Midlife Cabernet: Saying "Happy Birthday" to an Ex-Father

3 years ago


For ten years, I enjoyed membership in a large Italian family, and they excelled in festive reunions, dramatic gestures, abundant food and drink, and naming several people Michael. After I canceled my membership by divorcing one of the Michaels, I was no longer included in the festivities. That’s another disadvantage of divorce. I really enjoyed those parties.

But, because we’re celebrating our national freedoms and because I still admire many of my former relatives, I’d like to wish a happy 90th birthday to my ex-father-in-law. He’s one of the Greatest Generation, a retired military colonel with a distinguished career, and a sassy, stubborn man who loves the dolce vita. And, he loves his six children, their spouses, and all their children and their children. And, all the aunts, uncles, and cousins. We could still be good friends, if it weren’t for that unpleasant divorce issue.

The entire extended family is gathering this weekend to celebrate his birthday. After making a comment on Facebook about wanting to be there, I received a curt message telling me to stop harassing the family, go away, and stay away. My first reaction was, “Wow. This message contains three spelling mistakes and five punctuation errors in only 66 words.”

But I don't want to attack the writer because I admire her defense of the family and I sincerely want to apologize for offending her. However, I think she should know that at my age, there's not a chance in hell I will change. And, I'll probably correspond with those she told me to leave alone. In responding to caustic messages, there is a fine balance between "Bless You” and “Bite Me.”

I’m grateful that I keep in contact with my ex-sister-in-law and her charming children. Removing the in-law label still makes her a sister. Our friendship extends beyond marriage licenses. I’m not advocating divorce, especially in a loyal Italian family, but I offer an olive branch of peace to those who resent me. Preferably that branch produced extra-virgin, first cold-pressed olive oil in Italy.

There are many fond memories of my former family. I miss seeing how the nieces and nephews grew up, and I’d love to have some authentic green lasagna again. But I respect their decisions not to stay in contact with me. The last time I saw the entire group was when I sang “Ave Maria” at the funeral mass for my mother-in-law. The Italians know how to celebrate life, birth, death, and any occasion to bring the family together, open several bottles of wine, and sing, quarrel, and sing again. 

I’ve joyfully remarried, and my husband continues to send birthday and Christmas greetings to his former mother-in-law because she was an important part of his life for 25 years. That’s fine because she’s a lovely woman, and she is the grandmother of his children. However, the family reunions are different now because my husband’s family contains many Southern Baptists and they don’t drink alcohol. They’re good people, and we have plenty of designated drivers.

Years ago I sat in a little restaurant in Rome, Italy with my ex-father-in-law (what a clumsy title), and we clinked glasses and shared good wine. I’ll toast him again in honor of his birthday, miles away but with earnest respect. Buon compleanno, Babbo.




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