I met my father-in-law today for the first time.
We’ve been talking about going to visit for years, really, but he’s so far away. And I knew that it would be difficult, but I had no idea how hard it would really be. I know so much about him, but still so little. I know all of his memories. All of Jonathan’s memories of him, right down to the salami sandwiches he used to eat that drove my mother-in-law crazy enough that she’d kick him to the foot of the bed to eat them.
He always made Jonathan one, too.
I like to think that he’d like me. Ema says that he would have loved me; would have welcomed me into the family with open arms. From what I know about my father-in-law, I can’t imagine that he wouldn’t have welcomed me with open arms, whether he liked me or not.
I always knew that Jonathan grew up without a father. I always say that he raised his brother and sister, 7-year-old turned father and husband. One of my earliest memories of our relationship (I was 16!) I remember his mother being on the phone with the insurance company, for one reason or another. She didn’t understand what the insurance agent was saying, so she put Jonathan on the phone. Just like a wife would put her husband on the line to clarify, to toughen up the agent so that she could get what she needed. She had Jonathan for that.
When people ask him if it was difficult to grow up without a father, he always says no. He doesn’t have a choice about not having a father but he had a choice about whether to make it difficult. He chose not to.
But to reach each milestone without a father – that is difficult. When Jonathan walked down the aisle at our wedding, he walked down with his mother. I walked down with my parents, mom and dad. He’s smiling so wide; he didn’t even feel the emptiness on his right arm. But it was still there. And Jonathan’s father was on everyone’s mind in that moment. My best friends cried for him when they saw his empty arm.
Today, standing in front of a stone slab that read my father-in-law’s name, the reality sunk in for me, for the first time. The truth is, I never thought about Jonathan’s father as my father-in-law. He was always Jonathan’s father. But today, I realized.
Today, I really met my father-in-law for the first time. I realized that he’s not just Jonathan’s father, he’s my father now, too. And when we take our children to visit him, we’re going to be taking them to a concrete slab, and telling them that it’s their grandfather.
Today, my husband turned to me and said, “It really doesn’t get easier.”
From everything that I know about my father-in-law, he would be so proud of his oldest child. Everything that Jonathan does would make him very, very proud.
They say that on your wedding day, the souls of all of your family members come down from shamayim and stand beside you under the chuppah, to usher your now-complete soul into the world with the ultimate amount of holiness behind it. I know that Jonathan’s father, my father-in-law was there. I drank sweet wine out of his kiddush cup. Everyone felt his warmth.
And I know that in a lot of ways, he’s still here. But mostly, he’s in Jonathan. Even though he was so young when his father died, he has so much of his father in him. Their mannerisms, their passions, all the same – even the resemblance is uncanny. So, when ema says that my father-in-law would have loved me, I believe her. Because I love their son so much.
Today, I met my father-in-law for the first time. And we’re going to go visit more often.
I don’t know what you had for dinner, but tonight, we’re having salami sandwiches.