How Far for Distant Relative?

By Wendy Belzberg

Published June 20, 2003, issue of June 20, 2003.

A distant relative (the mother of my wife’s elderly uncle) — whom I have never met — recently died. My wife informs me that unless I travel to pay a shiva call, I will henceforth be looked at askance by her extended family. I have a very taxing job and have limited free time for my children and myself. Furthermore, I have no relationship with my wife’s uncle; in fact, he virtually ignores me at every family simcha. Should my wife be sensitive to my needs or should I be sensitive to hers?

— Distant relatives are too faraway

My understanding of the shiva process is that the goal is to comfort the mourners. It doesn’t sound to me as though your wife’s uncle will take great comfort in your presence. And, given that you never met your uncle’s mother, you will be hard-pressed to come up with fond memories of the deceased. In other words, you strike out on both counts in terms of a shiva call. I see no reason for you to attend, and I am squarely on your side. Having said that, I don’t come home to your wife at the end of every day or live with her family. If her wrath — and their displeasure — is that powerful, remember that you are right all the way to the shiva house.

* * *

Last week my husband and I attended our 12-year-old son’s year-end violin recital. He was the only student in his class who had not memorized his sheet music; everyone else played from memory. At the end of the concert I told my son that he had played beautifully. My husband told him he was disappointed that he had not memorized the music. He continued on with a full lecture about our family credo: don’t cut corners; don’t do things halfway; always do your absolute best. The evening ended with my son in tears and my husband defending the way he handled the situation. What would you have done?

— Misplaced music critic?

Your story takes me way back to prehistoric times when women were the nurturers and men the warriors. Need I say more?

But you should coordinate your timing. It is important to praise your son for his effort, especially if he played well. (There are plenty of tone-deaf children performing at year-end concerts everywhere. Would your husband have their parents tell those children bluntly that they are without talent?) At the same time your husband’s lesson is invaluable, particularly if his words convey the standards by which you live as a family and have chosen to raise your children. The time to lecture your son, however, is not immediately following the concert. He should choose a quiet father-son moment to communicate his expectations and his frank assessment of the performance. To those kinds of comments no child is tone deaf, and your husband needs to remember that he is composing the score by which your son is going to live the rest of his life.

Write to “Ask Wendy” at 954 Lexington Avenue #189, New York, N.Y. 10021 or at wendy@forward.com.



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