Dear Debra: Family Flaws



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By Debra Darvick

Dear Debra,

When I was in middle school, my father walked out on our family. My mother was having severe (life-threatening) health issues at the time. His financial support was minimal, we saw him infrequently and learned only recently that he remarried.

I will be getting married soon and my mother (who has now recovered) and my brother say I will regret not inviting him to the wedding as a guest. My mother will walk me down the aisle. I cannot imagine having him there and feel that if I were to see him, it would just stir up too much on a day that will otherwise be joyous.

I called my father to invite him to lunch and talk. He brought his new wife, which made any meaningful conversation impossible. I would like to forgive him and have him in my life in some way. But he does not want to face or even discuss what he did to our family or how he has been an intermittent presence since then. I really do not think I’ll regret not having him at my wedding, but should I do it because my mother and brother say I will?

— Deciding

 Dear Deciding,

In my book, if you are old enough to get married, you are old enough to make the decision to exclude from the guest list such a parent. And you are also old enough to live with your decision and any regrets it may cause in the future. You know best your heart and how great the hurt residing within. If seeing your father on your wedding day will open up areas best left closed on such a joyous day, then, by all means, your wishes must prevail.

You didn’t mention any therapy you have received or are getting now to process these primal hurts, and that’s where I want to go with the rest of my response.

Forgiving someone doesn’t in any way mean you are saying what s/he did was OK. Forgiving someone means that you have arrived at a place where their heinous deeds no longer have the power to wound you. Forgiveness is saying, “What you did was reprehensible. It hurt me to the core and changed me forever, and I am no longer allowing your actions to interfere with my ability to lead a joyous and complete life.”

You do not need the wrongdoer anywhere near you to create this forgiveness, just a safe space be it a therapist’s office, with trusted clergy or another spiritual/emotional guide.

As you embark on your new life, I would urge you to find a way to process your hurts so you can embrace all the joys you deserve, shadow-free of your father’s shoddy behavior.

Dear Debra,

We recently moved back to the city my husband and I grew up in and have looked forward to reconnecting with family members. There are several cousins who we’ve re-established connections with. One cousin has ignored all our attempts. New Year’s cards go unreciprocated. Invitations are ignored. My husband and this cousin were close growing up, and he and his wife visited us in Detroit when their kids were young.

Last week, my husband bumped into his cousin who was visiting someone who lives in our sub. He said hello and reminded him that we’d love to see them. His cousin mumbled something about yes that would be great. I cant imagine what we might have done to them and am tired of reaching out and being ignored.

— Overtures Going Nowhere

 Dear Overtures,

Judaism values hachnasat orchim — welcoming the stranger. While your cousins are not strangers in the literal sense, you have followed tradition’s urging to welcome people into your home. For whatever reason, your husband’s cousin is not interested.

Puzzling and hurtful though this is, you have to accept their disinterest and try not to take it personally. I know, how can you not take it personally when they are ignoring you and your heartfelt invitations?

For all you know, they may be experiencing health or other family crises they may not want to share or that claim all their attention and energies. Perhaps the person living in your sub is offering the support they need at this time. You can’t know.

If it’s meaningful to you to send Rosh Hashanah greetings, do so. Just don’t expect any response. Not all friendships and family relationships stand the test of time. Sadly for you and your husband, this may be one of those occasions. Focus on the friends and family who do grace your lives and go from there.

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