Terms of Endearment
What do I call a 65 year old lady who is dating my father? The term “girlfriend” seems out of place. In this day and age why can’t we come up with a new term for older dating people?
I don’t know, but I doubt anything I come up with here is going to be followed universally tomorrow. Although I do think that most everything I say should be followed universally. My stepfather dated my mother for almost 30 years. Believe me, I understand how silly it sounds to refer to a man in his 60’s as your mother’s “boyfriend.” Of course people created things like “lady friend,” “gentleman friend,” and “significant other” to describe the situation when needed, but all of those sound ridiculous. I’m trying to come up with a new term as I write this, but my mind is drawing a blank. I think you’ll just have to stick with “girlfriend” unless you want to make everyone really uncomfortable and introduce her as your father’s “lover.” That’d be fun to watch.
Years back I was in business with my cousin. I made really poor choices due to addictions I had. End result is that I pulled down the business. As a result of my actions my cousin lost a lot, including his house. On top of that, problems began in his marriage rooted from what I caused in the business. I believe she held him responsible for not knowing what I was up to. They are still together, but according to family members, they fight now and there is bitterness there. Pretty much I ruined his once good life. We haven’t spoken in a very long time. A rift went through the family after it all went down. This is my legacy, too. I thought I’d email you only because I wondered if you had any ideas of what I could possibly do to make things better with them. I have righted my life as much as I can. I got help for my addictions. I recently got engaged. I am slowly climbing out of my financial hole. The last thing I have left to do is to make things right with my cousin. I’d love to have them back in my life. I miss him. I miss his parents. I miss his brothers and sisters. I want to put the family back together and thought my wedding might be a good place to start. How do you think that would be received, and is there anything I should do to lay the groundwork?
When is this wedding? Because if it is approaching soon then do no–I repeat do not–send them an invitation. That would infuriate me if I were them. It would come across in a way that you are not intending it to come across. You want to lay the groundwork for peace and forgiveness well before inviting them to a wedding. If you haven’t reestablished a relationship by the wedding day, any invitation opened by them could be viewed as arrogance, antagonistic, and “in your face.” Look at me! I’m getting married, I’m happy now, my life is great while yours is still a mess thanks to me. Oh, and now you have to buy me a wedding present, too. No, do not send an invitation if the wedding is already in motion.
There is a lot of work to be done before they should be expected to come celebrate a day with you. Besides, your wedding day should be about you and your fiancé committing your lives together. It’s a loving day. You do not need to put your emotions through the wringer by also including guests whose very presence will make you feel self-loathing, shame, and regret. Skip the wedding aspect of your amends and move on towards making real advances towards righting your wrongs.
Your first step is to put together your game plan. What do you mean by “making amends”? Do you just mean emotionally? Are you looking to apologize, be forgiven, and start fresh? Or do you mean amends literally as in giving them back the money you caused them to lose and doing your best to restore their family’s security back to the level it was before you destroyed it? Because at some point, when you are trying to tell these people that you want to make amends, they are going to throw it in your face that you cost them more than emotional heartache.
I doubt seriously that you have earned enough money since your partnership failed to set right their personal finances. But at least come up with a plan that addresses that. You could start a college fund for their children or grandchildren, or a retirement fund for your cousin. Or, if they are living in an apartment after losing their house, that money could be the makings of a down payment on a new house down the road. Making a gesture of trying to pay reparations to them for what they lost might go a long way to show them that you are serious in your desire to make things up to them. Perhaps you could contribute $100 a month (or more if you can afford it) to a fund in their names. They have been set back in life financially because of you, and that was the root of the anger that put a rift in their marriage. Their security was gone. You can’t really take them back to where they were, but the gesture itself might make them believe the change in you is real.
I would do this quietly without letting anyone know for the time being. Once you’ve accumulated a little money, several thousand I’d say, then ask for a sit down with both your cousin and his wife at the same time. Do this because you need her to hear the same things you plan to tell him. You affected her life just as much. Besides, if you had a meeting with your cousin all alone and he forgave you, he would likely go home and recount the meeting to his wife and she would be furious that he let you off the hook and the rift between them widens. So, for his sake, meet with them together so that you can also show his wife how regretful and contrite you are.
