The question is inevitable. Whenever I introduce myself, something clicks.
“Oh, your father-in-law is so-and-so?”
Yes, that’s my father-in-law. He’s the one whose name you see all over the place. He could cover the walls of his mansion with all the plaques he’s received, although he usually puts them in the storage room. My father-in-law is constantly hosting prestigious roshei yeshivah and rabbanim, and he supports a slew of worthy causes. I don’t think he’s ever flown in economy class, and I doubt my mother-in-law has ever bought anything on sale.
But please don’t jump to conclusions. I live a very different life than they do. My mother-in-law doesn’t stand in the grocery store wondering if the Greek yogurt fits into her budget. And my father-in-law doesn’t worry about having to pay his utility bills.
With a last name like mine, one would assume that I am living in the lap of luxury, but such is not the case. Shortly after my wedding I learned about my father-in-law’s “old-fashioned values,” according to which married children are expected to make it on their own. When my father-in-law got married, he paid for his own reception, bought his own suit and wore his old hat. He never dreamt of asking his father for financial assistance. Things were different then, and thankfully he made it on his own.
My in-laws aren’t stingy. They are generous with their children but on their own terms; hence my large diamond, Italian dining room set and leased car. But these luxuries can be deceiving when we struggle to pay our rent and hesitate to send my husband’s Shabbos coat to the cleaners.
At first, I was taken aback, but my husband reassured me. “Don’t worry,” he said. “My kollel pays a generous stipend every month. Between that and your teaching salary we’ll be fine.”
But budgeting wasn’t my husband’s strong point, and I was nervous because the numbers didn’t add up. My own father, a rebbe, was struggling to make ends meet. Asking him to support us (which would have caused him to go into debt) seemed ludicrous when his mechutan was one of the wealthiest members of our community.
At the end of my husband’s first month in kollel, I casually asked about his stipend. “I’m not sure what happened with the check,” he answered vaguely. “I guess I’ll wait another few days.”
When I questioned my husband again the following week, he seemed uncomfortable. “They distributed the checks, but for some reason I didn’t get one. They probably assumed that I don’t need it.”