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I’m grateful for sons-in-law

Malcolm St. Clair (left) and Henry Wright
Ralph Gardner Jr.
Malcolm St. Clair (left) and Henry Wright

At Thanksgiving we went around the dinner table and volunteered what we were thankful for. I don’t recall what my answer was when my turn came. Hopefully, the conversation had strayed in a different direction by that point because I’m not very good at thinking on the spot.

It’s not even that. I have an allergic reaction to sentimentality. On December 31st, I even find it a challenge to craft resolutions for the coming year. Que sera sera, as the song goes. Whatever will be, will be. I also don’t participate in the Japanese New Year’s ritual, adopted by my wife and our guests, of writing one’s regrets on a piece of decorative paper and throwing them into the flames.

But that Thanksgiving weekend, as the entire immediate family was gathered at our house, it became apparent what I was thankful for: my sons-in-law. When you’re a child or a teenager and try to imagine the future you tend to think in broad strokes. Hopefully you’ll fall in love, get married if that’s your thing, maybe even have children one day.

You don’t give much thought to the details. For example, that you don’t just marry the person you fall in love with but their family, too. In my case it worked out well because my in-laws were lovely people. I won’t presume to speak for my wife about her in-laws. My parents were an acquired taste, to put it kindly.

And I gave hardly any thought at all – call it a failure of imagination – to anticipate that my daughters would one day get married and have husbands who would share our house on occasional weekends and holidays and that I’d be required to get along with them, too.

Fortunately, both of them are easygoing, thoughtful, talented fellows. But that wasn’t what sparked my gratitude last weekend. It was something far more practical. Malcolm rewired my stereo and Henry, a professional chef, sharpened a dozen kitchen knives with a professional knife sharpener that he’d brought along for the occasion.

Malcolm, a schoolteacher, also turns out to be an excellent father to his and my daughter Lucy’s eleven-month-old twins. And I suffer little doubt Henry will be the same if and when he and my younger daughter Gracie decide to have children. I’m almost egotistical enough to believe that our kids chose good partners because they were raised in a loving, healthy home and have gone on to make smart choices in their own lives.

But that’s based in the realm of psychology and well beyond my expertise. On the other hand, having someone around who can fix your stereo or sharpen your knives offers a direct, practical benefit. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Malcolm has built a woodworking shop in our garage where, when he’s not sawing, sanding and shellacking replacement parts for his beloved sailboat has contributed to the greater glory of our home by constructing a compost bin. For my birthday he even fashioned a small bridge that spans the brief distance from the shore to our pond’s dock.

Henry has worked at some of the world’s best restaurants and may eventually open one of his own. In the meantime, between him and Gracie, a talented professional chef in her own right, the quality of our meals rises exponentially when they’re in the house.

What makes their collective talents all the more impressive is that I’m supremely incompetent – I’d go so far as to say imbecilic -- at anything that requires physical problem-solving skills. In other words, anything that requires visual-spacial, logical-mathematical awareness.

Allow me to give you a brief, revealing, unflattering example. Before Malcolm fixed the stereo I gave it a try. The problem seemed to be the speaker wires that I’d originally thread myself. The speakers are on a high shelf and I found it easier to visit them than force them to come down to me when they developed a persistent unpleasant crackle whenever I played a record. I assumed, apparently correctly, the issue was that I had no idea what I was doing when I wired them in the first place.

Since it dark on that high shelf, lighting was required to execute the dainty work of stripping the wires and reconnecting them to the speakers. The light from my cellphone proved insufficient. And a powerful spotlight I use to spot wildlife in the woods at night was overkill.

What never occurred to me, but it did instantly to Malcolm, is that a clip-on light attached to a lower shelf needed only to be turned upward. He was also gracious about my incompetence as a stereo repairman, portraying the delicate process of stripping wires as much an art as science.

The main problem I see in dealing with my sons-in-law going forth is that I don’t overstep my bounds. The house is ancient, in a state of polite though seemingly inexorable decline and I could easily see ensnarling these talented youths in all sorts of schemes and chores, perhaps disturbing the sacred father-in-law/son-in-law bond which, as I may have previously mentioned, I wasn’t even aware was a thing until last weekend.

Ralph Gardner, Jr. is a journalist who divides his time between New York City and Columbia County. More of his work can be found be found on Substack.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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