Compromise and Dignity

June 24, 2009

As you know, my sister and I are planning a ‘surprise’ party for my father to celebrate his 70th birthday. What was to be a surprise party at my place with perhaps a three-piece jazz ensemble and home made-pizza from the oven (see pics) has spiraled into something completely different. We decided to involve my father in the organisation.We needed his input concerning who to invite. Once he was involved, his ideas had to be factored into the equation. The result was like a domino effect as all concerned exhibited their predictable traits, especially when in negotiation with each other.

Jeffs Camera 22.04.09 043

Jeffs Camera 22.04.09 042

Here’s what happened:

The players are my sister, my brother, my father, my brother’s wife, my children and me.

My sister had dad around for dinner to break the silence about the party plans, save for one surprise element.

Dad rang me a week later to discuss his own plans. He had been to two other seventieth parties, one at Sky High on Mt Dandenong and the other at a suburban RSL club. He’s the sort of person, who takes a good idea on board and thinks its the only way to go.  As far as he was concerned, his party would be either at Sky High or a suburban RSL.

The surprise element was my brother John and his family’s attendance at the party, down from Queensland. But my brother’s wife, Kaz, emailed me to say her folks would come up from Tassie for the party. She asked me to suggest accommodation for them. Dad often likes to put interstate visiting relatives up at his place. I gave him the option, and in doing so unavoidably “spilt the beans” .

A day or so later, my sister phoned me to tell me off. “Did you tell dad John was coming down from Queensland for the party?” was her accusation.

I explained how it came about but my sister continued her tirade. She was not happy. She did not approve of dad’s preferred venues. “I’m not going to an RSL club”, she ranted. And she did not approve of dad hijacking the organisation. “If dad wants to do that with his friends, he can. But as far as I’m concerned thats up to him. We can do a family thing separately”, she determined.

In the past I may have become cross with my sister. This time however, I explained to her that it was a special occasion for dad and that it would make him happy to have his family and friends together (perhaps for the only time), a seventieth was a special occasion and she wouldn’t have to stand around chatting to his friends because there would be enough family there for our separate table. I told her that she didn’t have to do anything. That I would work with dad to get the invitations out. I promised we wouldn’t go to an RSL, but that I’d booked Sky High for a buffet lunch on the Saturday (his actual birth date) and it would all be okay.

She calmed down. She said she wanted to go for a family drive and lunch at a winery perhaps at Kinglake to survey the township recovering from the fires and support local businesses there. I agreed this was a good idea, especially with our interstate guests staying for the weekend, and suggested we could do that as well, perhaps on the Sunday.

I spoke with dad after getting off the phone with my sister to confirm with him that a buffet lunch at Sky High was booked, and immediately my arrangements were blown ‘sky high’. He expressed his preference for their function room, which he had found out could  serve finger food from two until five in the afternoon for twenty dollars a head. I expressed my preference for a sit down lunch (I was considering two things: 1. the boredom factor for my children; 2. Seventy-plus people standing around in a cocktail situation. And I sensed EPIC failure). I expressed my reservations to dad and he agreed to reconsider it.

A state of limbo lasted for about two weeks after which time I phoned dad to give him the hurry on. “Have you decided what you want to do yet? We need to get on with the invitations! Its only seven weeks away”. Dad re-expressed his preference for the 2-5 time slot, assured me his friends were all fit enough to mingle in this way. I told him to book it asap, cancel my lunchtime booking and get the contact list to me so I could start phoning for people’s email addresses (dad doesn’t have a computer). Dad expressed such deep gratitude that I had rung him to basically manage him into getting a move on that he almost cried. “You’re a great daughter”, he gushed.

Anyway, he sprang into action. He bounced into my place last weekend with his contact list, reporting that the Sky High was booked. He apologised that there were over double the number of people he originally thought he’d invite. He’d grouped them into categories: Bushwalking Club, Cycling Club, friends, Family and had found himself thinking of more and more people as he wrote.

The contact list was written in his familiar draughtsman-style neat and precise handwriting. I’ve been making calls to the hundred or so on the list. “Hi, I’m jenne, Bill’s daughter”. “Oh is Bill alright?”. “Yes, I’m helping him organize his seventieth birthday…” etc. My kids have reacted to my activity in various ways:

Emma, “Are you ringing Poppy’s Pals again?”. (I laughed so much that I wrote the heading on the list, “Poppy’s pals”).

Rosie, “That must be the most boring and tedious job, talking to old people all day”.

Kat, “Don’t expect us to ring all of your old friends when you are seventy, mum”.

I finished contacting every one after two days. I sent the email out last night and have seven letters to post for people not connected to ‘the net’. I’ve called for people from different aspects of dad’s past and present to make speeches on the day.  My brother was the first to be nominated (by his wife), and I’m looking forward to securing other speakers as the rsvps come in.

With a sense of achievement I reflected on the process of compromise. Originally my sister and I would have taken all the organisation out of dad’s hands. What has been achieved now is a party for my father which he feels as though he has organised  by himself. Its reaffirmed him as an agent in control of his own life. I’d forgotten something about him: he organises weekly cycling trips for his riding group, and leads bushwalks for his walking club. He is a very capable organiser in his own right. Usually with his daughters he steps back (and often he grumbles from the side-line). Not this time! Isn’t that great? I’ve learnt that he doesn’t need to be treated like a child. He needs some support. But he doesn’t need to be stripped of responsibility.

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4 Responses to “Compromise and Dignity”

  1. Kit said

    It sounds like you’re doing a great job. Well done for letting your Dad have his say. I always think surprise parties are overrated anyway, it’s much more fun having all the anticipation, but without having to do all the work – ideal solution!

  2. zhisou said

    Maybe you could organise my 40th, sounds like you’re good at this stuff.

    Love the pool!

  3. ejenne said

    Thanks Kit. You are absolutely right. Dad is really happy in anticipation.

    Everyone replied promptly. Some rang and were on for another chat lol. We have eighty attending and about ten of them will make a short speech!

  4. ejenne said

    Hey zhisou! Well, turning forty is an exceptional occasion. And I wouldn’t mind a trip out to Spain…

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