Dear Care and Feeding,
I am a dad to a 30-year-old man. My son is kind, considerate, and loving. We’ve always had what I thought was a great relationship. His mother passed away when he was young, and I raised him by myself.
In the last few years, he’s become very close with my cousin’s family. We didn’t see them much during his childhood because they lived on the other coast, but they moved back to our city in 2016. They’re a fun bunch, and I enjoy spending time with them too.
However, my son has almost completely cut me off to see them. They are very, very wealthy. I’m well-off, but nowhere near where they are. If I get fourth row concert tickets, they get backstage passes. If I rent a cabin to go skiing with my son, they rent an entire luxury chalet. They’ve taken him on month-long cruises, to music festivals, and bought him a new sports car. He has started bailing on our plans to spend time with them. He even joked that my cousin was his “second Dad.”
I guess my feelings are hurt. When he started pulling away and canceling plans, I asked if I had done something or if something was bothering him, and he said everything was great. We get along well when we are together. I want to talk to him about how much I miss him, but I don’t want to make him feel guilty about spending time with our extended family. Should I try to keep making plans, or just give up?
Dear Confused Dad,
Your son’s behavior would hurt almost anyone in your shoes. Not only do I think you should talk to your son, but I also think you should talk to your cousin.
Even though this man is loaded with cash, it seems like he’s trying to use your son to fill a void in his life. The one-upping you described is a clue that he’s also competing with you for some reason. I’m not saying that you need to psychoanalyze your cousin, but I think it’s fine to candidly discuss your feelings with him in private.
You can say something along the lines of, “It’s no secret that you have a lot of money, but it seems that every time I do something with my son, you use your resources to do something even bigger with him. I know you enjoy spending time with him, but I’ve noticed that it’s impacting my relationship with him because he keeps canceling plans with me to be with you. I can never compete with your bank account, so I’m asking if you could limit the extravagant gifts you give him.” Hopefully he’ll show some empathy for a dad who is yearning to repair his relationship with his son and back off a bit. If not, then you’ll need to direct your energy towards your son.
I believe that the direct approach is the best approach when dealing with family, and this is no exception. I would straight up tell him that you miss him and how your feelings are hurt when he chooses your cousin over you or when he makes comments about having a “second dad.” I’d also similarly mention how you’ll never be able to compete with your cousin’s finances and resources, but that shouldn’t have any relevance to how much you love him.
Don’t dance around the issue anymore—just get to the point and have an honest father-son conversation. It’s going to require you to be extremely vulnerable in the process, but it’s the most effective way to get to the bottom of this.
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