Dear Carolyn: As the youngest of seven kids by a fair margin, and who didn’t resemble anyone on either side of the family, I was always ostracized by my father, who made it very clear to everyone that I was not his. My siblings followed his lead and the only vaguely familial relationship I’ve had in the past 30 years was with my mother and my husband’s family.
Recently, in a twist worthy of a soap opera, one of my brothers needed a transplant and surprise, surprise, I was the only compatible donor.
I guess that was enough to prove paternity to them, because now I’m receiving invitations to family gatherings, but no apologies, as though we’ve always been close.
It would have meant everything to me when I was younger, but after years of being treated like a non-entity, I’ve made my peace, and have no desire to associate with them. I wasn’t going to let my brother suffer, but wonder if they would have done the same for me.
How do I tactfully tell them to leave me alone? I don’t want to hurt my mother (or any of them, really), but the thought of pretending the last 30 years of neglect never happened is incredibly annoying and pretty hurtful. – Anonymous
I suppose it’s glib to say you’re all set, you gave at the doctor’s office.
Fortunately, your phrasing here seems ideal: “[These invitations] would have meant everything to me when I was younger, but after years of being treated like a non-entity, I’ve made my peace.” It allows you to make your point while choosing not to say – out of what is clearly an ingrained sense of decency – that they’ve shown you their souls as they’ve shown no one else, and you want to get no closer to people of such low quality.
As a proponent of inclusion and forgiveness wherever possible, I’d usually turn now to an argument for accepting these invitations anyway.
But there’s nothing to work with here. A freshly minted adult could be excused for not yet connecting the dots that you were an innocent being punished for your mother’s real or imagined transgressions – but the next oldest is nearly 40. Not one of them has stumbled upon shame as the proper emotion with which to greet you?
I don’t mean now that the “truth” is out; I’m talking about long ago, since the truth of your innocence and fundamental human worth has been out for 30 years.
If your family were capable of grasping their role as your unwitting moral tutors, then surely they’d be proud of the way you turned out. Your thanks-but-no-thanks stance isn’t hurtful; it’s a right they helped you earn.