Son-in-Law vs. Daughter-in-Law (#110)

IMG_5730When I butted heads with my in-laws, I had a secret weapon. Well, more like a secret label, really. I was able to avoid taking their criticism personally by calling it “a cultural difference.”

Doubling the number of bridesmaids to 8 due to Chinese superstitions about the Voldemort of numbers? It’s a pain in the ass, but fine, I’ll respect your superstition.

Ignoring the fact that I hate seafood and making sure every dish at the Chinese Wedding Banquet was marine? Well, each dish had some cultural significance and my in-laws paid for it. I fed my portions to my new husband and said nothing.

But it wasn’t easy visiting them. We ate where Sunny and Jay wanted to eat. Andy chauffeured them wherever they wanted to go. Sunny had a fit if we came in after 10 PM. When Andy and I did escape out to a nice restaurant on our own, Sunny spent the next day ridiculing my carefully researched choice of cuisine. Never mind La Mer’s stars and diamonds.

When Andy’s sister, her husband, and her daughter arrived in Hawaii, I did a happy dance. We wouldn’t all fit in the house. Andy and I escaped to a hotel. Not that it was a complete escape. We stayed in the hotel where Sunny worked. She not only called several times a day, she sent other hotel staff to check on us. It was irritating, but I could live with it. Especially since the hotel staff sometimes brought food. (Also they knocked on the door before entering. I’d forgotten that people did that.)

We spent a glorious day alone before meeting up with the rest of Andy’s family before dinner.

This is Wood Lock. Use with care. Or at least latex gloves.

As we drove to Sunny and Jay’s, I expressed sympathy for Andy’s brother-in-law. Brother-in-law was from Eastern Europe (we will call him “EBIL”), which made him even whiter than me. EBIL was also a doctor. “I wonder what kind of treatment poor EBIL gets from your parents? Do they scoff at his anti-inflammatories and shove their Wood Lock liniment at him?”

Andy protested, “Hey, that Wood Lock is good stuff!”

“You put on latex gloves to apply it. It was once recalled by the US government. One of the active ingredients is used to make bodies transparent for scientific research. It’s questionable, at the very least. But that’s not the point. The point is, how mean are your parents to EBIL?”

Andy shrugged. “They must get along fine. His parents are coming to visit over Christmas.”

I snorted. “That means nothing. A free place to stay in Hawaii versus winter in Eastern Europe? Please.”

Because EBIL was often on call, I had only seen him with Andy’s parents once. I hoped for a white ally. One that could exchange “the struggle is real” looks with me over the restaurant table when Sunny plied our plates with fish eyeballs and chicken feet. Maybe we could salute each other with the inevitable forks when the staff at dim sum refused us chopsticks.

Andy’s Oldest Niece met us at the door of Sunny and Jay’s house. She was three, she was adorable, and she damned well knew it. After she hugged me, she waved a stuffed bird and said, “Flamingo is going to jail. Come.”

Oldest Niece dragged me off to see the stuffed animal prison she’d built. We settled into a game. I staged bumbling jailbreaks for Flamingo while catching snatches of conversation from the rest of the family.

Sunny: “EBIL, no, no, what are you doing?”

EBIL: “I’m getting over a cold, and just a little dehydrated—”

Sunny: “Ai-yah! Not regular water. Not when I bought this special for you!”

I grinned, waiting for Sunny to insist on foo cha or another foul Chinese herbal tea. Instead…

EBIL: “Perrier! Thank you, Sunny!”

Sunny: “I know how much you like your Perrier. So I get a big case at Costco.”

I sat there, jaw open, until Oldest Niece threw Flamingo at me.

“Hey! Your turn!”

I put Flamingo back in the pillow penitentiary and scooped up a stuffed horse. “Flamingo is lonely. I think he needs a cellmate. Look! It’s Prison Pony!”

Oldest Niece yanked Pony out of my hands. She threw him into the wall. “No! Flamingo was bad. He stays alone.”

Flamingo’s next effort was an escape tunnel under the pillows. He hit a water main and nearly drowned. Oldest Niece thought this was hilarious. Over her giggles, EBIL and Sunny’s conversation continued.

Sunny: “Did you see the deck?”

EBIL: “You built a deck?”

Sunny: ‘”Of course. It’s on the hill in the backyard. So your parents can sit there and see the ocean from the house when they come. Jay just has to paint it, come see…”

In shock, I’d again let the game lapse.

Oldest Niece yanked me back to reality. “Hey! Flamingo wants to escape again!”

I put Flamingo back in prison and arranged him in a slumped, dejected position. “Maybe Flamingo has given up trying to escape. Maybe he knows it’s hopeless.”

