#1360: “Is there any reasonable way to ask the father who abandoned me if I can have my dead mother’s wedding ring?”

Dear Captain Awkward,

My mom passed away when I was quite young. In the years that followed, my relationship with my dad disintegrated.

While I’m sure I’m not blameless in that disintegration, it was overall pretty one-sided. Before my mom passed, he refused to talk to me on the phone once I’d moved away, citing that he had “nothing to say.” After she died, I heard from him less and less.

There were a few years of contact after he remarried: he invited me and my ex husband to visit him at his winter home a few times, and a twice I stayed at his home (across the country from mine, quite a trip to make), once for the purpose of work, and once attend a friend’s wedding. Both times, he left me alone in his home for multiple days while he left to visit friends, or to travel to his winter home. To clarify: both times I spent more than half of my stay alone, after I had specifically taken an extended period of time off with the intention of visiting with him, which I communicated to him about in the months leading up to my visits.

In the time since his wedding, he has more or less stopped calling me or sending cards on important days. He has done the same with my brothers, who live in the same city as he does, choosing instead to spend his time with his new wife, and with her children and grandchildren. When my ex husband and I separated, I told him in advance that I needed him to be there for me, even if just for five minutes, on one especially hard day. He reluctantly agreed, but then texted me day-of to say that he had a Christmas party, so wouldn’t have time to take a call. I have since stopped reaching out to him entirely, and as result we barely talk.

It has been ten years since my mother passed, and my current partner and I are planning to be married. Is there any way that I can reasonably ask my dad about my mom’s wedding rings? I have desired them since her passing (she and I were very close), but did’t dare ask sooner because I thought it would be disrespectful to him and to his grief. He now seems to be happily moved on– remarried, and invested in his new family. If I sound bitter, it’s because I am, but I still want to be respectful, and further am worried that my asking will allow him to somehow spin a story about me a greedy daughter (rather than as the daughter he abandoned, but who misses her mother). Please help.

Hello, thank you for your question.

I don’t think this is an unreasonable request at all, and I suggest that you just go right to it:

“Hello Dad, if you are still holding onto any of Mom’s jewelry, especially her rings, can I please have it? It would mean a lot to me. You can send it to [address] or I can have [Brother*] pick it up.Thank you.”   

[*I normally do not encourage people to delegate difficult family stuff to others, but in this case, if you think a trusted sibling would be willing to do this for you, then yes! Recruit a local to solve the “Dad said yes but never actually sent it” stage of this problem!]

Don’t assume anything about what his reaction will be or try to manage it, and don’t loop through past disputes. Ask for what you want, present tense, and give him the opportunity to rise to the occasion. This is a kindness to both you and your dad.

If the wedding ring got buried with her, or he doesn’t want to part with it for sentimental reasons, he’s got access to the same 26-letter alphabet that you do and can tell you so in words. “I’m so sorry, I’d really like to hold onto it.” You’d be sad, but at least you’d know for sure, and the problem of approaching him wouldn’t be hanging over you anymore. Maybe a good thing to do before you ask is to pick out a plan B ring that you love, so it will be slightly less fraught.

As you fear, your dad may be affronted and spin some story about you being a “greedy” daughter and you can be like, you know what, I am greedy, GREEDY FOR KINDNESS, thanks for sending those rings, I’d like them by [date] and I can reimburse you for the shipping. If he gets accusatory or insults you, my bet would be that he lost it or already gave it all away to his new family and feels guilty, so he’s taking it out on you. Fun thought! Not actually fun! But totally in character! If he reacts badly, it won’t be because you asked wrong or weren’t supposed to ask. Can him thinking of badly of you compare to how badly you already think of him? The dad who ditched his kids when their other parent died is hardly in charge of defining “selfishness” for other people.

On the plus side, he may also just go ahead and send the jewelry on without a second thought or word. He’s been totally avoidant and absent from your life since your mom passed, so if he can get rid of stuff that he doesn’t use or want to think about without having to have a conversation about feelings, that would also be in character. This is not a man who runs toward the difficult conversations! It’s sad and painful given what you needed from him, but in this case his reticence might not be the worst thing.

No matter the possible reactions, I think the best way to ask is to keep it extremely simple and direct and omit apologies that you don’t owe and reasons that he won’t care about. Does he still have the jewelry? Can you have it? When/how is the easiest way for you to collect it? Thanks so much.

I’m sorry about your mom, anniversaries can be really tough. Congratulations to you on your upcoming marriage. ❤