Lay your soul bare to them and ask for their forgiveness. Tell them that you have missed them in your life so much. Tell them that you are beginning a new marriage and a new life and it pains you to think of them not being a part of it. And tell them about the account you have started and insist that they take it. Make sure you continue to add to it every month until it reaches the level you feel is a good and fair stopping place. Let them know when you’re talking to them how much you are putting in and the amount it has to reach before you stop contributions. You don’t want a new fight in 12 years when they have $50,000 in there and you quit adding to it, yet they thought you’d be doing it forever. Lay out the parameters at the start. Then wait and see what they do.
I had a similar question about forgiveness in a recent Ask Micah and I told that person that sometimes people are not willing to forgive. And sometimes they forgive but just aren’t willing to open that door back up and allow the person that betrayed them back into their lives. That could apply here, too. Your cousin may not want a relationship with you again, and if he doesn’t, that’s his right. Using your own word, that too will be the legacy left from your actions. No matter what they decide, you can then forgive yourself and move forward with respect and dignity restored. You will have tried. You will have humbled yourself before them and sincerely apologized. You will have begun making financial restitution to them. And you will have graciously accepted their decision without starting another incident. No matter what they decide, no one will be able to say that Ed is a bad man. No, Ed will have proven that he admits his wrongs and tries his best to right them. Ed can start his new life with his new wife with honor and self-respect.
I’ve got to tell you about my dad. He’s a great dad, and I love him, but he has always been so embarrassing out in public. Restaurants, stores, anyplace he calls staff out on things he finds unacceptable. He’s demanding. He has no patience at all. It’s just miserable to be out with him. I have avoided this stuff as much as I can through my life. I’m married with kids, and my family rarely ever joins my mom and dad at a restaurant because of this. But now my mother is sick and in a nursing home, so Dad is by himself. I or my wife take him to doctor appointments, and we’ve been trying to do more with him socially to keep him company. But it is still just so bad. I have told him a thousand times that he needs to be nicer to people that are waiting on him, but no luck so far. Got any suggestions?
At his age? Nope. I think he’s pretty much a lost cause. I’d just do my best to get in there first and tell the hostess at a restaurant to please warn my waiter that I have a curmudgeonly old dad who always pisses everyone off. Tell them that he’s not right in the head, and if they’d just please ignore anything he says, you’ll tip them very well for the trouble. Because really, that’s what it gets down to. A complaining patron is basically telling a waiter that they aren’t going to get much of a tip, so to the waiter this table is a lost cause. They are just going to start giving the stellar service to the next table and largely ignore the complaining one because why put energy into a lost cause? But, if they know beforehand that part of earning a glorious tip is the test of putting up with Mr. Grumpy Pants, then they’ll play along. I was a waiter once for a few years many years ago, and I know what I’m talking about. Just tell them up front, and you’d be amazed how much a staff can put up with.
As I said, it’s too late to change your elderly father, but I am always amazed at people who go through life treating service people badly. Maybe they don’t realize they do, but I have known people who seem well aware of how they treat them and seem to take pride in it. For me, you show me your character by the way you treat people you deem “under” you. Just about everyone who works is “under” someone else. We all serve someone. I own a hair salon here in town. All of us there are somebody’s “servant.” Part of my staff (myself included) is on hand to serve the needs of the hair stylists, while the hair stylists are serving their clients. A client might be an investment broker, but that investment broker is serving their client the doctor, who is “serving” his patients and the chief of staff at a hospital, who is serving the Board of Directors, whose members might be business people in town who all answer to other people they serve in business. Almost everyone has someone above them in some capacity.
So, when I see a customer at an Office Depot speaking rudely to the woman at the register, or a patron at a hamburger joint making the counter worker cry just because someone accidentally left off the pickle, it makes me cringe. I cringe for the person receiving the hostile treatment, but mostly I cringe for the person on the tirade because I realize that they are too stupid to know that they are showing the world an ugly side of them that they probably wouldn’t want the world to see if they were able to step back and watch themselves. Because most of the time, these people on a tirade are not bad people. They are just bad ambassadors of courtesy. That sounds nicer than “bitches,” doesn’t it?