Oldest Niece glared at me. “You’re no fun anymore.” She ran out of the room. “Unnnclee Annndyyyy! Be my horsey!”

She found Andy. I found the Perrier. And I drank a bottle. Because I like Perrier, too. Not that anyone asked me.


We went to a different Chinese restaurant that night. A nicer, fancier restaurant. Fancy restaurant was also further away, and there was traffic.

By the time we arrived, Oldest Niece was a mess. She squirmed in her chair, put her head on the table, whined she was hungry, got reprimanded, and cried. Which made sense. She’d flown in that day from Chicago. It was midnight her time.  The kitchen was slow. When I asked EBIL if he had any snacks, he looked at me like I was crazy.

I dug into my purse, and presented Oldest Niece with a butterscotch and a some samples from See’s Candies. Oldest Niece gobbled them up. Her mom thanked me. The food eventually arrived.

EBIL beamed. “Walnut shrimp! My favorite!” Everyone heaped shrimp on their plates, starting with Oldest Niece. More seafood followed. The hangry crisis was averted.

For them.

I ate a walnut and wished I’d hoarded my See’s samples.


I held my tongue until Andy and I were back in our hotel room. And then I went off:

“The only time your parents asked me what I liked, it was so your father could order every seafood dish I hated! But EBIL? Your mother buys him WATER. Special European water. And not one word about how crazy or expensive it is to buy water when there’s a tap in the kitchen!”

“Your mother mocks the Michelin-rated restaurant I pick, but they’ll drive halfway around the island so EBIL can have his fancy walnut shrimp at a Chinese restaurant with a kitchen so slow you’d think the food came all the way from HONG KONG?!”

Your parents can’t leave onions out of a single dish for me, but they will build an entire DECK for their son-in-law and his family!”

Andy says I said way more than this, but that the rest was impossible to decipher due to the obscenities and frothing at the mouth.

I am certain he exaggerates.

I ended in tears, hating myself as I wailed, “It must be ME. Your parents just don’t like ME. Because they like the other white person just fine!”

Andy mused, “Maybe they’re just grateful that someone married my sister.”

Befuddlement ended my tears. “What are you talking about? Your sister is beautiful. She’s a doctor. Guys would be lucky to marry her. Hell, EBIL’s lucky to have married her. His head is shaped like a light bulb. Why on earth would your parents be–”

And the penny FINALLY dropped.

Andy’s parents hadn’t fussed over his sister. No one had gotten her favorite food or drink.

On the other hand, I had witnessed Sunny overloading ANDY with his favorite pork, chocolates, and beer.

Andy, unaware of the metaphorical, misogynistic penny spinning on the waxed, wooden hotel floor, answered my rhetorical question. “Well, my sister’s really moody—”

I interrupted. “I would be, too! Because it’s all about the boys in the Wong household, isn’t it?”

Andy eyed me warily. “You’re going to go all foamy again, aren’t you?”

I didn’t. Because, once again, how my in-laws treated me wasn’t personal. It was bullshit, of course, this fawning over males. Probably it was cultural. But not personal.

And while EBIL wouldn’t stand with me against the old guard, perhaps I might find another ally.

A woman ally.

Published by

Autumn Ashbough

WF writing about the humorous perils of life with Chinese-American significant other.

42 thoughts on “Son-in-Law vs. Daughter-in-Law (#110)”

    1. You will have to wait and see. Nothing is ever simple with Andy’s family. But he would say the same about mine. 🙂

      There was no fawning over boys in your household? Or were they left in the ever-present ditches outside?

      1. Oh man, no, the whole “boys are better than girls” shit stopped with my mom, because she was forced to stop schooling at 15, after she completed secondary school (basically the equivalent of middle school in the US). My grandmother felt that it was a waste of time for my mother to go to school because she was a girl. I don’t think my mother ever got over the gross unfairness of it all (her brothers got to continue on, of course).

        In fact, my grandmother never even wanted my mother to go to school after she finished her primary school education, and she literally had to beg for money to pay her secondary school fees each semester. She sewed her own school uniforms from scratch, because my grandmother refused to give her any money to buy them.

        My mother thoroughly championed my sister and I through school, and was, in fact, quite the tiger mother. (You won’t believe the crap she gave me if I ever brought home an A-, never mind Bs.) I have to say, though, that my mother ultimately got the last laugh, because she went back to school, got her O levels, her A levels, and then graduated from college when she was in her 50s. If anybody says anything about boys being better than girls to her face, I highly recommend that they duck and run, because they will never hear the end of it from her!

