He’s not your dad, and he’s certainly not your father-in-law (yet), but as Father’s Day approaches, take a moment to consider the best approach to co-existing with your date’s dad. If you’ve been going out for a couple of months now, she may well want you to meet the other man in her life. You can’t prepare for every last odd bird, but it’s worth familiarizing yourself with some common species to help you bond well with your sweetie’s dad.

Old-Fashioned Dad

Identifying characteristics: He fills his annual housework quota by carving the Thanksgiving turkey and occasionally lowering the toilet seat. He’s never washed a dish, made a bed or changed a diaper—and he’s proud of it. His kind is approaching extinction.

How to co-exist: Even if you and your date disagree with her dad on his “I’m not pitching in” style, Dr. Dale Atkins, author of I’m OK, You’re My Parents, discourages challenging him directly. Feel secure about joining in with housework and, someday, childcare.

“Your girlfriend will likely appreciate you clearing the table or washing dishes when you are in the presence of her father as a way to reinforce the value the two of you put on your shared approach to couplehood. Even if you get a glare from her dad, your first commitment is to your girlfriend.”
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Silent Dad

Identifying characteristics: Silence, at least when you’re around. Inscrutable stares. Unreadable groans. It’s all very Gorillas in the Mist.

How to co-exist: Don’t be tempted to make like Dian Fossey and devote your life to studying this primate. Instead, get used to not knowing where you stand. Then get used to not caring. Ben, 30 and from Brooklyn, just got engaged to the daughter of a silent dad. “We’ve been dating for almost two years, and at first, I couldn’t take it. After a while I kind of went with the program of being as friendly as I could and letting the chips fall. I wouldn’t call us pals or anything, but it’s fine.”

Dr. Atkins likes Ben’s “don’t worry about it” approach. “If this is the way he is by nature, then his silence is not about you or your presence in his daughter’s life. How he feels about you is not as important as your being true to yourself and kind to his daughter.”

Dad Who Has Always Wanted a Son

Identifying characteristics: Depending on what you’re comfortable with, this may be a blessing. An invite to the Daytona 500, a round of golf or even an afternoon staining the deck beats being stared at by Silent Dad.

How to co-exist: This can be an opportunity to bond and discover a connection that is healthy, but beware of reverberations, says Dr. Atkins. If your girlfriend seems too eager for you to accommodate her dad, consider her motives. Does she need (not just want) him to accept you? Are you unwittingly taking pressure off her to be with her dad? Are you starting to feel an expectation to deliver on a relationship you don’t feel prepared for? Make sure a good thing between her father and you isn’t distracting you from the main event: The quality of your relationship with the woman you’re seeing.

Daddy’s Girl Dad

Identifying characteristics: He uses pet names for his daughter and talks to her in a way that makes you feel like an outsider. When your girlfriend’s life becomes too challenging, he arrives with a rescue or fix every time. You can also identify one of these dads by observing his offspring. Does your sweetie put daddy first (before you)? Daddy’s girls tend to be immature and irresponsible from not having to step up to life’s challenges.

How to co-exist: This dad has trouble not being the primary guy in his daughter’s life, says Dr. Atkins, and it will take time for him to get used to someone else taking care of or sharing a life with his daughter. Dad and daughter both need reassurance (actions, not words) that you are responsible, trustworthy and will be there for your honey.

Single Dad Seeking Double Dates

Identifying characteristics: He’s divorced or widowed, and he’s dating again. He seeks advice, support and double dates. He’s a rare bird, but not rare enough for Jon, 39, from Washington, D.C., whose girlfriend’s dad had a new girlfriend of his own. “At first I thought he wanted to get to know me and spend time with his daughter, but our get-togethers got weird. It started with him pulling me aside to ask how I liked his shirt. Before I knew it, he was asking me what I thought of his girlfriend.”

How to co-exist: This under-evolved species even gives the pros the heebie jeebies. “Yikes! Watch out,” says Dr. Atkins. You and your date’s dad are not peers or dating buddies, and this is a boundary issue. Your girlfriend will have a view on dad’s behavior—a strong one. Whether she’s uncomfortable with the whole thing or eager to see him with someone new, Dr. Atkins says to play it safe and resist mentoring her dad as he tries to get on with his life. Focus on being responsive to and supportive of your girlfriend—none of this will be easy for her. Save your wingman skills for your buddies.

Suspicious Dad
Identifying characteristics: This dad is probably the most common of all. He probably won’t pop the question (“What are your intentions with my daughter?”), but that doesn’t mean he’s not suspicious. You’ll feel it in your bones.

How to co-exist: “Don’t take it personally, and try to put it aside,” says Dr. Atkins. “Behave honorably, and in time he will either come around or not.” It’s not about you unless you’ve raised suspicions with untrustworthy or inappropriate behavior, in which case your main concern is earning your date’s trust. It will take her father much, much longer.

Jeff Potash writes and practices law in New York City. His Web site is www.jeffpotash.com.