My Two Dads
How many times would you let someone snub, ignore and hurt you before you just plan gave up? What if that someone…was your parent?
I have been following your advice column for a while and I love your take on situations. I have a family situation that has me stumped…
My dad (technically step dad, but he has raised me since I was 2, so in reality….Dad) and I have had a falling out (long story short, his new wife, my new husband, hurt feelings, angry words, ick) about 7 years ago. We have since moved into the holiday cards and cordial greetings when we see each other world. To complicate matters I have recently been in touch with my birth father and half brother. We are forging a new relationship and I want to start including them in our life.
Begin problem….I have been inviting my dad to all of the family functions (older son’s birthday parties, new son’s welcome party, etc) He never RSVPs and never shows up. I have not invited my birth father mainly because I know it would hurt my Dad’s feelings. After my Dad’s 3rd no call no show I don’t feel like it is fair to hold out Birth Father’s invitation on the off chance Dad will show up. My second son’s 1st birthday is coming up (side note, Dad has never met son 2 and birth father has) and I want to mail invitations to both.
Should I call Dad and let him know? Do I wait until he RSVPs? Do I assume he is not coming and stop worrying about it? I don’t want to give Dad any more ammunition to hurl at me but I don’t feel he has earned the right to dictate who I have in my son’s lives. Especially when birth father is reaching out more than Dad.
Help with my 2 Dads
I agree — it’s time to extend the invitations to the people who are actively showing an interest in your life, and your children’s lives. I like that you’re not immediately making it an either/or situation (i.e., you’ll begin inviting your birth father and conversely STOP inviting your dad), but yes. Enough is enough with excluding someone who is making an attempt at a relationship in order to spare the feelings of someone else who can’t even be bothered to pick up the phone and RSVP.
I’m really sorry he’s doing that to you (and his grandchildren), but I think in this situation you can hold your head up and know that YOU are doing what you can and the stubbornness/inability to forgive is a one-sided thing. You have let him know that he is welcome to be part of your lives — even going so far as to protect his feelings at social gatherings that he has not even been present at — but hey, there HAS to be a statute of limitations for how long he’s allowed to ignore you, consequence free. While he may not envision the birth father scenario, he’s got to know that most human beings will give up and stop trying eventually, and the invites will simply stop coming. If he doesn’t realize that, well. Tough love time, buddy.
Invite them both. If your father does surprise you and RSVP, then…yes, time to pick up the phone and let him know that the family dynamic has shifted in recent months/years (or however long the snubbing has been going on) and that your birth father will be in attendance. If he’s angry, let him know that you’ve indeed avoided inviting your birth father out of respect so far, but since he couldn’t even be bothered to RSVP to your child’s birthday party, you felt it was no longer fair to exclude someone else on his behalf anymore. I’m guessing he won’t take it well, which…will suck, but it will be one of those sucky situations where you at least have the benefit of knowing that it’s really, REALLY not your fault. You simply are stuck with one of those adults in your life who refuses to sack up and ACT like the adult in your life. (Most of us know one or two of those, amirite, peanut gallery?)
I suppose the ONLY reason, perhaps, to give your dad one last shot at being the sole dad-figure invite for this party is if you at all suspect some shenanigans going on with previous invites. Like, his wife is the one with the Real Problem With You and is intercepting the mail, and the invites haven’t been personally extended TO HIM, via direct contact on the phone or email or Facebook. (Which…really, other than the phone, it’s also possible that invites can get mysteriously deleted or lost with those other options.)
And if you really, REALLY dread the thought of having that hypothetical post-RSVP conversation with him about your birth father, to the point that you’ll be consumed with guilt and anxiety up until the day of the party in case Dad surprises you and shows up, confronting him before the party might be…well, not easier, but maybe preferable. Send an invite with a set RSVP date, and then call him directly the day after. If he says he’s not coming, you can either 1) say “okay, good to know” before hanging up and thus feeling free to extend the invite to your birth father guilt- and anxiety-free, or 2) force the issue and ask if he’d rather you simply stop trying to include him. Like, “Dad, seriously. What the hell? How long are you planning to have things continue like this? Is this really the relationship you want, for good?”
I don’t even think you’d need to bring up your birth father in this conversation — it’s more about finally figuring out where your relationship with HIM stands. If he protests and swears that oh noooooo, he was totally not snubbing you all those times he was actually totally snubbing you, and really WANTS to be a grandpa and blah blah BS cakes, then…well. I still think your birth father more than deserves to be included, and your dad will need to get over that too, in addition to whatever grudge he’s still carrying around. A tall order, yes, but seriously, I fail to see any reason why a grown-up can’t be expected to ACT LIKE A GROWN-UP. And getting over yourself and seven-year-old spats and hurt feelings is a big part of acting like a grown-up, as is seeing and understanding the benefits of healing old family fractures and wounds for the sake of the newest generation.
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