Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Dear Abby...

DEAR ABBY: My brother, three sisters and their husbands and children and I go to our parents' house for holiday dinners. My youngest sister's husband refuses to go because he doesn't get along with our family. (He also does not get along with his own family.)

Before my youngest sister leaves, she insists on taking a plate of food home for her husband who was "unable to be there." I feel if he doesn't want to be with our family, he shouldn't be allowed to have takeout. Our mother is 82, and it upsets her that he doesn't want to be there. What do you think? -- RESENTFUL

DEAR RESENTFUL: If your brother-in-law can't get along with the family, he is doing everyone a favor by not attending those family dinners. Because your mother finds his absence upsetting, it is up to her to put her foot down and tell your sister she doesn't want food taken to him. Until she does, food deliveries will continue.

I read the above letter from today's Dear Abby with interest, since I once got in hot water for not attending a family holiday gathering with my husband. I skipped the gathering because someone I knew I couldn't tolerate was going to be there and I didn't want to make things more tense and hostile than they already were.

Frankly, I agree wholeheartedly with Abby's advice. If someone doesn't want to attend a holiday gathering, you're probably better off not trying to force the issue. A resentful guest can ruin things for those who are feeling festive. Staying home is probably the most polite thing to do, under the circumstances. What's more, making a big stink about the plate of food may cause the sister to be resentful, which might mean she'll stop attending the gatherings, too.

While I guess I can see why some people think it's rude to take the absentee husband a plate of food, in the grand scheme of things it's probably not really that big of a deal, unless the family needs the leftovers to survive or something. The food would probably just go to waste, otherwise. I get that it's the principle of the thing... I mean, the guy can't be bothered to make an appearance and be social and he's made it clear he doesn't like others that much. But while it may be rude to take food to a hostile son-in-law, it's probably just as hostile to withhold the food. Seems to me if your goal is to get the man to participate, you're not going to get far by withholding the leftovers that would probably get pitched anyway and potentially alienating the wife/daughter/sister.

That being said... I was fine with my husband not bringing me any food... ;-)


  1. I don't always agree with Abby, but I think she was right on this one. I agree with your perspective as well. Unless the person who was hosting had an issue with the food or it was causing a strain on someone's budget, who cares about a plate of food? I also think that if a person doesn't want to e at a gathering, everyone else there is better off without him or her. similarly, sometimes one can exercise good judgment and say, "If Person X is going to be there, I'll be miserable, so I'll sit this one out."

    Now that I'm a legal adult and more mature than I was even two years ago, I can say that I think it's OK for a parent to tell a kid, "You WILL go to this gathering and you will not sulk or be rude while you're there" as long as the kid isn't going to have to endure verbal abuse from anyone there or the kid hasn't had a history of abuse with anyone who will be present. My parents no longer expected me as a teen to attend any family gatherings if the aunt and uncle who left me in the smoky house were going to be there. I'm an adult an can decide for myself now, anyway, but my grandfather has been mean to mefor a long time, and my parents assume I won't go to anything when he's going to be there.

    I don't think Jeanne Phillips is a as good as her mother, Pauline Phillips, was. For that matter, I don't think either of them was as good as Pauline's twin sister, Eppie, who was Ann Landers.

    That was an interesting family in terms of the dynamics, the competitive streak between the twons, their inability to get along on a long-term basis as adults, and the degree to which it has passed itself to the next generation. It might cause one to wonder to a degree what made them qualified to dispense advice to the world at large when they had discord bordering outright dysfunctionality in their own extended family, but still, they were insteresting to read.

    We would be good a co-authoring an advice column in which we answered readers' questions from the perspectives of under and over twenty-five (or whatever arbitrary age we happened to choose). My cousin said Dr. Drew Pinsky and Adam Carolla co-hosted a call-in advice TV program about sex. They tended to come in entirely from different points of view, he said, unless the question was about whther or not the caller should engage in a threesome, in which Dr. Drew and Adam Carolla would immediately say in unison, "Don't do it!"

    I don't know if Dr. Drew still hosts that late-night radio call-in program, but everything my brother ever learned about sex, he learned from listening to that program. He'd try to keep the radio really quiet, but mhy mom, who has really good hearing, would sometimes hear it and go in and turn his radio off. She didn't care that he was listening to a program about sex. It was just that it was too late at night and my brother should have been asleep instead of listening to a radio program.

    Dr. Drew is a lot mire boring than he used to be. All he seems to talk about now is celebrity substance abuse issues and the crime of the month.

    1. When I was growing up, our local paper only carried Ann Landers so that's the advice column I read. I agree that she was better at the advice giving gig than her sister was.

      I don't think I've ever heard the Dr. Drew show... now I'm intrigued, though.

      I agree that it's different with kids, because they need to learn how to handle themselves politely in uncomfortable situations and respect their elders. Of course if there are extenuating circumstances, that's something different. But if it's just a matter of Aunt Bunny giving them sloppy kisses, they need to learn how to handle that gracefully and without being rude to Aunt Bunny.

      But when adults can't stand one another, it's generally best not to force them to hang out with each other. And while I can understand why the people were irritated about the husband getting food, they stand to lose a lot more than a plate of food to an ingrate if they start getting petty about something like that.


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