Love & Marriage Across the Hate Barrier

     For the next several weeks we were bundles of nerves. Each time I saw Melissa and she failed to mention the meeting, I suspected her of having decided to back away from scheduling a confrontation, of having reconsidered her relationship with me. I picked fights over trivial things like the way she wore her hair or the way she phrased a remark, then stormed out muttering dark imprecations about her character. She accused me of trying to find an excuse to cop out of the relationship at the first hint of adversity. She stormed out yelling accusations about my gummy-worm backbone. We broke up several times only to rush back into each others' arms gushing apologies and vows. In the end we knew there was no way around that meeting with her father.

     At last the date was set. We were to go over to her parents' home for tennis and dinner. I was encouraged until ferreting out the fact that the event had been conceived entirely between Melissa and her mother. Her father's only participation had been a grudging agreement to being there. I died a thousand deaths anticipating the occasion. By the time we pulled into the driveway of the white two-story colonial, I was stiff with nerves. If someone would have said boo to me, I would have jumped out of my skin. "You look great," Melissa reassured me as I checked the rearview mirror for the hundredth time. "You, too," I said listlessly.

     Nothing went as I had imagined. I knew what her parents looked like from Melissa's photos, but their personalities threw me completely. Her mother was unexpectedly brittle and cool, almost suspicious in the way her bright green eyes followed my every movement. Her father, on the other hand, was genial and smiling. "Good to see you again, Ken," he said, giving me a firm but not overpowering handshake. "I see you don't remember. We met once when you came over for Melissa's birthday."

     He was right. I had completely forgotten, as had Melissa. How could I have known, at the age of sixteen, that a girlfriend's father would come to loom so large in my prospects for happiness? He laughed off my apology and guided me out through the patio door toward the court. By now I was sure there had been a misunderstanding. How could this friendly man harbor hatred toward an entire race of people? Nothing but good-humored pleasantries escaped his lips as the four of us got warmed up for a set of doubles, Melissa and I versus her parents. They were crafty club players and, despite our youthful advantages, took the first set easily. A few games into the second, Melissa's mother excused herself to go cook and Melissa went with her to help out. I suddenly saw that the afternoon had been carefully planned for the purpose of leaving the two of us alone to become acquainted.

     But no movie-style melodramatics followed, just a lot of no-holds-barred tennis. I had decided that I would rather have my future father-in-law see me as a hardnosed winner than a walkover. I put extra mustard on my serves and groundstrokes to give the old guy's legs and reflexes a real workout. Unfortunately, my first serves strayed and the old guy was spry and masterful at the net. Quickly and decisively, he put me back on my heels. My lobs and passing shots were tested and found sadly deficient. Our set would probably have ended 6-1 had he not eased up at the end and let me take another face-saving game.


     "Mind if I give you a bit of advice?" the old man said as we zipped up our rackets. Okay, here it comes, I thought, my heart skipping a beat. Here's where the old guy tells the ineligible young suitor to get out of his daughter's life.

     "Not at all," I said. My mouth suddenly felt like a dry streambed.

     "Work on that second serve." That was it. Not a word about Melissa and me. Dinner and the rest of the evening went the same way. The mother watched me as though I were a known kleptomaniac and the father treated me like a favorite nephew. As we were leaving I didn't know whether to pinch myself or be disappointed. PAGE 4

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“How could I have known, at the age of sixteen, that a girlfriend's father would come to loom so large in my prospects for happiness?”

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