Learning to live around the inlaws....

Yeah, I’ve said some things.   Haven’t played the “role” I was supposed to play.  Never been great adhering to others cultural expectations.  Being the “submissive” one with the handcuffs just hasn’t been my style. 

I’ve recently been handed “the news” the inlaws have scheduled a “stop over”.  This one will be for a mere 5 months, and right during football season.  Fuck.   The Master of the House(that’s me) is about to lose his keys to the kingdom.  Any plans I may have had of watching a game on the sofa, like a normal, regular dude are gone.   Alas My Days will be spent in the basement.  Weight loss once again will ensue.  I will be the first one done with dinner(and any other group activities for that matter).   I lost 10 pounds during their 6 month sojourn in my house last year.  

But I’ve matured.  And with age comes regret.  Sometimes.  Here is a quick list of things I should regret, or perhaps even apologize for, over the nearly twenty five years of “suffering and torment” I have caused and received,with the inlaws.  A few admittedly light hearted.

Making fun of you dyeing your hair.

I mean, haven’t you seen Zhou Yongkang recently?  YOU ARE OLD.  Well, I admit it is more than a trifle humorous when old people are suddenly overcome with vanity.  And I laughed at you.  I teased you.  In the open, and unashamedly at that.  I couldn’t help myself.  Well, I was wrong.  Please forgive me. I’m sorry.   I apologize.  Do what you do.

But I just have one question:  Do you want us to dye your hair before burial?

The day I made fun of my Mother in Law’s English.

This would be cruel, except you see….she’s an English Teacher!!!
Around twenty years ago, the above loudly criticized my Mandarin. I was only a 2nd year student, mind you, but all the same, proud and haughty!  The first stick I could grab to hit her over the head with, I grabbed it….the look on her face flashed both embarrassment and surprise.  Afterall…she’d been teaching English for over twenty years.   

Yes, she went to school during the great 文革。  I understand that.   As such…well I maybe I was a little overboard. But it was, and has been an easy opening for me, whenever the bully within me wanted out, if just for a moment.   Just keep in mind, Old Lady, next time you dare criticize my Chinese accent….well you know what’s coming.

I blame it on you….

Everything my wife lacks.   Understanding.  Sexual curiosity. Passion. Tenderness. Empathy. Knowledge of Men…..I blame on YOU.    Yeah, I know your marriage was a disaster, like nearly every other Chinese couple that married in the 60’s.   Yeah, I know you haven’t slept in the same bed with YOUR MAN since the time of DENG, and you haven’t had sex since the time of MAO.  Just because YOU grew up HATING MEN doesn’t mean you didn’t have to teach your daughter ANYTHING about MEN.   Selfish Prude.   This is one comment, attitude towards you I won’t be apologizing for anytime soon.   No, I’m not sorry. 

Must we have fish on Thanksgiving?

Fish on The Holidays.  Can you not go one day without fish?  Can Xmas be a Ham Day?  A No Fish Day?  Please?   What about Thanksgiving?  Same?  If you don’t mind。。。?  Can you not Respect Me in My Country, PLEASE?  Allow me to celebrate an important day according to the customs we have?  I realize 入乡随俗 does not apply to you.   Having fish on the day after Christmas is fine .  Ok, the liberal I am….even the 24th is ok.  But must I invoke the Spirit of Jesus to keep the fish eyeballs off my table?   I promise we will not have mashed potatoes and cornbread on CNY.  I swear!   No, I don’t apologize for dressing you down Thanksgiving Day for wanting to have Fish.  Eat some pumpkin pie.

Which brings me to your table manners.  How many times have I asked you to stop burping during dinner?  Cease and Desist.  My kids mimicked you.  

外婆 does it”, they say. 

You were gone for weeks before I could change their habits.  Yes, Threat of Fatherly Violence was invoked.  And guess what…..I won!  

But you are soon to return.   The wrinkles on my face will grow deeper.  They will spread.  My rugged handsomeness aside, my last vestiges of youth shall abandon me.  
But now my children will relearn their evil ways.  I can hear them now.

“外婆 does it”.

(I see despite what my original intentions were, I’m having problems really apologizing for much of what I’ve written so far……)

My kids like my cooking, get used to it….

I grill.  Or I bake.   Your constant exhortations to my children not to eat what I prepare at first I found exasperating. 

Who wouldn’t listen to their grandma?

But then to my eternal satisfaction I discovered the kids like my steak.  And chicken.  And ribs.  And sometimes even my meatloaf. 

And yet you go out of your way to tell them not to eat my dishes.  What gives? 

