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Published January 02 2011

Swift: The super son-in-law showdown

I finally realized something during my Christmas break.

My family isn’t athletic. We aren’t famous. But that doesn’t stop us from being the most competitive family of uncoordinated unknowns in the Upper Midwest.

It’s true. When we girls were young, we made everything into a contest. Who caved first and started bawling during “Little House on the Prairie”? Who had the better grades? Who could lose weight the fastest if we all started Weight Watchers at the same time?

Now that we’re grown and married, things haven’t eased up much. We’ve even cultivated a “friendly” rivalry among the in-laws.

It all started out with some good-natured ribbing. As each one of us got married, we quipped how Mom or Dad seemed to prefer one husband over the other.

“Mom must like Rufus (Verbena’s husband) best,” we’d joke. “Did you notice he got 143 words in the Christmas letter – including a whole paragraph on how he helped Dad clear snow – while Ellworth (Mabel’s husband) only got a brief mention? And did you see how Mom called Tammy’s ‘special friend’ Joe instead of Jim? Poor dude. He doesn’t have a chance.”

We also added a “Most Awesome Son-in-Law” point system to the mix. “Wow, you ate two helpings of Mom’s borscht and then helped with dishes,” we’d tell one husband. “You’d better call Ellworth and tell him you’re 75 points ahead.”

One Christmas, when everyone was home, we threw more fuel on the fire. Rufus was mighty excited when he opened his gift to find a “World’s Greatest Son-in-Law” T-shirt. But his joy quickly faded as the other sons-in-law opened their gifts to reveal identical T-shirts.

Now we’ve created a master race of super-achieving sons-in-law.

At different times in the past few years, the men in our lives have trampled over themselves to:

Their most recent feat of Amazing Son-in-Law Strength occurred when Mom received four new barstools for her kitchen this Christmas.

The box claimed each chair required “some assembly.” In fact, it should have read: “Each chair contains 172 parts and assembling one will be like building a jet engine with an all-Korean instruction manual.”

Still, we goaded the men, saying they should have a “fun race” to see who could win a chair-assembly smackdown.

During phone calls to my sisters who hadn’t made it home for the holidays, Irwin yelled that he had already put together “his” chair and would gladly assemble the absent brothers-in-law chairs for $100 apiece.

And then, when he saw my dad sit down to build one of the chairs, he hurried to his side and finished all the other ones.


In fact, I realized something else this past week. We had created a fleet of men who seemed more interested in impressing our parents than they did in impressing us.

Could this man who volunteered to help my dad move an antique player piano be the same guy who puts his dirty clothes on top of the hamper because lifting the lid is too much work?


Maybe it’s time to enforce my own point system.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Tammy Swift at (701) 241-5525 or tswift@forumcomm.com