Rules of engagement

(Published October. 20, 2006, 2:43 p.m.)

Note: Originally published in The Week June 12, 2005, this column won a first place award for humor in the National Newspaper Association's Better Newspaper Contest.

By Susan Lanham

My niece, Kim, is in love with her young man, Nick. Actually, all the women in our family love Nick. He pulls out our chairs at the table, helps clean up after family dinners, and when I lied and told him I'm 49, he didn't fall down laughing.

But the men in our family haven't embraced him. And it's not just because his good manners put theirs to shame. Which, of course, they do. It's goes deeper than that.

Kim had hoped her brother, Frankie, would befriend Nick, but Frankie wasn't interested. When Kim asked him why, Frankie replied, "He's not a man's man."

We took that to mean Nick doesn't cuss or belch.

Kim's dad, Big Frank, while never saying a bad word about Nick, also never said a word to Nick. "If we ignore him, maybe he'll go away," Frank told my sister when she accused him of being rude.

Linda scowled at him. "He's not a rash, Frank."

My dad is the straight shooter of the family, more frank than Frank. He summed up the male position on Nick succinctly. "The kid doesn't fish."

In my family, a person who doesn't love fishing is defective. Not a rod-and-reel person myself, I was nearly voted off the island, until a family conference ended in a split decision that this stain on my character was attributable, at least in part, to my X chromosome, and I was grudgingly allowed to remain in the family.

But for a man not to fish is unnatural, according to Team Testosterone. "It isn't right," said Dad. "It's like a frog not liking to jump. A bear not liking honey.

"A bee without a buzz."

Despite the disapproval of her brother, father and grandfather, Kim continued seeing Nick. And like a weed in a sidewalk crack, the relationship bloomed.

Early in spring Nick bought a townhouse. Kim wanted to show it to her parents, so she waited until her dad was in China.

"Do you think Kim intends to move in with him?" I asked my sister when she reported this latest development.

"I hope not," Linda said. "Frank's heart could never handle it."

Kim didnšt move in with Nick. Instead, Nick asked Big Frank for his daughter's hand in marriage. Nick's polite

Linda phoned me from her ringside seat inside the coat closet during the Father vs. Future-son-in-law bout.

"Good grief, " I said. "Why call me? You should be calling 911."

"I think it's all right," she whispered, peering into her living room through the door crack. "Frank hasn't clutched his chest yet."

"Forget Frank," I replied. "I'm worried about Nick. Do you see any blood?"

"Dripping or spurting?"

Fortunately, no blood was shed that night, except perhaps for Nick's sweating blood, when Big Frank roared, "The sun rises and sets on my daughter. If you ever cause a solar eclipse ..."

Since then the two families have met and discussed wedding plans. Nick's family is devoutly Catholic, so Kim's taking catechism classes.

And Nickšs agreed to learn about Kim's religion as well. Big Frank is taking him fishing.

God help him.


The author is a columnist for The Week and lives in Elkhorn.






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