Talk about your low-speed, high-density flashbacks: I went into the office at the front of our house to catch up on some e-mail, and when I looked out the front window, I saw a gentleman coming in the gate who I didn't recognize. But I knew who he was. It was the father of my son's girlfriend. I had never had this experience, exactly, but I do remember way back when I met my future father-in-law.
In high school, I waited until my senior year to throw parties of any real consequence, starting with Halloween and then most Friday nights after football or basketball games. The guest list for these soirees was pretty exclusive. You had to be in band to get in. At this time, my future wife was a sophomore, and had only just begun to find her way in our social circle. She wasn't anybody's girlfriend. Not yet. She was on the cusp of becoming my best friend's girl friend, but first he had to finish off a rather acrimonious breakup with the girl who would eventually become my girlfriend later that same year. All of those connections are not as important as the fact that my parents were hosting a group of underage boys and girls, supervised with occasional shouts downstairs and an appearance by my father to play ping-pong with those foolish enough to challenge him.
It was the underage and supervision portions of that equation that gave my wife's father pause. That's why he showed up on my parents' front porch, unannounced save the doorbell in a time long before cellular telephones. Word spread quickly through those of us who had nothing to fear, but still felt the need to feel it because "her dad is here." Any awkwardness I might have felt as the host was nothing compared to that of this teenage girl who was just out for a good time with her new friends when suddenly "her dad is here." for his part, my father handled the situation gracefully and did everything he could to put "her dad" at ease. There was nothing that could save the rest of our nerves. If we had been frolicking naked amid empty beer bottles and drug paraphernalia, we couldn't have felt more shame. Sure, there were those among us who used the dark corners for a quick make-out session, but mostly we listened to loud music and played Atari. It would be some years before truly illicit behavior would become a staple of my parties.
The next Monday at school, there was a lot of talk about how "her dad showed up." I don't remember talking to him, or even seeing him. I just knew that the party fell kind of flat after he took his daughter away. That's why, a generation later, I was so shaken when I looked up and saw somebody's dad coming up the driveway. I knew that when I had asked my son if there was a particular time that his girlfriend needed to go home I had set off a wave that turned into a cell phone call that morphed into a drive across town to the appearance of somebody's dad at our front gate. Somewhat unwittingly, I had pulled the plug on my son's evening. As the father of a son, I will probably never feel the same kind of protectiveness once felt by my current father-in-law, or his present-day doppelganger. I want everyone who comes over to my house to feel comfortable and have a good time until, suddenly, it's time to stop. I still haven't figured out how to do that one gracefully. Hopefully I'll get another chance.