Q: I am a 28-year-old mother of two who has been married to my second husband for two years. I had been a widow since my first husband died in Vietnam. My problem is that my husband objects to the way I introduce my first husband's father at social gatherings.
My present husband's father has been dead for nearly seven years and he never got a chance to meet his grandchildren. I loved him very much and always refer to him as Grandfather Ben to our children. They call my first father-in-law "Uncle," as we have a very close relationship and I never wanted to sever our ties. My husband feels that our children should call him Mr. Smith and that I should introduce him as either my ex-father-in-law, Mr. Smith, or simply as Bill Smith; I feel that to use the first would indicate that I was divorced, not widowed, and the second seems very cold.
All I want is to continue to introduce this fine man to our friends and acquaintances, as he is a stranger to this area and knows no one. My husband's family, including his mom, have no objections to including Bill in our family circle and I don't feel it's disrespectful of his father's memory to do so.
A: Tricky as this little etiquette problem is, you have no idea how grateful Miss Manners is to work on it. The reason is that it is only an etiquette problem; everybody in the situation is full of good will. Most of what Miss Manners gets along this line turns out to be only nominally about etiquette, with the problem really being only an excuse for acrimonious people who want the sanction of etiquette as an excuse to make each other feel terrible.
All your husband is asking is that you reserve family titles for your current family. He is not asking you to sever your ties and, indeed, his family is apparently generous about taking in this man to whom you feel a tie. Accept that and do not annoy them with the detail. It is not cold to address the man by his name, and you can still find opportunities privately to tell him that you will always cherish him as having a unique place in your life.