Turn down the PDA
Not your PDA (although you should silence all such technology), but your public displays of affection. Mom might want to see a certain level of intimacy, but at this stage, dad likely does not. The key is to express your affection for his daughter with tact and subtlety. A reasonable rule of thumb: Keep whatever displays you show to small, quick gestures. Around the house put your modesty on display. Light hand-holding is acceptable, and if she’s eager to drape her arm around you, fine, don’t shirk from it, but keep things to a kiss on the cheek or a short rub on her shoulder.
Respect your roles
Be casual and try to talk to him as another man, but maintain a respectful distance — don’t be too casual. As a general — if unspoken — rule, men don’t open up to one another the way women might, so don’t be over-anxious to spread the good word about him, you or his daughter. If you allow your roles with respect to one another to develop organically, your relationship with him stands a much better chance of thriving down the road.
Find out his interests beforehand
Don’t look for reasons to be a kiss-ass here; rather, seek interests around which the two of you can build conversation and common-interest bonds. Don’t rely on male stereotypes –sports, cars, etc. — for conversation. Once you’ve learned about his interests, whether from your girl or directly from him, follow up on them in your next meeting by bringing a germane magazine article you’d read that you think he might find interesting.
Bring him a manly gift
Cater this gift to his personality and deliver it with as much cool indifference as you can muster. Ideally this gift should be something the two of you can share in together, for example out on the porch or in an otherwise mellow moment. You might consider beer (does he drink domestic, microbrews, imports?), wine (red or white?), smoked meats, or a sports DVD. Whatever the gift, keep it all cool: Taking this step features a harrowing precipice or two; the right gift gets you in. The wrong one — you’re an ass-kisser.
Ask him about himself
Give the man a platform for the stories he loves to tell. Let the rest of the family roll their eyes at a narrative they’ve heard a hundred times. You’re a fresh audience — a storyteller’s delight. As your base, go with something your girl has told you about before, but keep away from inappropriate content — i.e., the drunken college stories or bloody military tales. Rather, think sports, professional life or even pranks you’ve heard about. Back in the day, one thing never failed to get my future father-in-law chattering: having been drafted into the MLB.
Always be a gentleman
In his book, Essential Manners for Men, author Peter Post points out that proper etiquette’s greater purpose is not to make you look like a snobby master of manners, but to allow social interactions to run smoothly, and that the absence of etiquette is when you realise how important it really is. Without making a spectacle, carry out the small details as though they’re part of your disposition: Exhibit the kinds of good manners that make up the unspoken male vernacular. Look Dad in the eye, shake his hand when you see him, and greet his wife according to what she gives you — i.e., handshake, hug.
Ask for his advice
Appeal to his experience. Fathers — men in general — enjoy offering their advice or opinion, and provided you don’t overdo it, he’ll feel he still has some influence in his daughter’s life, albeit indirectly. Keep your initial appeal somewhat impersonal. For example, general career advice or moderate family issues are reasonable starting points. But asking him for advice on what to do about an arrest warrant or genital warts? Don’t go there.
Neither join him nor lead him in a descent into guy immaturity; we all may share certain frat-boy weaknesses, but this isn’t the time to remind anyone. Your goal should be a flexible maturity; one that takes the quiet, dignified road with regard to farts, burps, “playful” disrespect to women, excessive interest in the game on TV, or any behavior that would in short mortify your own mother if she were around to witness it. Although “be yourself” is the only reliable motto, if you’re a degenerate frat boy, you might want to suppress those impulses for the time being. The point is to win over dad without selling your soul, but you can do that without descending into a primal state.
Show some old-school values
This is fairly fundamental: Be a stand-up guy, not just because the alternative makes you look like a weasel, but because he’ll have no choice but to respect it. He can find plenty of weak reasons to dislike you, but not for being a stand-up guy. This one he has to give you. If an issue needs to be addressed — anything from misunderstandings to missed appointments to owning up to the truth in whatever capacity, address it like a man. If you don’t know what this means, winning over your girlfriend’s father is the least of your worries.
Showcase your reliability
At some point, her dad has to let go of his little girl, and you want to be there when he does. Respond to that deep-seated paternal need to know he can depend on you to take care of her when he does let go. So be on time to anything that concerns him; dinner at the folks’ house or dinner out, or any sort of get-together. Give the appearance of financial stability. Maintain the safety and reliability of your car. And be there — wherever “there” might be — when his daughter needs you.