She Married Her Father-in-Law!

Around the community where we live, I am known to most of our neighbours as Donna’s husband.  This, I think, is due more to my wife’s friendly, caring nature with everyone she meets, than it is to my somewhat more reserved approach.

I don’t mind, of course, because it garners me automatic entry into the circle of regard in which she is held.  I benefit from instant credibility, instant relevance, instant acceptance.

“Oh, you’re Donna’s husband!” is an exclamation I often hear, followed quickly by a wide smile from the speaker, sometimes even a hug.


Among my own family, however, my identity has morphed into something I never quite anticipated.  Increasingly now, whenever I encounter sisters, nieces and nephews, or other extended family members, I am told I look like my father.

“You’re just like him,” they declare.  “You even sound like him.”

They’ve heard me sneeze, you see, which reincarnates my father every time.

Although I loved him very much while he was with us, I confess I never aspired to be exactly like him.  I wanted to be my own man—not so unusual a desire, I suppose, for sons of successful, admired fathers.

As a young man encountering people who knew him, I would often hear, “Ahh, you’re Bill Burt’s boy.”

And I would struggle to suppress the haughty reply, “Actually, he’s my father.”

But now, happily entrenched in my mid-seventies, I am no longer possessed by that same hubris.  Just as I am inordinately proud to be both a father and grandfather in my own right, I am more than happy to be recognized as my father’s son.


My beautiful picture





Still, it comes as something of a shock to be reminded by those who knew him that, more and more, I behave just like he used to.  In photographs, I gaze at the camera with the same bemused expression he always had.  I remember thinking he was trying for a mix of casual and noble at the same time; I don’t know what I’m attempting to do, but I somehow attain the same inane facial expression.

My mouth, at rest, turns downward at the corners, making me appear grouchy, when I am anything but.  I try to smile broadly for the camera, as he did, if for no other reason than to dispel that impression.

In many pictures, I’m sitting the way he did, or standing with the same posture.  As my jowls begin to droop, as my hair turns white, my profile shots are becoming eerily similar to his.

In videos, I walk the way he used to, shoulders hitched slightly high, strong chin tucked in, eyes peering out from under raised eyebrows.

And (somewhat depressingly, I must admit), I feel awkward now as I clamber from my easy chair to my feet, as I try to step into my trousers without falling over, as I walk slowly upstairs one-step-at-a-time—just as I remember my father doing at my age!


I must confess, however, that I do like it when the comparison is reversed; for example, when my grandchildren see a picture of my father (whom none of them remember), and say, “Wow, Grandpa, he sure looks like you!”  That turns the corners of my mouth up every time.

And I appreciate the truth now in the lines from William Wordsworth—

…So was it when my life began,

So is it now I am a man;

So be it when I shall grow old…

The Child is father of the Man.

No one in our community ever knew my father; but if they were ever to see a picture of him, I’m sure I’d no longer be known as Donna’s husband.

Instead, the whispers would be, “Can you believe it?  She married her father-in-law!”

Expletive Deleted!

Neither a borrower nor a lender be!”  Sage advice from the English Bard, advice which I unsuccessfully tried to impart to my daughters as they were growing up.


Borrowing is an art, I used to tell them.  It’s very unlike lending, which is a straightforward act requiring nothing more than an assenting response to another’s request.

Anyone can lend something to someone.  No particular talent is needed, no marked intelligence, no difficult decisions.  A simple yes is all that’s necessary, and it’s done—just like that!

But borrowing is another thing entirely.  As a borrower, one has to know what’s needed and where it might be found.  One has to make certain decisions and offer certain guarantees to the lender.  It’s essential that one be able to make the request in such a manner as to elicit agreement from the other party.  And, of course, one must return the borrowed article in reasonable condition within an acceptable length of time.

Alas, it was that last condition that gave me a lot of trouble.  I’m a borrower, and always have been, which is why my daughters didn’t take my advice too seriously.  Yet, I never fully mastered the art of it.

I always knew what I needed and where to find it; there was no problem there.  And, I generally found other people quite agreeable in allowing me the use of whatever it was I asked for.  But returning what I borrowed in the same condition in which I received it always seemed next to impossible.

Mind you, I never took something back in a worse state than I found it.  That wouldn’t be ethical—and besides, I knew I’d soon run out of people who would agree to my borrowing their things!

No, my problem was that I ended up spending money to repair or replace the borrowed item, because, while in my tender care, the infernal thing would fall apart, get misplaced, or simply cease to operate.

The people from whom I borrowed stuff could hardly wait to see what wonderful surprises I’d be bringing back to them.  They actually came to my house, carrying things they wanted me to borrow!


One neighbour, for example, received a brand-new outdoor extension cord from me.  I ran over his with the electric mower I borrowed from him when my own gave up the ghost.  It was on that same occasion that his mower had a new on/off power switch installed—at my expense, naturally, since it cracked and broke while I was using the mower.

The same neighbour, on other occasions, had free repairs made to his electric barbecue starter, his circular saw, and the front fender of his car, all paid for by me before returning the borrowed items to him.

When his firm transferred him out west, the poor fellow literally cried at having to leave me!  As a going-away gift, I presented him with a new camera—to replace his old one, which I had dropped overboard on a canoeing expedition.

Given my track record, it was no wonder most of my friends knew that I never mastered the fine art of borrowing.  When people dropped by to see if there was anything I’d like to borrow from them, they also brought along a list of replacement items they’d be glad to receive when the usual misfortune befell me.

Eventually, however, I started cutting way back.  I discovered that I just couldn’t afford to keep borrowing other people’s things, upgrading or replacing them, then returning them.  With my daughters’ encouragement, I resorted to borrowing something only when I really, absolutely needed it.

There was the time, for instance, when I had to borrow my sister’s electric typewriter—this, in the days before computers.  I had a writing deadline, and my own, heretofore-dependable Underwood had expired.  Hers worked perfectly for the first few hours, and then, to my horror, I discovered the last line I had typed read:  Thx summary conclusions prxsxntxd bxlow arx furthxr xxplainxd in thx sxvxn appxdicxs attachxd to thx rxport.


My sister was not amused when I tried to return the defective machine with only a new ink ribbon to offset the problem.  Were I to tell you what she said, using her typewriter, it would have read:  xxplxtivx dxlxtxd!

So, before you ask—No!  I don’t need to borrow a thing, thank you.