Dear Carolyn: Ever since my two sons were born (now 19 and 16), my father has sent a modest monetary gift on their birthdays and Christmas. He is a wealthy man and although the gift was not much, it was just lovely that he thought of them.
This Christmas, my father sent me a chatty email explaining that he would not be sending my older son a Christmas gift because it was his policy not to send gifts to anyone over 18.
The whole thing is odd because I’ve exchanged Christmas gifts with him and his wife every year.
I was very hurt by this and embarrassed by his lack of generosity. My children only have one grandfather, and although they do not get to see him very often, there is deep affection for him. In my mind, the birthday and Christmas gifts signified that he cared about them and remembered them at these special moments during the year.
I could talk to my father and let him know that I am flummoxed by his lack of generosity. However, I’m not sure what good it would do. He will be hurt and defensive. I also sense that he might withdraw even further from engaging with our family. I would appreciate your advice.
A: Since your sons feel a “deep affection” for their grandfather, your primary mandate is not to screw that up. Break the news to them that Grandpa’s gifts stop with their 18th birthdays – with not a molecule of disapproval in your breath – and, as befitting this arrival at adulthood, you recommend they use the occasion to approach the relationship as adults. Where they’ve been conditioned to receive, they can now take the initiative to stay in touch with their only grandfather. To suggest they do otherwise would betray an embarrassing lack of generosity.
Sorry or not?
Dear Carolyn: What is the right way to apologize to a significant other? I favor apologies that offer an explanation and leave room for discussion: “I’m sorry I got mad at you for not taking the trash out, but I don’t like having to remind you each time.” He says he wants apologies to come with no strings attached. What’s the best way?
– I’m Sorry, but ...
A: The only “right” way to apologize to anyone is sincerely. “Sorry, but ...” exposes insincerity. Sig-O has you there.
You have a point, too, though, if he’s using your poor behavior to get away with his.
Apologizing sans asterisk for anything you genuinely regret will cure both of these responsibility dodges – “I’m sorry I lost my temper,” period, close-quote. So will swearing off appeasement apologies and admitting when you’re not sorry: “Actually, I’m not sorry I got angry, because I’m outraged at being the default housekeeper.”