Brides-to-be are always pitted against their would-be mothers-in-law. Don’t step on their toes, don’t appear like you’re taking their sons’ affection, don’t do this, don’t do that. There are countless movies and books dedicated to the friction between wives and their husband’s mum, and rarely about the fathers-in-law, so I wasn’t too worried about my future father-in-law when my boyfriend of four years and I decided to get married.
My parents-in-law completely flip the gender stereotype. I have the loveliest mother-in-law who demands nothing more than I make her son happy. My father-in-law is something else. Passive-aggressive, narcissistic, sanctimonious, and suffering from acute post-power syndrome, he’s the monster-in-law in this family drama. Let’s call him Mr Moo.
The Moos have three children: daughter May, and sons Roy and Al. I started dating Al after three years of being friends in uni. We were a good match and our years of dating went smoothly. We got engaged in March and set a wedding date in December, so there was plenty of time to prep.
I always knew Al’s family was conservative. My mum was too, but mostly let me be. My late dad had been more liberal and I took after him. Like me, Al was more liberal but downplayed it in front of his parents. As the youngest in his family, he didn’t have the luxury of being an open rebel that I had.
But we agreed to appear as palatable to everyone as possible while being our truest selves to each other. I even made a concession to alter my wedding dress from shoulder-baring to full-sleeve to appeal to Mr Moo’s sensitivities — this and other things were outlined during the engagement, which involved both families, who split the cost evenly.
Everything seemed settled then, but a lot could happen in nine months. We didn’t realise how small, seemingly harmless things added up until a month before the wedding date. Al called me one night — both he and I worked in different overseas locations then — to tell me that Mr Moo had called for an urgent meeting and that we needed to fly home. I was puzzled — couldn’t we do it remotely? But apparently, it was because Mr Moo was thinking about calling off the wedding.
I almost laughed at the sheer absurdity. I mean, traditionally, a father of the groom doesn’t meddle much in a wedding. I begrudgingly booked a ticket home and demanded an explanation. Despite never having raised an objection during our meetings, his dad had been hearing little things about us and they had him rethinking if we’re ready to tie the knot. I was upset because we had set the date eight months ago. What gives?
Many things, apparently. Among them, the headline of our Facebook wedding event, which was: Anyhow Got Married! This was our attempt at being funny as the ‘anyhow’ part was a portmanteau of our (real) names, like Brangelina or Bennifer.
It was a hoot with our friends, but Mr Moo felt it was disrespectful to the sanctity of marriage. To be clear, the offending headline wasn’t used in the actual physical invitation. That Facebook event was intended for millennials with a specific sense of humour.
Then there were our recent holiday photos, where we island-hopped around Borneo in bathing suits, and I posted the album on Facebook. Apparently, this was a questionable trait for a bride-to-be.
But the straw that broke Mr Moo’s conservative camel’s back was that I requested diving gear for my dowry, as opposed to traditional embroidered clothes. I really couldn’t understand why that offended him so. Al told me that Mr Moo had been hearing all these from Al’s sister, May.
I thought May and I were on friendly terms but I was wrong. Her weird adversarial relationship with Mr Moo was fraught with lingering resentment but also with a need to win his approval, and point out to him that there are worse women (according to his standards) out there.
I was furious at May and didn’t want her at the meeting. But, an overnight flight later, I walked into my childhood home, tired and agitated, only to find her smirking in a corner. Mr Moo and Dr Moo (my mum-in-law is a dentist) and a pale-faced Al sat across my mum and my baby sister.
Mr Moo aired all the grievances he had with me, not even directly to me, but to my mum.
Unfortunately, she didn’t put up a fight. I wondered if my dad would have called off the wedding in my honour if he was still around.
I don’t remember the details of the conversation. I nodded and agreed to Mr Moo’s requests, mostly because I was in shock. But when he wanted to omit the diving gear, I put up an argument. Didn’t the bride have a right to specify the dowry? Diving gear would be much more useful to me than jewellery.
He wasn’t pleased. Without bandwidth to argue further, I gave up, said “very well” and excused myself from the meeting because I was about to burst into tears. He took this as an insult.
Al called at midnight asking me to apologise to his parents, citing how his father was old and conservative. He also said we’d soon have our own family and live far away, and that he would shield me from Mr Moo.
