Once upon a time, callow young men almost always met their dates’ dads. This ritual vetting was an important part of protecting the human species from random romantic mistakes.
As a new boyfriend, you’d rather get your skull drilled than meet your date’s old man for the first time, yet meet him you did. You’d throw your shoulders back and wipe your clammy paw against your sweater in anticipation of his too-firm handshake. In most cases, it was like shaking hands with a smiling canned ham.
At work was the law of inverse proportions. The more impressive the girl, the worse her father. If your date was Goldilocks, her dad looked like Shrek, big, green and warty.
As time passed, you learned to pick up your dates before the cocktail hour, before her dad was feeling extra social and likely to utter the worst words you’d ever heard: “Sit down, son. Let’s chat a little.”
I’d always answer: “Does anybody? I mean, aren’t parents the most indecipherable of all human beings?”
Of course, that’s not exactly what her father meant. He meant: “Have I ever bored your folks with pointless stories at lousy holiday parties?”
To which I’d then reply: “Yeah, probably.”
Today, boyfriend inspections are still a part of American dating culture, kept alive by fathers like me with a misguided sense of ownership over their children, the people they love more than anything in the whole world.
So, big, green and warty, I returned to the struggling little fishing village of Santa Monica for another boyfriend inspection. The lovely and patient older daughter has been seeing this guy, who hasn’t been dad-certified yet.
Turns out he’s a nice guy, Justin. Told me he’s originally from the suburbs of New York, which set off all sorts of alarms.
You’ve met New Yorkers, right? Always bright, always aggressive, yet they have the mannerisms of small animals that find themselves trapped in your garage. Often, you have to swoosh them out with a broom, while they hiss at you the entire time.
Must be fluent in the classics: ‘The Big Lebowski,’ ‘Chinatown,’ ‘Moonstruck,’ ‘Caddyshack’ and Donald Sutherland’s masterwork, ‘Kelly’s Heroes.’
Still, as my lovely older daughter points out, “New York guys can be tamed and eventually make excellent pets.”
Look, she likes this fellow — that’s the most important thing. They seem pals. Plus, he has a very cool mustache, which conveys both wisdom and an enlightened sense of personal style.
You know me: I’m not obsessive, but I am thorough. So before I left, I asked Justin to sign a short legal document that I am in the process of getting notarized.
Here’s what I presented to him: “10 Simple Rules for Dating My Millennial Daughter”:
Rule 1. Must always root for the underdog, prefer baseball to football, jazz to rap, fall to spring, Fitzgerald to Faulkner, pubs to opera, Montana to Marino, tailgate parties to weddings, dogs to cats, Mel Brooks to Albert Brooks, Matisse to Michelangelo, Bartles to Jaymes. (The order of this is significant and inalterable. By the second date, you must have it memorized.)
Rule 2. Must agree that life is a compilation of elusive little truths that, when piled up like sugar cubes, form the foundation on which everything else in the universe rests.
Rule 3. When watching “Wheel of Fortune,” must be able to shout outlandish, nonsensical answers that aren’t even close. And think that’s funny.
Rule 5. Must be willing to advise me on various harebrained business ventures, such as my latest: Selling hemp hats to disgruntled hipsters.
Rule 6. Must know how to tell a joke: A bear walked into a bar ... . A bar walked into a bear ... . A dyslexic bear walked into a bra ... .
Rule 7. Must be fluent in the classics: “The Big Lebowski,” “Chinatown,” “Moonstruck,” “Caddyshack” and Donald Sutherland’s masterwork, “Kelly’s Heroes.”
Rule 8. Must enjoy mocking stuff: skinny jeans, bespoke suits, Microsoft, political dynasties, Prius drivers, hipsters, aging hippies, political extremists, Portland, the NRA, Robin Thicke, the New Yorker, LA Weekly and (especially) that guy who used to play Doogie Howser and now somehow hosts all the major awards shows.
Rule 9. Must see some truth to the provocative observation: “In the world of sports, Muhammad Ali changed everything.”
Rule 10. Must agree that light beer is fine, but decaf coffee is “merely a cup of lies.”
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