Thursday, September 13, 2007

Society Expects Me To Hate My In-Laws

Case in point:

Just this morning, floating easily down on the grocery belt right next to some celery and a can of chicken noodle soup is my weekly trash rag: US Weekly

The first article I turned to on page 8, was:


And then in four columns were loving photos of your fav couples:

Amy and Blake (who at first I couldn’t place, but thanks to the beehive hair do and the dangling cigarette, I knew it was that Amy Winehouse the Rehab singin’ chick)
Spencer and Heidi (from the dreadfully fun-to-watch The Hills)
David and Victoria (I hate to say, I happen to kind of like them)
Nick and Jessica (who are, sadly, divorced…Sad that I think it’s sad)

Then, underneath the pictures–come on, who even bothers with the text but nerdy ol' me. Anyway, underneath the text were scathing quotes from the in-laws and future (or, sadly, past in-laws, like for sweet Nick. Not that I am "Team Nick", but he is awfully cute):

Amy’s mother in-law accuses her of being a drug addict and calls for the boycott of her CDs, saying “Enough is enough.” Take that and put it in your beehive and smoke it.
Spencer’s future mother-in-law says something about her beloved Heidi not "putting all her eggs in one basket"– I take that as in Spencer’s basket.
Victoria’s mother-in-law lamely comes up with that she was "not totally thrilled with the prospect of a pop star as a daughter-in-law" when her son announced his engagement.
Finally my beloved Nick. US Weekly couldn’t even get Joe (sad that I know Jessica’s father by first name) to give a quote. But Nick is quoted as saying he doesn’t know if Joe “ever liked me to this day I couldn’t say. It was painful.” Uch. Tell me about it Nick.

So, since theses terrible rags have their proverbial finger on the pulse of our country's heartbeat (that metaphor fell apart before I even finished it, but you know what I mean.) it must be true. In-laws, whether it's the daughter or son-in-law or the opposing team of parent-in-laws, in-laws, as a whole, hate each other. Interestingly enough, however, fairy tales don't depict in-laws as the source of a poor lass's pain but, maybe this in-law friction is relatively new...Or, maybe it's that fairy tales used to have the proverbial finger on the proverbial pulse and now weekly rags do. Who knows.

Personally, I never really felt that way about my in-laws. Well, maybe, years ago before I became their daughter-in-law officially. After all, I was the non-Italian girl taking their Golden Boy, their first born of 4, away from them. I can kind of understand my mother-in-law’s initial reaction to hearing we were engaged– I believe she burst into tears. But she took to me relatively fast, symbolized by a kick-ass pair of pearl and diamond earrings for the wedding. My father in law never seemed to have a strong opinion about me, however. My husband remembers that his father's reaction to the news of our engagement was happy, not jump for joy but kind of "good for you", you know.

So, I dig my in-laws. However, I don’t think I have ever, in the 14 years I have known them, I don’t think I have ever appreciated what they, as people, have to offer–have to, well, maybe even TEACH me. To me, they have been the parents of my husband, you know, and yeah, they are pretty funny and interesting and definitely better than most of the in-laws of my friends, that’s for sure. But I haven't really looked at who they are separate from that identity of "in-laws".

Until this past weekend


Chapter 1: My Father-In-Law

Last Saturday night my audiophile (yes, there is such a thing and read it twice to not confuse it with another word) father-in-law brought me into his study or, as the family lovingly jokes, his "cave" above the garage. He sat me down in his favorite, soft, leather red recliner and then pivoted the chair “just so”. Then he scurried over to his– I guess you could call it stereo system, although I think he would be insulted if I used such a term for what amounts to his shrine to the God of Music. Anyway, he adjusted me in the chair, and then inched the speakers this way and that. All this adjusting is so that I could experience proper, I don’t know, MODULATION, I guess you could call it. Yes, you just read that correctly. All this hullabaloo for his stereo speakers, which are incidentally nicknamed Darth Vader and His Twin Brother.

How I got to the cave/lair and then to this “hot seat” as he calls the red leather recliner, is still, several days later, a mystery to me. Somehow, my husband and I wandered up there after we put Chelsea to bed…Not to listen to music with my father-in-law, although that would have MADE his NIGHT. No, we wandered in there as we often wander all over their sprawling house. We wander into the kitchen to my mother-in-law and talk about anything from old Italian recipes to family gossip (there’s lots of family to gossip about quite frankly with Mike’s 4 sibs and gobs of cousins and pizanos–not to mention grandparents and aunts and uncles.) We wander into the breakfast nook to talk to my husband's 93 year-old grandfather who tells the same story about Mr. Mange-Paine from the Old Country. We wander over to the bird (who has a funny Italian name I always forget). We usually don't wander over to my father-in-law, because if he's in his cave, he might make us listen to his speakers. GOD FORBID! In fact, when I was just the girlfriend, 14 years ago, I was forewarned NOT to get trapped into the cave. "He's gonna try and drag you in there to see his speakers and then he will sit you in one of his chairs and then, well, you are trapped. He'll blast music at you and you won't be able to move for hours."

