Practising new steps with the ex-in-laws
This afternoon I dropped my little girl into town to meet my ex-mother-in-law. Her hair beautifully styled by my soon-to-be wife and dressed in a stunning sparkly red dress, my daughter clearly looked the classiest of all the children about to watch the ballet. She grabbed her grandma’s hand and swiftly shot off into the theatre, giving me a high-five before the ex-mother-in-law confirmed what time she hoped to drop her back at my house.
When moving on from a divorce, the relationship with the ex-in-laws will obviously, out of nowhere, undergo a new dynamic.
My ex-in-laws had always been extremely good to me. They took me in under their wing. They knew I was leaving family and close friends behind when I moved up to the north of England to be with their daughter. As a result, both of them went out of their way to help me to adjust to my new surroundings.
As time went on our relationship grew. Of course, like any in-laws, they could at times irritate me, but it was never out of malice and always occurred through the best of intentions. When they discovered news of their daughter leaving the family home, it genuinely seemed to stun them both. I have on occasion since speculated that my ex-mother-in-law probably knew a little more than she let on at the time, but my father-in-law was mortified.
He is a tough Northerner, my ex-father-in-law. A no-nonsense type who doesn’t really do emotion. However, seeing me a few days after his daughter left us, he threw me and thus I’ll always remember what he said.
“She’s a bloody disgrace,” he exclaimed. “I love her because she’s my daughter but she won’t get better than you.” He then proceeded to embrace me. I’d never seen him hug his own wife in the 12 years I’d known him, yet here he was holding me, as I froze, a little stunned and unsure of what to do next. I then just cried, confirming to him what he had always known: his (ex) son-in-law was (and shamefully still is) a southern fairy.
The ex-father-in-law was genuinely gutted about the break-up. In many ways I was all he wanted in a son-in-law: I liked my football, as he did; I would pretend to be interested in his knowledge of the UK rail network and ultimately he could see that I was just a normal bloke trying to do right by his family. His own son treats him with utter contempt, so much so that you could see he was relieved whenever I was present at family functions. He was genuinely going to miss me.
My ex-in-laws had nothing to do with their daughter leaving…
Alternatively, the ex-mother-in-law kept counsel. She rightly stayed loyal to her daughter and was determined not to break that. However, I remember one conversation she had with me where it became increasingly clear that she was concerned with how her daughter’s actions would affect her own relationship with her grandchildren. In other words, she was nervous I would use her to deliver blows to the ex-wife by making it as difficult as possible for her parents to maintain the close relationship they have with my kids.
I’ll be frank: never had the notion entered my mind. The relationship the ex-in-laws have with my children is one I am keen to encourage and see develop as my son and daughter grow up. My ex-in-laws had nothing to do with their daughter leaving. And anyway, going out of my way to try to damage that relationship would hurt my children, too, as they love their grandparents, and I simply have no interest in doing that.
Consequently, my ex-father-in-law still picks my two up from school on a Thursday and has a key to my house. Every week I am greeted to seeing him sat on my sofa, looking forward to chatting about football, moan about the price of petrol and share stories about the children. He also makes an effort with my soon-to-be wife, uttering a poor joke to her and always enquiring how she is. It’s unsurprising really, as he is fundamentally a good man.
And, on days like today, which strictly speaking is my designated weekend, my little girl is currently watching the ballet with her grandma, which is the right thing to do. It makes sense, anyhow. I’m more of a “Street-Dance with MC Hammer-shit” kind of man to quote David Brent from The Office. I can’t be dealing with any Nut Crackers or lakes with swans. Instead, I’ll go and put the roast chicken on and await my girl’s return with tales of tutus and pirouettes. I cannot wait.