Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: My healthy-enough-to-travel 70-year-old father just told my mother he doesn’t feel like taking a trip to see me. They’ve visited me at least annually for 20 years and it’s something we all look forward to, or so I thought. After I got over the initial sting of rejection by realizing it wasn’t personal, my emotions ran from concern (“He’s becoming more and more of a shut-in”), to annoyance (“He’s just being lazy,” “He would flip if I don’t visit them as planned”), to helplessness (“What can I realistically do from 250 miles away?”). Can you give me some tips for sorting myself out, especially so that I don’t endlessly loop back to annoyance/rejection, which isn’t a healthy place to be?
I know this is one of the hardest resting states to sustain, but what suits this situation best is a calm wait-and-see. Your father could just be slowing down normally; he could have a health issue that’s just starting to announce itself; he could be in the middle of a tiring stretch of life right now, and bounce back to eager traveling after he catches his breath. These can sneak up on people of any age.
Never miss a local story.
And if he is just lazy — don’t we all have that right sometimes? Sure, it’s not fair for him to be lazy and then scold you for doing the same down the road — if that indeed is what’s happening and it’s not just your imagination talking — but even then, you’re an adult. You can look at that and say to yourself, “Whatever, Dad,” and shake it off based on two decades of mutual, faithful attention.
So, keep living your life as you see fit and grant him leeway to do the same; overrule your impulses to respond emotionally; and keep an eye open to whatever comes next.
Remember, too — past performance does not guarantee future results. Somehow, at some point, this 20-year ritual was destined to change. If you can find a way to be open to that, then you’ll make it easier for the rewards — of family, of flexibility, of the moment you’re in — to find you.
Re: Dad rejection: Why “wait and see”? If “Rejected” is so close to pops, why not pick up the phone and ask why he doesn’t feel like visiting? Chances are about 99.9 percent that it has nothing to do with how he feels about Rejected.
I meant wait and see about any larger meaning but, yes, a call could nip this. It’s also possible pops wouldn’t tell or wouldn’t be able to tell the whole story; remember, Rejected heard this via Mom.
Re: Rejection: My mother visits regularly, but the first time she turned down an invitation I was surprised. She’s a widow and I had this view of her just sitting around the house missing my father and going to the occasional prayer group and waiting to visit me so she could dote on her grandkids. She’s actually very active, travels to visit a lot of other friends, has a lot of friends visit her and occasionally just needs a break. It took me a while to realize that.
Yep. We do tend to envision others’ lives in 2D, thanks.
Email Carolyn at email@example.com, follow her on Facebook at facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at washingtonpost.com.