        1. I love that story! Go, Mom!

          Ah, parents. I brought home a B in Gifted & Talented Geometry. Dad was all, “We’re gonna have to ground you until that’s an A.”

          Sometimes the cost of an education is rather high.

  1. Oooo this story was good!!! I feel a sequel coming with a possible future partner in crime!

    Damn, I’ve never seen or heard of that wood lock stuff. What is it even for?

  2. Preference to the boys…yup, especially with the older generations. I think it stopped by the boomer generation though.

    At least you didn’t grow up in that environment though. At least you know what is like to grow up as equals to your siblings.

    Sometimes that sort of preferential treatment generated rifts in families, especially when the parents grew older.

    On a happier note though, happy new year! Can’t wait to read what happens next.

    1. Happy New Year, 808!

      I think the rifts depend on the families and personalities. Some kids never get over desperately trying to prove themselves and are grateful for the crumbs of affection. But you’re right, some can’t take the constant hurts and cut off the parents.

      I understand both.

  3. In my next book, which is about growing up Asian American, I have a chapter/story dedicated to just this thing! If it makes the cut, I’ll share it, but yeah, the struggle is real. It’s bullshit and when you’re a kid, it really sucks b/c you don’t understand why there is favorism. Sign me up for the foaming club! I’ll be the secretary 😉

    1. Thanks, Lani — I am looking forward to your chapter, even though I am sure I will be frothing when it is over.

      Yes, I was very lucky to have been raised in a household that in no way considered me inferior due to my gender. If we were judged inferior, it was strictly on academic merit!

      That lack of experience with gender-based favoritism is good and bad. I mean, it’s shocking when you identify it in society/ workplace/ families, because you never expected or experienced it. But it’s also hard to identify unless you’ve been prepped for it. It’s damned insidious, too. When hetero male takes an assistant position in Hollywood, the expectation is that they are being groomed for the position itself. But that’s not always the case with women or gay assistants. Especially if your boss is male.

      1. Hmmmm. You know, it would almost be sweet if Jay doted on you and Sunny her son-in-law. Like that would make sense, right? But the whole old school, you’re a woman so we don’t care about you is mind-boggling.

        And yes, sexism is everywhere! Wheeeeee!

        1. Yeah, you would think that there would be doting from the father-in-law, right? Some of my sisters get that, and my father’s father doted on my mother.

          Maybe with another, more social father. But as you may have noticed, Jay isn’t exactly social. (More on my theories as to why later.)

          Andy admits that he is his mother’s favorite AND Popo’s favorite, too. Denny is his father’s favorite. There was no one for his sister.

  4. Mr.Panda’s parents always wanted a girl, so they treat Granddaughter and us two DILs much better than their sons and grandson. Granddaughter is still too young to realize and makes use of the fact as much as she can, and I’ve never seen a child as spoilt as her.
    We two DILs at least realize our special treatment and fight for our Panda’s justice. It makes me furious when they treat them bad!

    And your story makes me furious too. If I were you, I would move to Europe, make Andy think it was his grandiose idea, and only see his parents every 3 years, at least.

    1. Oh, that’s interesting! I think it makes a big difference when there are no daughters. Doctor Sister’s in-laws treat her like gold, and they have only sons. Mothers, especially, I think, feel the lack of another female presence in the household and go out of their way to be welcoming when a DIL arrives.

      But the flip side is that daughters can be just as spoiled as sons. I know you saw My Hong Kong Husband’s posts on “Princess Syndrome!”
      Andy’s almost been transferred to England twice by his company. You’ve no idea how hard I rooted for that move. 🙂

    1. I think Sunny doesn’t think. She certainly pushed her daughter to succeed as hard as she pushed her son, but when it comes down to it, men have higher status. Sunny and other women of her generation are used to currying favor with them. Women are rivals (remember, she had nothing but sisters) and can do less for her.

      The thing that’s so frustrating is that Sunny isn’t wrong in her innate assessment of society. Sucking up to those in power is not an unsuccessful strategy. And those in power are still mostly men.

      And Sunny, by all accounts, was quite a beauty when she was younger. Hell, she’s still pretty and she still looks young.

  5. I’m rooting for SIL to be a good ally.

    Chinese family dynamics can be complicated. My husband was the oldest son on both sides of the family, so his maternal grandmother favored him. But, since his soldier father was away for his first eight years, when he returned, my husband was considered too rebellious. His dad expected military-style discipline and high grades. He dished out lots of punishment and few privileges.

    1. Oh, that would have been really rough on your husband. Not only the Chinese expectation of filial piety and compliance, but the added reinforcement of military culture.

      It hurts just to think about it.

