Share this article

print logo

Carolyn Hax: Estranged father needs prodding to attend grandson’s graduation

Dear Carolyn: My dad and I were never close. He worked a lot and did not spend time with us growing up. My parents divorced when I was a teen and I “chose” my mom and had little relationship with him for years.

Dad is now remarried and lives across the country. My son is graduating from high school this spring and my dad wants to know if his attendance is “required.” He said he would rather save the money and give it to my son for his gift. I have one sibling who lives in the same state but also hardly ever comes around. If my dad comes, my sibling and his spouse are likely to come. If not, they probably won’t either. We have a very small family so without them here it is a big absence.

I told my dad we would like him to come as he is important to us and it is a big milestone. He still asked point-blank if that means he has to do it. If I tell him it is his decision, he says, “No, you need to tell me what is expected of me.”

Last year we were in a similar situation over my younger son’s first Communion and I said he needed to come. He did and all seemed to go well.

I know he needs to make his own decision, but he doesn’t seem to accept that as an answer.

– J.

Yes, he needs to make his own decision – and he actually made it. He decided not to go unless you tell him to.

That’s not what you want to hear, obviously, and it is no doubt painful for you that he doesn’t want to show up for his own reasons.

But dwelling on that and, more important, holding out hope that he will someday become the kind of father who takes the initiative to be involved in your life – well, that just sounds like inviting him on a regular basis to keep rebreaking your heart.

This is the father he really is: He will show up if you tell him to. Hardly cuddly and supportive, but it’s not nothing, either. It also gives you a level of logistical control that is almost unheard of in dealing with family.

So give yourself permission to use it guilt-free. Figure out how important his presence is to you, in itself or as bait for your brother – think pragmatism, not Principles of Things – then give him his assignment accordingly: “Yes, you need to be here”; “No, you’re free to stay home,” guilt-free for him, too.

Be a good sister

Dear Carolyn: After a struggle with fertility issues, my only sister and her husband had a baby six months ago. Of course, I am delighted for them.

I have no children – very much by choice – and live several states away. Simply, I am not a kid person and I don’t enjoy spending time with babies or young children.

My sister is upset that I have not visited to meet her baby yet. She reminisces about our growing up with many loving aunts and uncles, and she is disappointed that her child isn’t getting that same experience. She seems to take it personally that I have spent time and money on other trips but have not made time or room in the budget to travel to visit her kid.

I’m just not interested in spending a bunch of money and time to visit a baby, and in the bigger picture, I can’t commit to being the kind of doting auntie she thinks her baby deserves. I am so happy that she and her husband finally have the baby they wished for, but I don’t understand why her life-changing choices mean I should rearrange my priorities.

Am I being a jerk? I know I could just bite the bullet, buy an airline ticket, and placate her, but I don’t want to. She has a history of making unreasonable demands, and I don’t want to set a precedent of capitulation. My husband is completely in agreement with me, so I’m in an echo chamber of opinion.

– Worst Aunt Ever?

You have no obligation to like babies or be the aunt your sister wants you to be.

You are obligated, though, to live up to your own idea of what a good sister would do – and surely you can do better than to treat her baby as a poor substitute for the Louvre.

A visit to your sister now would be for her, to celebrate and support her, to show that you care about what she cares about. It’s not about “meeting” an infant – they’re terrible conversationalists, trust me – any more than going to your friend’s gallery show is about art and attending a fifth grade band performance is about music.

All of these are about showing you give a damn. As priorities go, it’s a really nice one to have.

Email Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com, follow her on Facebook at facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at washingtonpost.com.