Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: My father turns 90 in a few months. Over the past 10 years he has refused to attend any weddings, graduations or other celebrations. He does go to Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter – although he seems to have lost his filter between his brain and his mouth and frequently says upsetting things to family members. For example, my niece was going through chemotherapy and was wearing a scarf, and my father mocked her bare head. When we reminded him that she had cancer he lashed out that he can’t be expected to remember everything. He never apologized.
I make an effort to see the good in my father and I know aging isn’t easy for anybody. But younger relatives have no patience for him and every time I suggest a party for him, it goes over like a lead balloon. I understand he is difficult and prone to outbursts, but the man is 90 and I still think he deserves our respect. Where do I go from here?
Child of Difficult Father
Please consider going to a broader definition of “respect” than the one you’re using now. Your dad avoids big gatherings! Except the familiar ones, apparently – and it makes sense, since even people at peak health can be daunted by them.
There are beautiful ways you can honor your dad that don’t involve a big party. Have everyone film themselves wishing him a happy birthday, for example, and compile these messages into a video using a format he knows, like a DVD. He can play it whenever he’s feeling down. A book of still photos would work, too. Present it at a gathering of manageable size.
You’ve got a great message – now just keep going and think of a way he’d be most grateful to receive it.
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