There are many social minefields that a young man has to tip-toe through very gingerly indeed, on his way to becoming a fully formed adult. But nothing quite compares to the nerve-wracking experience of meeting the girlfriend’s parents for the first time.....
Sarah, my first serious girlfriend, invited me to her folks’ house to have Sunday lunch and then stay the night. ‘Great’ I remember thinking naively, ‘food!’ Unfortunately, it was not quite that simple.
As a gangly seventeen-year-old, I was not really equipped to deal with the murderous looks I was being given by Sarah’s Dad, who sat opposite me all through Sunday lunch, not saying a word. What had I done?
I seemed to be getting on alright with her Mum. I made all the right noises I suppose - told her how tasty the chicken was, didn’t lick my plate.
But Dad, I was having a real problem with. Just as we finished our upside-down cake and I was about to compliment Sarah’s Mum on her great cooking, out of nowhere, her Dad flung down his spoon and bellowed; "You’ll be in separate rooms you know!" He stood up abruptly, knocking his chair backwards, and stalked off into the garden, where I could see him standing with his back to the house, hands by his sides, clenching and unclenching his fists. He also appeared to be steaming slightly.
‘Aah,’ the penny dropped, ‘so that’s it’ The combination of being young, and a rare kind of fool, meant I hadn’t picked up on the signs. I should have noticed right from the start when he nearly made me squeal with a knuckle-crushing handshake. Not so much a warm welcome, as a feeling of locking antlers. This, and his little outburst all made for a very uncomfortable Sunday afternoon.
Evening came and we all bedded down for the night. I was put in a room at the far end of the house to where Sarah’s room was. He wasn’t taking any chances. In the middle of the night I innocently got up for a pee, and there he was on the landing, pretending to check the lagging in the airing cupboard."Oh hello Dave, everything alright with your room?" he says, with a look that actually says, "I know your game mate, thought you’d sneak into her room didn’t you?"
I decided to have some fun, and got up three more times in the night. Each time he was there, nonchalantly smoothing the wallpaper, folding socks, or straightening a picture.
By night I was under surveillance and during the day he never left us alone in the same room. He began to look tired, but it was his sworn duty to save his daughter from me. I think he’d had quite a ‘colourful’ youth, and was well aware of what young men were capable of. And he definitely didn’t want any of it happening to his daughter.
There were exceptions though. I once had a girlfriend whose Dad was a jazz musician. He was cool. He said words like ‘gig,’ and ‘man’ quite a lot. Once, he even referred to a bloke he’d met as a ‘this cat’.
Anyway, he spent much of his time practising the saxophone upstairs. Apart from providing a moody soundtrack to our furtive ‘ow’s-yer-father’ on the sofa downstairs, it also meant that as long as we could hear him playing, we were safe from being caught. The down side to this is that to this day, I can’t hear St. Louis Blues without coming over all ‘unnecessary.’
Despite his relaxed attitude, right down to letting me stay in the same room as his daughter, there was still always a slightly awkward atmosphere over breakfast. He was after all, a Dad. I wonder if young women have to run the same gauntlet with their boyfriend’s mothers when they’re taken home for Sunday Lunch? Or does the mother just think, ‘Another woman. Great, let’s shop!’
One Dad even asked me the question ‘So young man, what are your intentions?’ I thought that question had gone out with top hats and whalebone corsets. My thoughtful answer was something to do with trying to get a degree at university, then perhaps doing something in languages, and I was serious, but by his glazed expression I knew all he could hear me saying was, "Well Alan… I thought I’d tell your daughter I love her, then propose to her. A week before our wedding I thought I’d dump her, run off with a Brazilian lap-dancer, and leave her emotionally scarred for life."
Having recently become a father myself, I’ve already given the subject some thought. I’d like to think I’d welcome my daughter’s boyfriends into my home with the same relaxed attitude of Jazz Dad. However I have been strangely drawn to those adverts for those squeezy grip-strengthening gadgets. I like the look of those. Well, come that first handshake, I WILL CRUSH HIM!
[Cough] Well…you’ve gotta show ‘em who’s boss haven’t you?