When Family Lets You Down
Amy, please help. I need some perspective.
My dad’s 70th birthday is approaching. While he is far from perfect, he is an extremely generous man who loves his family desperately. He has never wanted presents or birthday parties for himself, but this year he consented to a small family party. Our family is very tight knit…or so I thought.
I wanted to put together a book of pictures, memories, stories, birthday wishes, etc. Several weeks ago I sent an email to close family and friends, asking for them to tell me a story about my dad, or send a birthday message. I asked for responses within two weeks, to give me enough time to put it together and get it printed in time for the party. A couple days before the deadline, I sent a reminder email. The day of the deadline, I had gotten ZERO responses – not even from my sister or stepmother! I started calling and sending individual texts, and a few responses trickled in. But I did not hear anything from most people, including my cousins and people my dad has been friends with for 40+ years.
Frankly, I’m furious, particularly at my cousins. My dad has always treated them like his own children, helped them financially when they needed it, gave them jobs, etc. He literally would give them the shirt off his back. My aunts (their mothers) told me they were just “so busy this time of year.” I understand being busy – I work two jobs and have three young children – but I have never missed a single holiday or birthday or event for any of them or their children. They couldn’t find 10 minutes to email or text me a quick story or message?
I don’t know how to get past this. I’m upset about the book – I don’t know how to explain to my dad why there are no contributions from these people – but mostly I just can’t believe they wouldn’t take the time to do this one small thing. The party is coming up and I want nothing to do with any of them. I’m tempted to just cut them out of my life completely, but our children are close and they would be devastated. I know when I see them they will offer some half-hearted apology, but I don’t think I’ll be able to smile and say “it’s okay.” I also don’t want to ruin my dad’s birthday.
You’re not going to like this, but I think you need to let this go.
Yes, it’s certainly disappointing — you had a lovely idea! It’s not that big of an ask! — but I really don’t think it’s worth the level of outrage and hurt you’re taking on. Your family just wasn’t as into the book idea as you were. Maybe they felt self-conscious about their writing or kept overthinking the project; maybe they just flat-out didn’t like the idea for whatever reason. Or maybe they all just straight-up flaked. You don’t necessarily need to (nor should you) take that lack of interest as some kind of major, direct reflection on how your family feels about your dad. They can 100% love, respect and value him and still be flaky about contributing to a group project.
Again, it’s perfectly reasonable to be disappointed in them, but I very much think this is a case that merits forgiveness, rather than abject fury and “cutting people out of my life completely.” Friends and family all let us down from time to time. It sucks that they all collectively chose to do it right around a major birthday milestone (although it’s also unlikely that any of them realized just how important this was to you, and how emotionally connected you were it), but I think your real takeaway from this should be: My family sucks at sending in stories and probably aren’t super into scrapbooking.
So what should you do?
Personally, I would revise the project to be something you create solo, using whatever pictures and stories you can provide. I think it would be odd (and even hurtful/a bit petty) if you presented your dad with something that clearly indicates a low level of participation. That’s going to require a bit of pride swallowing, but since this all really IS supposed to be about celebrating your dad and giving him a wonderful birthday, his feelings should be at the top of your consideration list, not yours. Yours are hurt, of course, but there’s no need to hurt his because your original idea didn’t quite pan out as planned. Scrap the meager contributions you received (that you already had to pull teeth to get; it’s not like they really represent the original spirit of the project anyway) and create the best book you can. Be the bigger person and include photos of the non-contributors — if your dad loves your cousins like his own children, he’ll be happy to see them there.
Then REALLY work on forgiving and letting it go. If people apologize, accept it. If people ask about the book, just shrug your shoulders and say that you simply did not receive enough contributions to justify printing it as a big group collaboration. If anyone who did contribute gets annoyed (which honestly, I doubt will happen, it’s pretty clear no one else has given it anywhere near the thought/importance that you have), just privately explain what happened: The participation level was embarrassingly low, so you went in a different direction to spare your dad’s feelings.
I’m sorry your lovely idea turned out to be such a bummer, but I sincerely hope your dad’s birthday is a lovely one, book or no book.
Photo source: Depositphotos/benschonewille
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