My father-in-law was wearing the grin of a 5th grade boy who’s stumbled across boobs in a National Geographic.
We were in his Prius, headed to get medical marijuana cards. And it had been his idea.
I remember the last time I smoked. My high school buddies had rolled up a fattie, and the four of us made a tight circle in the windy parking lot. When the joint came to me, though, I passed. My excuse? I didn’t want to be too high for bible study.
I had met Maggie at bible study. She was warm and pretty and her smile melted me like a Mars bar in the sun. I was determined to be the man she’d eventually marry. I ditched my ratty sneakers and cut my hair. In class, I showered her with dorky attention. At home I spun fantasies of our life together.
Then one day in my Pontiac Phoenix she kissed me. We made out in a breathless, hungry way. I barely knew what I was doing, but I knew I didn’t want it to end. She was the most magical person who had ever talked to me, and now she was kissing me. The moment abruptly ended when her elbow honked the horn. We retreated to our seats, and Maggie straightened her hair while I cleaned my glasses.
Geoff couldn’t care less. He ignored me aggressively and I felt like an unwanted loser.
After a few months of dating, I was invited to her house for dinner. I stood on the front porch: overdressed, 20 minutes early, and sweating. Maggie was so important to me. What if her parents could see through my image to the stoner underneath?
I stuck to a safe topic: bible study. But while that conversation kept the women in the family entertained, my future father-in-law, Geoff, couldn’t care less. He ignored me aggressively and I felt like an unwanted loser. I couldn’t figure out why I didn’t measure up. For a kid who thought he’d finally be seen as an adult, feeling like a juvenile annoyance crushed me.
Eventually I married his daughter. Still, my relationship with him remained rocky. I had gone through the progression of adulthood — marriage, house, kids — but his lack of acknowledgment ate at me. I’d given up all that I thought was childish in my life to win his approval. Why wasn’t it enough?
One afternoon in July a few years back, I left work at lunch. I figured I’d play hooky and surprise the kids. Maybe take them for ice cream. When I got home, I came upon a raucous scene: Geoff down on a knee, crushing “Happiness is a Warm Gun” on air guitar. The kids were jumping on the couch, screaming their heads off. He belted the final “guuuuuun” in a piercing falsetto.
Suddenly he saw me standing at the door. He straightened up, smoothed out his polo, and pretended like nothing was happening. “Run along, kids,” he said. He rolled his eyes at me and walked into the kitchen.
A few months ago, I suffered a blow when my 18-year career came to an abrupt end. The biggest symbol of my maybe-adulthood was gone, erased by termination in a beige boardroom. I sank into depression and suffered from insomnia and high anxiety.
You’re gonna want the indicas, they’ll help you sleep.
One morning I was slumped over my oatmeal, barely awake after another night of tossing and turning. Maggie brought up medical marijuana.
“Tons of people are using it. Not just kids lighting up behind the school,” she said. “I think you should give it a try.”
“Yeah but isn’t the whole medical thing just an excuse for adults to get stoned?” I said. “It’s not like anyone we know really wants to use weed as medicine, right?”
“Actually, it was my dad who told me you should try it.”
But there we were the next day, headed to the pot doctor. Geoff wore a smile from ear-to-ear and bobbed his head to the radio. I looked over at the man, using my imagination to replace his crew cut and polo with a mop-top and bomber jacket. I pictured him cruising around town, a joint dangling from his lips as he tried to pick up chicks. I stifled a grin thinking of him in his wild years. Through that filter, he could be me, tooling around in the Phoenix as a stoned teenager. He could even be my kid, reliving the coming-of-age shenanigans that every generation gets into.
We parked the car and walked in. Geoff was fidgeting with eagerness.
I was overcome by the feeling that I had never really known this man.
“You like sativa or indica, Steve?” I shook my head and shrugged. “Yeah, that’s OK, I figured you wouldn’t know. You’re gonna want the indicas, they’ll help you sleep. I like indicas fine, but I love a good heady sativa to really get cerebral.”
The door opened and a kid who couldn’t have been more than 19 swaggered out with a Cheshire Cat grin under his fitted Raiders cap. Geoff stopped him.
No wonder he didn’t treat me as an equal — he could spot my faux maturity a mile away.
“Hello young man, looks like you’re ready to roll, eh?” he said with a cartoonish wink.
“Oh hell nah! Grandpa knows what’s up!” The kid said, laughing up a storm. Then they fist-bumped. Geoff even knew to explode it.
They called his name and he gave me a painfully enthusiastic high five. Before he stepped through the office door, he spun around and threw me the rock on devil horns.
I was overcome by the feeling that I had never really known this man. I made assumptions about who I thought he was, while at the same time not giving him a complete picture of myself. No wonder he didn’t treat me as an equal — he could spot my faux maturity a mile away.
I’d underestimated Geoff, and in hiding my true self — and my stoner history — from him, we’d both suffered. He’d missed out on a much cooler son-in-law to bro out with, and I’d missed out on forging a stronger and more worthwhile friendship with my father-in-law.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a Prius to hotbox. Rock on. \﹏/