Ask Wendy

Jewish World Review Jan. 18, 2002/5 Shevat 5762

Should son invite mom to bar mitzvah - against dad's wishes?; pay-off time?; 'my son is blackmailing me'

By Wendy Belzberg -- I am probably younger than most of the people who send you questions, but I need help: My bar mitzvah will be celebrated in a few weeks at my dad's synagogue. I have been living with him since he and my mom got divorced. I want to have my mom and my grandparents attend, but my dad refuses to invite them. Can I ask them to come anyway?

A: Shame on your father for putting you in the position of having to write to me. This is your bar mitzvah, not his.

A bar mitzvah is about becoming a man and embracing responsibility. Your responsibility is to do the right thing, which in this case is to make an end-run around your father and invite your mother and grandparents. Now is the perfect time to take a stand; this is not a one-day issue. If your father has gotten away with this kind of juvenile behavior until now, this should be the end of the line.

Q: Since retiring three years ago as the long-time chief executive of a large public company, I have formed several joint ventures with my own capital and the investment of friends. I have good instincts, a great track record and deliver nice returns. I am a healthy 68-year-old man, but I have recently begun to wonder if, given my age, it is irresponsible for me to allow other people, especially friends, to invest in deals that take time to pay off.

A: You may well be worried about your own mortality, but there doesn't seem to be any reason to worry about your friends' money.

It sounds to me like any man or woman would be lucky to be in business with you and to have you investing his or her money. Clearly you have vision and know how to recruit excellent managers and delegate. Your responsibility is to tell your investors exactly what your involvement is and — unless you indicated that you would be working as a full-time CEO — rest assured that your friends invested with their eyes open. There's no guarantee that a young investor will outlive you — or, for that matter, that his investments will fare as well in the long term. Make the very best deals you can today, and stop looking over your shoulder.

Q: My son and I have always had our ups and downs. Over the past several months we have been having a more difficult time than usual. I live for my grandchildren, and I have never worried that my relationship with my son would adversely affect my relationship with them. Recently, however, after a particularly nasty disagreement, my son called and said I could not see the children as planned. I feel like my son is blackmailing me.

A: If I were to read this question without the benefit of nouns or pronouns, I would probably conclude that I was reading about yet another messy divorce. The use of children as pawns is unconscionable but all too common when bickering couples begin to stake their claims. The problem is, children are not property, and their feelings can never be leveraged.

Many mother-son relationships are complicated, and the responsibility for this falls on both sides. That said, if your son truly meant to use his children as pawns, then I would side with you in all future fights. If your grandchildren are old enough to sustain an independent relationship with you, I suggest that you find a tactful way around your son. If not, you will have to have it out with him. Make it clear that the two of you are not the issue, but that the children are. I find it difficult to believe that you will not be able to come to an agreement based on the children's well-being — and that sustained neutrality on that front won't help you to surmount your own historical issues.

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© 2002, Wendy Belzberg