I thought their reaction would be explosive, which is why I waited a year to tell my very Christian parents that I'm dating a very atheist Jew. After I’d finally broken the news, I brought him with me to meet them in Palm Springs. My dad was celebrating his birthday by flying out from Dallas with my mom and sister for a weekend of golf. Phil and I drove from L.A. to meet them for brunch before their game.
Their bags had missed the flight, so we had to wait for them at the resort. We chose an outdoor table at the hotel restaurant and got a head start on the bottomless mimosas. Phil was convinced my dad would hate him, since, in his words, "the numbers are against me - I'm ten years older than you, and I'm keeping you a thousand miles away from them - what's not to hate?"
“No, babe,” I comforted him, “if he hates you, it will be because he thinks your godless influence is increasing my chances of going to hell.” Phil laughed and took another drink.
I spotted my family as they stepped out of the rental car and waved. As much as I feared their disapproval of my non-Christian boyfriend, I was still dying for them to meet him.
“So, Dad, this is Phil …” I said, after greeting everyone with hugs. I felt bad about their height difference — my dad towered over my boyfriend as they shook hands. I then introduced Phil to my mom and my 15-year-old sister. My dad and sister were dressed for golf, but my mom looked way too stylish for traveling, in a fur vest, layered necklaces and high-heeled boots.
“Mom, you look great! Are those new shoes?”
“Oh, thank you! No, I’ve had these. They are just so comfortable! You wouldn’t believe it.”
“Drinks!” My dad said, pretending to be scandalized that we were drinking midday.
“It’s a celebration! Happy birthday!” I responded.
My family sat down, and the waiter poured drinks for my parents. After he left, I decided to get the conversation started.
“So how was your flight, other than the baggage debacle?” I inquired.
My sister interrupted: “Tell them about the flight attendant!”
“Oh, my gosh, y’all … Our flight attendant could barely read.” My mom said in a hushed voice.
My dad added, incredulously, “It was like she was reciting the safety procedures for the first time — like she hadn’t even looked at the script before! At first I thought it was a joke. And VIRGINIA starts making fun of her!”
“Oh, pshaw, she didn’t see me.” My mom shrugged.
Phil and I were cracking up as our waiter returned to take our orders. After he sauntered off, my Dad decided to turn up the heat on my boyfriend and said, “So are you a comedian full-time, or do you have another source of income?”
“I have a day job.”
“So what do you do?”
“I film depositions for lawyers.”
“Oh, OK, that’s interesting.”
“Eh, not really.”
“So what’s your ultimate goal in pursuing comedy?” my mom asked. “Are you trying to be on 'SNL' or a sitcom?”
The food arrived, and my dad said, “Mind if I bless it?” He extended his hands, and we all followed suit, although I had to nudge Phil to get him to realize what was happening. I wondered if he’d ever been around people praying before.
My dad prayed: “Dear Lord, thank you for bringing us all here safely, and that we can spend this time together. May we honor you with everything we say and do. Thank you for this food, and please bless it to the nourishment of our bodies. In Jesus’ name, amen.”
I squeezed Phil’s hand, proud of him for enduring. We exchanged a glance that made me feel like I’d switched teams.
I kept waiting for something embarrassing to happen, but nothing did. My parents didn’t prod him about his atheism, and Phil didn’t curse or say anything offensive.
Later, at dinner, things continued to go smoothly. I was almost disappointed at the lack of drama. I realized my parents would never say anything to him about the issues they had with our relationship.
On our drive back to L.A., I asked Phil what he thought.
“It was good. I had fun.”
“So you liked them?”
“Yeah. I will say, though — you seem very different from your family. You don’t even really look like them at all.”
“What? I always get told I look like my them.”
“I don’t know. I just don’t see it. They’re very Texan, very conservative. Your dad looks exactly how I would picture a Texas lawyer.”
“What does that even mean?”
“He’s white, has a Texas accent, dresses nicely ... and I feel like I needed to censor myself around him.”
“Well, yeah, you should. But you don’t think I’m like them at all?”
“I mean, I can tell you’re related, but no.”
I stared out the window at the starlit desert and distant mountains, such a different terrain from the suburbs of Dallas where I grew up. I reminded myself that I’d chosen to be out here — worlds away, not only culturally, but also literally a thousand miles away from my parents. Sometimes, I worry it’s changing me. Or maybe I was always different but didn’t recognize it until now.