  6. I’m the only white person in the family so they always do everything over the top, just for me. Even outside grandma is nice and she literally hates every woman that joins the family.
    I have to say double standards are really common – Sing’s outside grandma wouldn’t give any wedding gift or money to her daughters but complains why Momzilla won’t give half a million HKD in cash when my SIL finally gets married. Apparently you can bend your rules. So don’t worry – unless you have a penis it might be harsh sometimes 🙁 add oil!

    1. Oh, the rules are always enforced selectively! Totally okay for Andy’s female cousins to take their husband’s white last names, but if Andy and I were going to hyphenate BOTH our names… AI-YAH!! Unacceptable, because historically ONLY SLAVES IN CHINA CHANGED THEIR LAST NAMES and OH MY GOD ANDY WILL BE A SLAVE.

      It was all I could do not to yell, “Too late, bitches! He is already my LOVE SLAVE!”

      My self restraint is super commendable, right?

  7. Really interesting post – I think one of the few bonuses of my fiance being an only child is his parents don’t have any chance of getting a son in law (I don’t think I could bear to see that!)

    1. I’m glad you won’t have to see it either, Cat.

      It WAS hard to watch EBIL’s special treatment. It was even harder to realize that I would never be loved or even respected by my in-laws.

      Some people wouldn’t care, but I was one neglected child among many, and my mother died young. Being found unworthy of parental attention reopens a deep wound.

      But that’s not Sunny’s fault or Jay’s fault.

  8. I can’t believe I read through your whole blog 😀 The chronological order was great. You’re also a great and funny writer, so it was like reading a book. Also I’m a white girl with a husband from Beijing, and especially the stuff with Andy’s parents resonated with me.

    Just wanted to leave a comment to tell you to keep up the good work, lol.

    1. Thanks, Life! I’m glad you enjoyed it. I’m pleased to hear my anecdotes resonated– huh. Wait. That sounds kind of mean, like I’m glad you have in-law issues.

      I will rephrase: hopefully had a good chuckle and thought, “Yes! It’s totally my in-laws and not me at all! Such a revelation, I shall move on with my life.” 🙂

      1. It actually was kind of a relief to read that someone else has similar in-laws as I do 😀 Luckily mine live in Beijing, and after our latest visit there not even my husband wants to go there too often…

          1. Haha, I don’t know if it’s really that interesting story, but I can tell it anyway.

            We stayed in Beijing for about four weeks, and I had pretty high hopes for the trip, especially since I had been learning more Chinese in the last couple of years (my mother-in-law doesn’t speak English). Well, apparently my newly gained language skills only allowed me to understand all the arguments and tension between my husband and his parents… And his father basically didn’t speak to me at all during the trip anyway. But most of the problems we had were because of long-term issues my husband and his parents have, and not because of me. Now he finally realized that maybe a week would be the maximum time he can stay with his parents.

            Oh and his parents also do. not. listen. So Jay and Sunny kinda reminded me of that with for example the wedding location thing.

            Yeah, not a very exciting story, but thanks for asking 😀

            1. Wow, yes, understanding the tension would suck. Ignorance can indeed be bliss. What is the biggest source of tension? Can I guess:

              1) Husband did not become engineer (or other career choice recommended by parent)?
              b) Husband has not produced heir?
              iii) Husband produced heir that was not male?
              6) Husband refuses to join cousin’s pyramid scheme?
              g) All of the above.
              ix) None of the above, there are horrors of which you had not yet dreamed, grasshopper.

              1. Let’s not even get started with the male heir issue… That was the first thing my mother-in-law asked me when we were alone, and this time I couldn’t even pretend not to understand.

                But I think I would still have to go with ix), since husband actually has a PhD in the field of his parents’ choice.

  9. Female friend (and she’s of Asian descend) of mine disengaged from her fiancée because she could foretell the issues with her inlaws. It was all go for the wedding and then she pulled the pin half way through the planning stage. And No they did not get back together.

    1. If she was of Asian descent, then she probably knew the signs better than I did. 🙂 But I’d have married Andy anyway. While he won’t confront them, he doesn’t side with them, and he recognizes they aren’t easy.

      Also, they live 3,000 miles away and don’t know how to Skype. 🙂

  10. I am now curious as to what part of Easter Europe EBIL is from. So very curious. o-o

    As for the theory of “men/boys are better than girls”, oh how I can relate to it, though I am not even Asian. If I muster up the courage, maybe I’ll share some more personal stuff. But I’m a coward, so…

      1. Too shy. ;-; And I’m a frightened kitten, in general, when it comes to going a bit too personal. (Because of my upbringing, and cultural -maybe- environment. ._.)

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