Published On: Thu, Apr 4th, 2024

My wife compares me to her perfect dad. Hax readers give advice.

My wife compares me to her perfect dad. Hax readers give advice.
My wife compares me to her perfect dad. Hax readers give advice.


We asked readers to channel their inner Carolyn Hax and answer this question. Some of the best responses are below.

Dear Carolyn: My wife has a close relationship with her dad. He’s a great man. He has welcomed me into the family since Day 1, is a great father to my wife and her sister, and goes above and beyond in being a grandfather to our 3-year-old daughter. I am by no means trying to dump on FIL.

In many ways, I’m the polar opposite to him. He’s got a very big, outgoing personality, which endears him to a lot of people. I’ve always been more introverted, but I show affection in my own ways. He was/is the quintessential “girl dad”; he would dress up and play dolls with them, etc. I’m not quite as comfortable doing all of the “girl” stuff, but I’ve gotten considerably better at stepping outside my comfort zone since our daughter was born.

Yet I feel like my wife is always comparing me to FIL. She sees her dad as the perfect example of what a dad and husband should be. For example, FIL is very silly around our daughter, playing funny games and making funny noises. Whenever FIL acts like this around our daughter, my wife has a look of pure joy and happiness that I haven’t seen around me in a long time. I try to be silly, but in a more subdued manner (like I tell “dad jokes”), and it doesn’t seem to register with my wife.

What really got me, though, was a few days ago, when the three of us were playing together. My wife was saying how she and her dad would go out for doughnuts after all her softball games. Then she said to me: “I feel like you don’t have any traditions like that with her.” My daughter and I have our own inside jokes; just because we don’t do things exactly like her dad, that’s an issue with her?

It just feels like no matter what I do as a husband and a father, my FIL has set the bar so high that nothing I do will ever be good enough for my wife.

Never Enough: This letter isn’t about a “perfect” father-in-law; it’s about a husband and wife not communicating. Instead of imagining what your wife may think about your parenting, ask her. Tell her that you worry you can’t meet the standard he seems (and I stress seems) to have met. And inquire about what she’d like you to try differently — and why.

Communicate with yourself, too. Do you think you’re a good father? If not, why not? If so, why does your wife’s opinion undermine that? No one is perfect. Parenting is an experiment in trial and error. You aren’t the perfect dad, nor was your father-in-law. (If your wife deifies his parenting skills, then she’s almost certainly looking backward with rose-colored glasses.) But none of this stress couldn’t be solved with an open dialogue.

Never Enough: Your FIL has had years more practice being a girl’s dad than you have. Feel free to lighten up, even if you can’t do dolls and tea parties. Let your wife see you and daughter enjoying each other. And if she has an occasional suggestion of something your daughter would enjoy doing with you, then it’s fine to try it. The best thing you can do is notice and respond to your daughter’s cues.

Never Enough: I’m confused why this is framed as your wife comparing you and FIL, when you’re the one making that comparison: “Whenever FIL acts like this around our daughter, my wife has a look of pure joy and happiness that I haven’t seen around me in a long time.” I don’t mean that as a criticism — intimacy and family can be genuinely confusing emotionally. I pose the question because you’re experiencing something that could be additive and heartwarming (joy-inspiring grandparent, welcoming in-law) as detracting from your ability to be loved.

Your wife chose you (and you, her) knowing the vast differences between you and FIL. Do you distrust something about that? Perhaps, in a moment of calm intimacy, you could ask her to share a few reasons she loves you. Not as a demand or a test, but so you can remember that she chose you for a reason. In parallel, decide on principle that this year you will simply choose not to read any comparisons into her love of FIL; you will freely assume it is not about you. At the end of the year, see if you feel better about yourself. If not, try individual therapy for the feelings of worthlessness. If not for your own tranquility, then for the relationship with self and family that you inevitably model for your daughter.

Never Enough: What matters here is how you and your wife care for each other when you let her know how your feelings are hurt. It will probably be easiest for her to understand if you talk about the most recent incident and avoid words like “you always” and “I can never.” Some helpful phrases: “I want to revisit a conversation we had because I’m still having a lot of feelings about it” and “I heard you say something like ___. The way it landed with me was ___.”

I hope she will hear you and let you know she is sorry for those unfortunate words because she cherishes who you are and cares about how you feel. I believe she will. And these words are useful for when you say unfortunate things that hurt her feelings, too — because all of us mortals often do.

Every week, we ask readers to answer a question submitted to Carolyn Hax’s live chat or email. Read last week’s installment here. New questions are typically posted on Thursdays, with a Monday deadline for submissions. Responses are anonymous unless you choose to identify yourself and are edited for length and clarity.


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