Meeting the parents
I’m a pretty confident guy. I mean, I don’t strut around all puffed up, punching small, wiry people with popped collars and fedoras in the face or anything. But I’m pretty comfortable with my ability to get by in most situations. Be myself, listen, say “ma’am” and “sir,” use my inside voice, use caution referencing historical events in which any friend or relative might have died or been mauled, remember to blink. You know, basic interpersonal skills.
I’ve known Kari for 20 years. Over the years, I’ve certainly heard about her parents, and I’ve talked to Mama Goetz on a couple of occasions. I mean, back in the day, I had to call the Goetz Ranch and ask to speak to Kari. There was no email, no IM. I’m not entirely sure our voices weren’t transported over wires by the coordinated interactions of highly trained gerbils. These were very dark times when people actually had to speak to each other on a telephone and hope that the person you wanted to reach was at home to take your call. It’s a wonder we survived.
But I digress. The point is we’d spoken, I’d heard tales, but we’d never met.
Meeting the parents is always an interesting exercise in both tactics and endurance. A bit like invading a small country without strong civic institutions and with most governing authority held by warlords who ride down from the mountains to strike you where you’re most vulnerable. So here I am, a 37-year-old man, with academic, professional, and life accomplishments I can be proud of, with a then-recent history of negotiating – solo – a many, many millions of dollars license agreement with a very, very large software company with mean, angry lawyers opposing me … and I was terrified of meeting the parents.
Sure, I figured I’d hold it together ok. I wasn’t going to start crying uncontrollably or, I don’t know, bust out in “Gin and Juice” over dinner, but I was meeting the parents. Kari’s parents!
The occasion was Kari’s graduation from her Master’s program. Yes, the hat is my doing. I’m witty. Anyway, we’d only seen each other for the 2nd first time a couple of months before, so I was still suffering large blocks of memory loss from the sheer awesome impact force of seeing Kari in person. Which I still do, but I’ve gotten better at scribbling reminders on my forearm and writing my life experiences on my mirror so I retain the thread of my accumulated life experience and whatnot.
It’s funny. I’m sitting here writing this, and I don’t remember whether Kari’s parents were already at the house when we came in from the airport. I’m about 93% sure they weren’t, but this is the memory loss I’m talking about. It’s like there was a bright light and a loud buzz in my brain the whole time.
But, as it does, time passed, the Goetzen were at Kari’s house, and I was say hello.
A moment here. People talk about making a good first impression. I’d suggest that, when meeting the parents, the concern is less making a good first impression than avoiding making any sort of last impression. That’s what’s at stake. If you find yourself in the position of having to pick up the kindling of your life after it’s shattered on the rocks of a bad parent meeting, well, maybe it’s best to just move to Wisconsin and start over with a new life and new identity.
But Mr. Goetz and I exchanged lawyer pheromones and Mama Goetz and I hugged, and, to this point anyway, they haven’t killed me.
I don’t want to give the wrong impression. It’s not that I live in fear of the Goetzen (here’s where I hear Jim’s voice in my head saying “You should. You should.”). They’re lovely people. Exactly the sort of people I’d expect to have raised someone like Kari. But that’s just it. They’re smart and nice and funny and they are the parents of this person I’m trying to spend the rest of my life with holy moly please don’t stab me in the nostril with anything please I’ll wash the dog whatever you say.
See what I mean?
Now the punch line to all this is that, as I mentioned, this was Kari’s graduation. I had this idea in my head that we were going to a small room and the, like, 12 people in the program would shuffle across the stage, shake hands with the department head, and off we’d go to a nice dinner. NoooooOOOOOOoooooope. We all piled in the car, drove over to campus, and got out at the basketball arena, where Kari left to go spend the next FOUR HOURS graduating with a couple thousand fellow graduate students. Leaving me to try to avoid busting out with “Gin and Juice” with the Goetzen for FOUR HOURS, mere minutes after we’d met for the first time.
But it was wonderful. We sat there, sometimes talking, sometimes chuckling at the sheer number of light up devices the family in front of us had draped across themselves, Kari and I texted our mutual impatience that the ceremony was never, ever, ever going to end, and the Goetzen continued not to strangle me, impale me with sticks, or light me on fire.
It was a good day.
A day you’re meeting the parents of the person you want to spend the rest of your life with. A day you’re completely preoccupied with just … not being a disappointment. A day you’re auditioning to join a family.
And when you make it through, it’s one of the most awesome feelings in the world.
Thank you, Jim and Kathy. You made me feel welcome right away. And you made Kari. Good job all around. I hope you didn’t think I was weird.