In 1930s, humorist J.P. McEvoy wrote the Post column “Father Meets Son” presented to readers in the form of letters filled with advice for navigating life’s rocky road. Employing a mix of wry humor and tough love, Dad doled out life lessons on everything from work to women. Readers loved it.
His son’s relationship with the boss’s daughter is getting serious! Dad encourages his son to talk to the boss about turning him into a father-in-law — but to find the emergency exit first.
Father Meets Son: Being in Love
By J.P. McEvoy
Originally published on June 5, 1937
Dear Son: So you love the boss’s daughter and the boss’s daughter loves you, and where do you go from there? She wants you to go right to the boss and tell him the good news. You are not so sure he will think it is so good. And a lot of other things are worrying you. You have no money, no prospects, and the only job you have is driving the family car — her family. What will the old man say when he learns the family chauffeur wants to marry his daughter? And if he says, “Okay!” won’t people say you married for money, or just to get ahead? Quite a situation, but hardly a novel one. The movies would go out of business without it.
Suppose we sit down together and go over the situation bit by bit, like a couple of inchworms. First, there is this marriage question in general. Boss’s daughter or no boss’s daughter, should you get married at your age and in your economic spot? You are 23, you have no money saved up, you have a college education and a liberal arts diploma, you have had a few months’ experience at making your own living, you are ambitious, healthy, moderately good-looking, and in love. Not an impressive capital with which to start a business as difficult as marriage, unless you plan to put “good will” in at a handsome figure. Which has been done, and many times with great success. The girl is young and beautiful and spoiled, and her father is rich, and she is in love with you. It would take a smarter man than I am to analyze that statement and give you a trustworthy picture of the assets and liabilities in it. As a business proposition, the partnership you propose is not necessarily doomed to succeed. Neither is it bound to fail. A number of factors that do not appear on the balance sheet will decide the issue. Let us take them up, not necessarily in the order of their importance, because we don’t know what that order is.
You. Are you too young? You will have to find that out for yourself. Some boys are men at 18; some men are boys at 80. Do you want to grow up? Do you want to mature? Then you certainly are not too young to start. Holding a job matured you a little, but holding a wife will mature you a lot. If for no other reason, I would be in favor of an early marriage because of that. It’s a hard school, but you can’t go through it without acquiring a lot of valuable knowledge you can never get from books. You will learn patience and tolerance, and patience and cooperation, and patience and more patience.
The girl. You started out thinking she was a spoiled brat. Now you know she is an angel. The chances are she is both. Being a spoiled brat doesn’t mean she hasn’t plenty of good qualities hidden away. Being an angel doesn’t mean she can’t be spoiled again. Her love for you apparently has brought all her best qualities to the surface, where they shine like beaten gold. You say her parents are genuinely surprised by the change that has come over her. She has become serious where before she was giddy; she has become thoughtful where before she was thoughtless. And love has wrought this wondrous miracle! Is it a real miracle or only the appearance of one? Is this new Gloria the substance, and the old Gloria the shadow? Or vice versa? Or are there two inextricably mixed Glorias awaiting your magic to bring out the better one and make it the dominant personality? You’ll never know until you have to work at it.
Her mother. From what you have told me about her, you need expect very little assistance from that quarter. She is and always will be Gloria’s natural ally. Proudly she carries a banner on which you may read this illuminating slogan: “My daughter! May she always be right, but right or wrong, my daughter!”
Her father. He seems to hold the key position just now. You are working for him — and what will he think when you tell him you have nominated him to be your father-in-law? From what I gather so far, he seems to be a pretty reasonable, sensible, practical fellow; so maybe he won’t be so surprised as you think. Whether you work for him or somebody else should make little difference, so long as you do your work well. Why should he care whether you are driving his car or somebody else’s car or your own car, if driving a car is the job? Being sensible, he probably doesn’t care a hoot. He will undoubtedly want to know if you are honest and ambitious and intelligent; if you have a good mind and a sound body; if you are willing to work, and work hard; if you have intestinal fortitude and the yeast of growth in you.
What more can a young man hope to bring to marriage these days? Money? He hasn’t had the time or the opportunity to make it himself, and any other kind comes too easy not to go the same way. Position? The only position that does you any good in the long run is what you make for yourself, and that again takes years of hard work. If a young man needs only capital or an opportunity and has all the other assets, I see no reason why he should not accept, or the prospective father-in-law should not extend, such assistance. There was sound economics in the dot, or dower, system in the older countries. And isn’t it just as sound today in your own land, if the dot takes the shape of opportunity for the young man to marry and get started rather than force him and the girl to wait for years, until the bloom has been taken off their romance?
If I were your prospective father-in-law instead of your father, I would look at it something like this: I have a daughter who is young and attractive and full of beans. She is better off married to someone she loves than batting around hunting for thrills and winding up a few years from now jaded and too hard to please. I have no son, and this young man, if he has the right stuff in him, could be a son to me. Why, then, shouldn’t I give him the chance to work his way up in my business and learn how to handle it, so that eventually I can turn the reins over to a young man who belongs in the family, instead of to some stranger? Why should I expect him to wait until he can support my daughter in the manner to which she is accustomed? That is much too rich for her blood, as it is, and she would be better off starting all over again at the modest scale on which her mother and I started.
At the same time, this may be one of those puppy-love infatuations. How do I know? How will I find out? Time is a subtle ally. Time will tell if they really love each other; time will tell if the young man has the makings in him. I will ask them both to wait one year. In that year I will give the young man every opportunity in my business to show what he can do. If he makes good and proves to me that he has the potential capacity for business and social success, I will give them my blessing and help them on their way. If he doesn’t make good for me or the girl in that time, nobody has lost anything, nobody has been hurt, and we can all sit down together then, discuss the new situation, and come to a reasonable decision based on experience instead of guesswork.
That’s what I would say if I were the girl’s father. I find it even easier to say since I am not her father, but yours. What will he say? Go and ask him. But first look around for the nearest exit, and, in case of emergency, be prepared to run, not walk.
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Coming soon: Separated from Love
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