There’s a great episode of “the Sopranos” where Meadow brings her boyfriend Finn to dinner with her dad in a restaurant and Finn grabs the check. Tony’s response is light on the gratitude:
You’re lucky you don’t get your head handed to you. Let’s get something straight: you eat, I pay. When we’re family, you pay.
He throws some bills down on the table. Finn looks to Meadow for guidance and, bless her venal soul, she sighs, “Just take the money.”
Finn is dippier than a country road. In trying to do a Good Thing, he forgot that, just as you don’t get involved in land wars in Asia, you don’t get into a dick-swinging contest with your GF’s dad and/or the biggest mob boss in the NY metro area, especially not in public and when said GF, his daughter, is watching. What if we’re talking regular dads, not Godfathers, though? What if you go out to dinner with your parents, or your partners’ parents? How do you decide whether to pick up the tab? Etiquette dictates that if you invite, you pay, and vice versa, but what did etiquette ever have to do with the fraught-but-loving relationships between parents and children?
Maybe you feel that you should pay, since they raised you and you are now (mostly, hopefully) a self-sustaining adult who wants to demonstrate your gratitude for their putting up with your awkward adolescent phase, which incidentally lasted until you were 25. Maybe you secretly want them to pay because you adore these rare moments when, though you pay your own taxes and vote even at primaries, you get to feel like a kid again. Maybe they secretly want you to pay because they’re exhausted, anxious about retirement, or they used all their money on fake prescriptions for pain pills.
Maybe nobody admits what they want and everyone fights over the check because everyone thinks they should.
Where there’s money, there’s ego. Since we tend to be quivering bundles of nervous energy when it comes to money and not good at communicating our needs under the best of circumstances, that means there are a dozen opportunities to get this interaction wrong. There’s only one perfect answer: Never eat in restaurants. You’re welcome.