True fact: the first time I met my father-in-law was on the steps of the church 15 minutes before our wedding. It was only the second time I had ever spoken to him. The previous conversation had lasted all of 30 seconds.
They departed back to Australia last week but we’ve recently been hosting the ‘out-laws’: Heather’s dad Max and stepmother Kerry.
Now the kids have (or had) three sets of grandparents. Heather’s mum and stepdad have both passed away. My parents come to stay more or less every other weekend. But it’s a little further to Thatcham from Australia than it is from London. This was Max and Kerry’s third trip to the UK but their first in (we think) seven years.
What was particularly good about this visit was that we had already seen them earlier this year on our trip to Australia and Malaysia. So the kids weren’t so much forming new memories as reinforcing existing ones.
Max is the stereotypical old-school Aussie alpha-male. I don’t mean that in a disparaging way but in terms of describing him it’s a good place to start from. That starting point being pretty much 180 degrees diametrically opposed to me. He’s still straight-talking and practical – he has a garage full of tools and car parts in the same way I have a house full of books and gadgets with USB ports – but he has also evolved a lot in the 21 years since I first met him outside that church.
I think having another child in your mid-forties helps you update your approach to life. But some people remain steadfastly locked in their own personal time bubble, while others accept change more willingly.
Some of those changes have been subtle. For instance, instead of beer he now drinks wine. His gruff exterior, which conceals an equally gruff interior, has been gradually smoothed over time. He also embraces travel, which is not so much a change as a return to youth. (Max met Heather’s (English) mum when they were both in South Africa in the 1960s, when long-haul travel was in its infancy.) He and Kerry arrived in the UK off the back of a European cruise; last year they had a huge US adventure. And he’s definitely mellowed over the years.
I hope when I get to Max’s age I can look back and appreciate how much I’ve changed too. Not least because I’ve only just realised that I’m now a similar age to what he was when we first met. Start that clock.
Anyhow, it was lovely to see both Max and Kerry again so soon after our visit to them. The kids loved having them around, not least because it gave us an excuse to go out for dinner. I even successfully negotiated a barbecue. (Doing a barbecue when you have an Australian father-in-law is akin to driving a car with Lewis Hamilton as your passenger.) No incinerated meat. No food poisoning. Just sunshine, burgers and coleslaw. (I love coleslaw.)
Of course, now the kids are asking when we can go back to Oz to see them again. I’d better start buying lottery tickets …