Dear Carolyn: My husband and I are late 20s and expecting a baby girl. For professional and personal reasons, my husband and I both kept our own last names. My father-in-law, "Phil," has absolutely lost it upon learning that we plan to hyphenate the baby's last name, reportedly crying and fuming every day. His concerns are not even tangentially related to the welfare of the baby, but to his rights as patriarch and the destruction of his legacy, to paraphrase.
My husband has done everything possible to listen, make him feel heard, ask where the vitriol is coming from, understand any deeper issues, etc. But it has been months, and the bottom line is that if we hyphenate he wants nothing to do with us or his granddaughter. Phil's daughter and wife claim we have to concede and placate him and regularly apply guilt trips as well.
My husband and I agree the name is not changing and he has been incredible through all of this, but obviously he is hurting and I feel a bit guilty about, essentially, forcing the issue of healthy emotional boundaries over this.
Any suggestions on how to handle this better?
— Baby Name Drama
Baby Name Drama: Don’t you dare feel guilty for this.
This butthat “patriarch” forced the issue, not you. And the only reason he’s crying and stomping his little feeties is that he can no longer control his son the way he is accustomed to controlling his immediate family.
Which is something only petty and insecure tyrants do, by the way; as we’ve seen over and over again, it’s not hard to control someone who cares about you. All it requires is to be selfish enough to pull it off: feel entitled to make people do your bidding, then hold off on marriage until you find someone who complies. You can find that out easily enough by combining unreasonable demands with paying or withholding lavish attention, then waiting to see whether the person meets the demands (or tries to) in hopes of earning the attention. Voilà, you have a devoted victim of your abuse.
With that you control your spouse. Add kids and you have more little pawns to move around, at least till they start to mature and get some idea of what a butthat you really are.
They’re good odds to play, though, because many such kids grow up too stunted to see how bad you are or tear themselves away even when they do see it.
Phil, answering to his weakness and selfishness, now must reckon with the knowledge that a onetime pawn can now resist him. This is NOT about you at all, this is about him, and any guilt thrown at you on his behalf by other family members is the natural reflex of people so stuck in the web that their well-being is dependent on keeping the peace. Sad stuff.
Your husband now has the understandable stress of having to reckon with the full truth of his father’s nature. Be his most sympathetic listener, and emotional proof that a relationship based on mutual trust and respect is the relief he earned by breaking himself out of the control dynamic. It’s a process and it’s painful — and a great thing to do for his to-be-hyphenated kid.