocket and headed out to the Boston dive bar where I’d meet my husband-to-be. With a father from Italy and mother from El Salvador, he was a blessed first generation American. When we tied the knot years later, along with the homemade limoncello and the world’s best pupusas came yet another perk to our marriage. He called his parents not Mom & Dad, but Mama & Papá.
I had, once again, narrowly escaped pressure to refer to someone else as my Dad, but still, there was a wrinkle. Saying Papá seemed as unnatural to me as putting mustard on pasta.
On the surface, my father and my father-in-law couldn’t have been more different. Where it matters most, they were identical. Hardworking and honorable, both men gave implicitly to raise, educate and love three children before each losing not only a battle with cancer, but also the opportunity to bask in the beauty (and grandchildren) born from their success. So, what was my issue?
In hindsight, I realize the inability to call my father-in-law “Dad” came not from a desire to protect the pedestal on which I (deservedly) put my own father, but rather a fear that letting someone else close in on his territory would mean he were further gone.
Now a parent myself, I have one word for that philosophy. Bulls**t.
Would I have been okay calling my husband’s father Dad had he gone by it in his own home and mine were still around? In all honesty, I don’t know.
The two men in question never met, at least not here on earth. If they did, I guarantee they’d have a laugh over my belaboring such an inquiry.
I, on the other hand, blew it. Just as I began to see the light on this issue, my father-in-law saw a different type of light, when he too lost his battle with cancer. I never called him Dad. I never even called him Papá. I called him only by his first name.
Whatever you call your Dad, whether you can speak with him on Father’s Day or speak only of him, remember to skip the bulls**t. There is no need to choose your words so wisely, as long as they come from your heart. Remember, you never know when you may lose the chance to choose entirely. I wish someone had warned me of the same.