And that's exactly and FINALLY what happened that night. I have avoided it for almost 14 years. But, alas, there it was.

So there we were, and then suddenly, there I was with just my father-in-law.
And then the next thing I knew I was in the "hot seat" listening to music at such a high volume that I thought my ears had just grown ten times their normal size.

My father-in-law is hard to describe in the same way anyone I love is hard to describe. I want to do him the proper justice, but I really can’t. But I will try: he is obsessive with his big boy toys like audio equipment and computers and cars, yet he is a total slob in his cave but impeccable in his dress and hygiene. He’s picky with food, never allowing for previously frozen meat or fish not from The City. However, he adores hot dogs and frozen meals more than any other human I know.

He’s complex. He’s funny. He’s a nut. Yet, he is simple, serious, and very sane. Go figure.

Anyway, there I was sweating from how hard my ears were working. "Listen to that sound!" He exclaimed. I tried so hard to hear whatever magic my father-in-law was hearing, so hard that my hands were clenched onto the arm rests of the chair. My father-in-law went on about the “bottom of the bass” and the quality of the music and crispness of the sound, so on and so forth. Terms and words that just fell around me as I held onto the chair for dear life while the music blasted the skin off my body.

But then my father-in-law put on Beethoven.
And then something happened.
I can only describe this as an opening in my soul.
No kidding. Really.

No, I did not find God…HA! If I did, my father-in-law and I (two of the biggest skeptics next to my husband and my own father) would start charging people to come to the his cave and listen to Darth Vader and his Twin (they actually look like midget Darth Vaders.) So I didn’t find God, but just as the deep, intense, slow and careful sounds of Beethoven (Piano Sonata #14 In C Sharp Minor) filled the room, I felt my insides, which I didn't know were tense, relax. The music wound its arms around me, and I had this "opening".

And it felt like this. Ohhhhhh. Yes. Music. Of course.

And then I felt my father-in-law standing behind the chair I sat in and another thought floated through:

I get it.

The audiophile thing is something we all make fun of. All of my husband’s sibs and my mother-in-law, love to slap knees and laugh until they pee as they tell you childhood stories of Pop and his audio equipment. “Remember how Pop would go off into his room and conduct!” He actually has a baton he conducts with. Or, “Remember how Pop drag us into his room and make us listen to Supertramp and Pink Floyd?” I, too, have laughed and poked fun of him, but, now, sitting there, I realized, wait. Hold on…that’s uh…COOL!

So as I sat and didn’t move and my body was no longer in twisted pain from the loud music, and the crisp clear notes didn’t bang at me like fists. It was like being in a yoga position that, at first, is so awkward and uncomfortable, but then, suddenly, your body sings back to you: yes this feels good and right. I felt like the vibration of the atoms that make up not just my physical body but of my essence, my soul just loosened up and opened. And, then, the opening allowed me to “get”, to understand my father-in-law’s obsession with The Twins. The Twins are like priests, they are the only way my father-in-law can reach “God”, through the music which comes through the speakers, The Twins.

And that’s what happened to me in that red leather chair. I felt connected not just to the notes and sounds but to my father-in-law and his divine connection to himself, and it felt very personal and very important and it made me want to run and wake Chelsea up (Okay, not really). But I suddenly felt an urgency to tell her that she should sit with her grandfather and learn about music. That she should listen to him, that she can LEARN something from him.

After he played the music, I asked him questions, the questions just coming to me like I was a reporter writing an article on a very important composer or musician or something. I don't want to tell you the questions or his answers as that's HIS story to tell. The point is that the music opened up a door into his life that I never saw or new much about.

The next morning I saw my father in law with his pipe dangling as he hunched over his lap top paying bills or maybe looking at more audio equipment online, one of the two of his major past times, and I saw him differently. His silly hobby isn't silly and isn't a hobby. I, we, the family, can learn something from him. I wanted to tell him that but he was very engrossed in his bills.

Just before we left he handed me a CD of Beethoven, and I tucked it into my computer bag vowing to play if for Chelsea, and I thanked him. I wanted to tell him about this great epiphany or opening I had while in his cave the night before but I couldn't find the words.

And that's what's so great about music– when you can't find the words, find the music. My father-in-law comes from a people who didn't necessarily talk about how they felt and when he was a kid, as he confessed to me that night over the loud music, he would go in his room and play all kinds of music, depending on his mood and some how it made him feel better.

I don't know the point of this blog other than I feel shy and weird about that moment with my father-in-law...Like the societal expectation of in-laws and the relationship between a father-in-law or mother-in-law is one of , as US Weekly put it , TROUBLE. But I don't feel trouble. I feel gratitude, and I think if you just sit down and open your heart to your in-laws, you might learn something. I know I did.

Coming Soon...Chapter 2: My Mother-in-Law

1 comment:

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