I started resenting him for not standing up for me that day. I refused to apologise at first but changed my mind after my mum pleaded with me not to dent the family’s reputation. Swallowing my pride, we arranged for a lunch meeting at Al’s home that weekend.
Little did I know that I was about to experience the most painful humiliation of my life. It started pleasantly enough; with my family, Al, and his mum (and no May, thank heavens). I apologised for my outburst and said that I didn’t think clearly, and I regretted it.
Then Mr Moo made his grand entrance, carrying a stack of papers. He wordlessly distributed this handout to each of us.
On the cover of the Powerpoint slides, it said: ‘HOW TO BE A GOOD DAUGHTER-IN-LAW’.
I first thought it was a mistake. Al looked horrified — he didn’t know. My sister looked similarly horrified. My mum commented on how nice of it was of him to have made an effort. The next 30 minutes was a run-through of the Powerpoint handout — a personal lecture for me, witnessed by all. The pages contained quotes from random psychologists, quotes coated in patriarchal values about how a woman should behave; how I should behave to be deserving of his son — nothing about how it should be vice versa.
I was paralysed from disbelief. There were millions of questions in my head. How dare you? Who do you think you are? Who do you think I am? Would you have treated me like this if my dad was still alive? Do you think your children are so perfect and innocent that you can lecture me like this?
What a bully.
By some miracle, we got through the lecture and the lunch after. I was deathly quiet. Mr Moo appeared to be satisfied. His parting words before we left was: “Now that I said what needed to be said, you and Al should contemplate whether you are ready to tie the knot yet. The ball is in your field.” Our wedding was a soccer ball to him, and he kicked it around, I thought.
Al followed us to our home, and into my room. He cried and apologised — he had no idea his dad was going to do that. I didn’t cry. I wanted to claw his eyes out. I read aloud the points in the handout, and checked every point with him with as much sarcasm I could muster — “Do you agree with this? Do you want me to do this? Wow, I didn’t know you wanted a wife like this.’ I was feeling vindictive.
He tried to soothe me, which made me angrier. I ripped the pages one by one in front of me, my voice rising higher and higher until I actually slapped him — twice. My mum came in to diffuse the situation but I kicked him out of the house. That night, I returned to the city where I worked.
Al followed me there. But I didn’t want to see him so after a few days, so he flew back to where he worked. There were many tearful calls between us after. I asked if he’d still be at the wedding if his Dad wasn’t coming because I was “an embarrassment”.
He sidestepped the question and said he just wanted to be happy. I was hurt. He said he’s hurt too and that he had hurt Mr Moo earlier because he had finally confronted him and told him he had a different viewpoint on life and marriage. If I could, for the sake of us, endure a bit more, then he swore I would never have to deal with this friction again. I was unconvinced because then we’d be legally bound as a family. If we had children, they’d be his grandchildren.
It dawned on me that the crisis was real. This wedding was more off than on. All my close friends were righteously indignant on my behalf and would wholeheartedly support me if I bailed.
“Let’s go diving in Raja Ampat, it’ll be a better story than Sex & The City 2,” one of them said. I was sorely tempted. There’s just one thing though — I loved Al. He’s a decent guy and makes me laugh. We’d seen each other at our worst and stayed by each other during some of the most difficult times in our young adult lives.
A true Libra, he’s at his happiest when everyone he loves is happy. Now he was hurting because I was hurting. If I truly wanted him, then I must let go of my Capricorn stubbornness. In a move that shocked everyone who knew me, I flew back home. I called Dr Moo, who received me warmly and assured me the wedding was on and that everything was fine. I could talk more freely with her. We video-called Al from the kitchen, prepping dinner, and he burst into tears of relief. At that point, Mr Moo, who pretended to be busy when his wife and I were having our little heart-to-heart chat, deigned to show his face to say hi to his son. He was tired of Al giving him the cold shoulder.
Al and I will celebrate our eighth anniversary this December. All that brouhaha happened around eight years ago in November, and is water under the bridge now. But I will never forget it, and November will always bring with it a little dread. Have I forgiven Mr Moo? For the most part, because he’s family now, and the pandemic has given a new perspective on the importance of a family. I take comfort in knowing that I chose the right path, and we are happily married.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of The Singapore Women’s Weekly. Names have been changed to protect privacy.
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