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Q. Party Pooper: A couple of years ago, a family moved into our tight-knit neighborhood. We were at first, delighted that they had a child the same age as ours. Unfortunately, the joy didn’t last long, as we quickly began to notice toxic behavior from the father, “Bradley.”
To say he is hot-tempered is an understatement. At neighborhood gatherings, Bradley sometimes drinks too much and begins saying inappropriate, offensive, and combative things to other guests. We speculate there is verbal and possibly physical abuse going on in their home. Police have been involved. I have a soft spot for his wife and child, who are the real victims here. Question is, with a volatile personality such as Bradley’s, is there any way to preserve the relationship with his wife and child while excluding him from any future gatherings? How do you not invite one member of a family to a party? I worry that if we purposefully exclude him, it may set him off, but if we include him, he may cause unnecessary trouble.
A: This is a really tough situation, and to decide what to do you’ll need to decide what your priority is: supporting Bradley’s wife, who may be a victim of abuse, or protecting your neighborhood gatherings from Bradley’s unpleasant and disturbing behavior. Sadly, I’m not sure you can do both.
You are right that it would not be practical to ban him and expect his wife and child to show up. I can tell from what you’ve said about his personality, that he wouldn’t let them attend a party with people who dislike him. Not going to happen.
So, I think you should choose to continue to include Bradley and his family. By doing this, you’ll be preventing his wife and kids from becoming isolated with him, and you’ll be deepening relationships that they might need to lean on someday. There’s also room for you and others in the neighborhood to take his wife aside and gently express your concern (“I noticed Bradley can be hot-tempered and I just want you to know that if you ever need some space from him, my door is open to you and your kids for as long as you need. Text me any time.”)
I don’t want to minimize how annoying it will be to have a drunken jerk at your otherwise pleasant hangouts. Why don’t you and the other neighbors agree not to engage with him or give him any energy when he gets into one of his moods? Don’t argue with him. Excuse yourself when he starts ranting. End conversations when he gets loud. Literally walk away. It won’t be a lot of fun. But I think having an understanding that his presence is what you’re willing to endure to be a good friend to his wife might make things more bearable.
My husband recently told me his brothers want to go on a trip with him and his dad. I said, “Great,” thinking this is a nice bonding experience for everyone and good for his dad since his mother can’t travel due to health issues. Later, I asked if there had been any thought about where the trip might be. I felt like I had been punched in the gut to hear “Ireland.”