Dear Annie: Twenty-five years ago, my ex-wife left me and took our four children with her. I married again a few years later and now have four lovely, intelligent children who make me very happy. The children from my previous marriage are now in their 30s.
My oldest daughter, “Jean,” is a psychologist. Jean has never said I was a bad father, but she makes strange accusations in sporadic messages, such as that I want her to tell me that her life has been terrible. She sent me a birthday gift, but never acknowledges things I send to her, including a photo of her half-siblings. I simply don’t understand her, and for a psychologist, she communicates poorly.
The psychologist has now informed the oldest daughter of my present marriage that she will visit us soon, regardless of whether she is in my “good book or bad book” (her phrase). It seems that Jean is saying she doesn’t care how I feel about her visit, and that she is trying to form an alliance with my children against me, even though she has never met them and knows next to nothing about them.
I have great faith in the judgment of the children of my present marriage. I want them to meet their half-sister. But I simply don’t know how to deal with her myself.
— Perplexed Father in Newfoundland
Dear Perplexed: You and Jean obviously have a distant relationship. We suspect she thinks you “abandoned” her for your new family, whether true or not, and is still nursing some hurt over it. Consider this visit an opportunity to remedy the situation. Welcome her with open arms. Tell her how much you love her and hope to get to know her better as the competent adult she is. Don’t rehash the past or place blame on her mother. You also can enlist the help of your other children to create a warmer relationship. Please try.
Dear Annie: An acquaintance recently gave me a gift for my home. The intention of the giver is that the gift be permanently displayed in the living room.This gift is not one I would have chosen, nor is it one I can easily put out every time the giver is expected to visit. There is no other room to which the gift can be moved. What do I do now?
— Recipient of Unwanted Gift
Dear Recipient: You are under no obligation to keep a gift you do not like (unless it is some type of valued family heirloom). Return it for something more to your taste and display that instead. If the giver should stop by and mention it, be sure to thank them for whatever it is you selected in exchange. After all, they still “bought” it for you.
Dear Annie: I think you miscalled the advice to “Frustrated,” the mother of the graduate who received only two RSVPs out of 40 invitations sent for a catered graduation party. It is high time that someone spoke for the American public. Here’s my proposed invitation with an RSVP:
”You are cordially invited to an event on such-and-such a date and time. Since venue size and refreshment requirements must be firmly committed a week in advance, we will make plans accordingly for all who RSVP by that date. We look forward to your celebrating with us. If we have not received your RSVP by the date requested, we will regretfully assume you will not be in attendance and will plan accordingly. Please let us know by returning the RSVP card, calling this phone number or emailing us at this address.”
Then have a grumpy uncle stand by the front door with a list of those who responded and politely inform anyone else that the event is limited to those who sent an RSVP.
— Seymour, Tenn.
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