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How do I get rid of my couch-crashing dad-in-law?

The question

I like to use my weekends as a quiet time to recover from the work week, but about once a month, my father-in-law shows up unannounced, hoping to crash in our one-bedroom apartment. He's recently separated and going through a midlife crisis (he bought a motorcycle). I think he feels that he settled down too young and missed out on the adventures of youth, and that his twentysomething son is some kind of Van Wilder. When he comes over he stays up late, drinks our beer and passes out pantless on the couch. The whole thing makes my partner livid, so I've been honest but vague with him about how I feel. I don't want to add pressure or make him think that he has to choose between me and his dad. Is there some way I can salvage my weekend, whether by talking to my father-in-law or avoiding my partner?

The answer

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I know what you mean about just wanting to chill on the weekend.

In my 20s I looked upon weekends as a time to wind it up, go nuts, jump off the speakers, stay up late ("All the best stuff happens after midnight," we used to say), sleep in, meet for brunch, do a post-mortem on the night's events, etc.

It was fun. But now that I'm older and married and a dad, my feeling concerning weekend activities is: Less is more, and nothing is best.

What I like doing on the weekends now: zip, nada, bupkes. When people ask me what I got up to on the weekend I say, with a puzzled frown: "Wha – what do you mean?"

And, with certain exceptions, if someone comes barging, unannounced and uninvited, into my eremitic idyll, their eyes full of what my friend Patrick calls "unmet needs" ("Hey, Dave, got anything to eat, I'm starving?"), it sets my teeth on edge.

Certainly if, like your father-in-law, an uninvited guest were to extend his or her stay to an overnight sojourn, complete with unmet needs for dinner, entertainment and beer, possibly followed by breakfast in the morning, I'd be seething – relative or not. I'd be grinding my teeth to a fine powder.

If it happened over and over again – well, the bottom line is: You have to do something.

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I understand completely, especially if your father-in-law is going through a rough patch, why you and your partner might not want to confront this problem directly – just avoid and evade.

You do have some options on that front. Legend has it that several friends of Under the Volcano author and lifelong drunk Malcolm Lowry always kept a set of suitcases by the door. That way, if he showed up on their doorstep, swaying, slurring, his breath a torch, eyes darting around looking for signs of cocktail hour, they could grab the suitcases and say: "Malcolm, what a shame! We were just on our way out for two weeks in, uh, Aruba! Anyway, love to the missus!"

You could essay some variation on that, e.g. on weekends that you suspect your dad-in-law might drop in, sit around wearing "going out" type clothes, then when he rings your buzzer, appear with a chilled bottle of wine in one hand and a coat draped over the other and say: "What a shame! We were just going over to the, uh, Bartletts' for dinner!"

Or you could keep your blinds drawn and not answer your buzzer.

But, really, these are only Band-Aid solutions. This problem has to be faced head-on. Remember the words of Lao Tzu: "The sage, because he confronts his problems, never has any."

You need to take the snoozing, pants-less, uninvited beer-guzzling bull by the horns – or, rather, your partner does. It's his dad, after all. I don't care how "livid" your partner is; it's his responsibility.

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And who said anything about choosing between you and your father-in-law? That's kooky talk! All you're asking for is basic boundaries, the most straightforward type of consideration: respect for your domicile.

It's something a caveman would understand: If, 500,000 years ago, my father constantly came over to my cave unannounced and drank all the fermented yak milk and then passed out snoring in the corner, I know what I'd have to do if it was ruffling my wife's fur.

Sit your partner down. Explain to him that he has to summon the cojones to tell his father he needs to wait for an invitation, or at least phone in advance and secure your okay before he hops on his hog and, popping wheelies, heads over with the intention of barging in and staying the night.

Furthermore, inform your partner that if he does not honour your wishes he will be sharing the couch with his father – which I think we can all agree doesn't sound like a congenial or comfortable arrangement at all.

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