“It’s not healthy”, you say.

“It’s not cooked long enough.”

“It’s undercooked.”

Sometimes you would wait until I had served the dish, set down to eat it, before uttering your nonsense.  What’s a 7 year old child to do? 

I have a simple question:  why do you make my food out to be poison?  Can you not eat anything I cook?  Will it shorten your lifespan?  Increase your blood pressure?  Speed up the aging process?   

What gives?

Then I finally understood.  It was crystal clear to me.

The mother in law does not know how to cook.  Married to a typical Shanghai Man, her husband did all the cooking(and cleaning, and buying for that matter).

Suddenly I felt sorry for you.  My previous comments of disdain no longer carried their invective. 
I quickly realized your criticism of my food was a veiled attempt to disguise your own culinary inadequacies.  I get it now.    And to top it off, your husband, while great on the stove, knew neither how to grill nor to bake.  It was simply a way of cooking not familiar to the Chinese Palate.   (Nor did I use MSG or cooking oil)

Stealing my wife away.

I recall the time my wife and I were engaged, over twenty years ago.  I was back in the States’ at the time.  Desperate at losing your only child(your fault there not mine…re: not sharing bed with spouse),  with Frantic Stealth you fly with my fiancée to Guangzhou.  Misson:  to marry your daughter off to someone else.  Anybody.  Just not to a laowai. 

Well, you evil, evil woman.   I’m 8000 miles away telling my folks of my engagement to a gorgeous Hangzhou Lady and here you are trying to…well trying to be yourself.  At least you didn’t lock her up in the closet, I’ll give you that.   

I recall the vague surprise I felt.  The anger and disbelief, that such a union enveloped in bliss would be waylaid by the devious, selfish tinkering of my future mother in law.   (The fact you may have been on to something is beyond the point)

Yet, with a couple of decades behind us and more than a little bit of context, I can see things a bit more from your point of view now.   I guess I’ll give you a pass on that one.   You had no idea she’d get married to a barbarian. .  She was your only child and well, I was taking her away from you.  But still( re: having sex with your husband since the time of Nixon, would have gone a long way toward alleviating the situation, no?)

Returning my gifts

Chinese Men very much like sweater vests.  Particularly the older ones.  I had bought my father in law nice, wool sweater vests from Nordstrom’s.  I was proud of the effort and time I had put into buying what I thought was the perfect gift for an eloquently aging old man.

Until the M&L stepped in, and returned them.

She never once asked his opinion.  (He looked great in them!)  The colors were perfect.  But none of it mattered.  This was one of early up close looks at the totality of my M&L’s power.   She was like a black hole.  Instead of sucking the life out of stars and planets, she simply sucked the soul out of her husband.

I remember it like it was yesterday:

“These don’t look good on him”

“They are not suitable”

To my utter surprise, F&L complied.   His face gave no hint of emotion one way or the other.   Listening to his wife, obeying her commands is second nature to him now.  He has long since lost his soul.  I sometimes wonder what kind of “MAN” he was back in the 60’s.  Before marriage. The MAN I know now without question would have been willingly amongst the masses, red book held high. 

But how would he have been with his SOUL?  Would he have been someone to be proud of?  To look up to?  Or would he have simply lost his sense of being, and integrity to just another Chinese Woman.   I have the impression now, after all these years, that perhaps he was yet just another “mama’s boy”. 

(How I would love to know the Chinese phrase for that!)  I know his mother was strong. 

( I see it today, all around me.  Mainland Chinese Husbands giving up the raising of their sons to their wives.   Boys that don’t know how to throw a ball, but love the piano.  Nothing wrong with the latter, big problem with the former.   The latter won’t get you promoted within an American Company, yet knowledge of the former will help. )

I haven’t bought  my inlaws a gift since, and never will.  I’ve since delegated this task to China Wife. 


  1. Looking forward to a new article - it's been a week. ;)

    Is there a way to subscribe for email notification? I'd sign up for an email list.

  2. Just posted a new one.....I thought I had an RSS feed going here...guess not. I do know alot of folks subscribe to this via feedly.com

    Pls keep in mind that just because isn't up doesn't mean I don't have one in the works...the one I just posted took abt 4 days to write and edit. Alas it's only 1400 words or so. Well below my usual 2k+

    I've got 2 more in the line up. Just need to write them up.

  3. How about putting some of the blame on that wife of yours where, yes her lack of character is due to her upbringing, but personal fortitude should have some holdings.

  4. True......but at the end of the day we all live in Glass Houses, don't we?


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