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Miss Manners by Judith Martin, Nicholas Ivor Martin and Jacobina Martin

Celebrating 50 Years of Wedded ... Something

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I would say my parents “don’t get along,” but that makes it sound mutual. For as long as my sisters and I can remember, our mother has constantly nitpicked our father for things that have to us seemed petty, unwarranted, and not always within his control.

She has even put us in the middle by childishly refusing to go to some of our events if Dad was also going. We think she is just not a happy person and has taken it out on our father all these years.

Our father is, of course, not perfect, and we know there are things in a marriage that only the marital partners see. However, it has always seemed to us that our father tries to make our mother happy. He has also never spoken an unkind word about her in our presence, and has always insisted that we treat her with respect, no matter what she says or does.

Somehow, Mom and Dad are approaching their 50th anniversary and are still together. My sisters and I think we should have a special (albeit low-key) dinner in a private room at a nice, but not super-fancy, restaurant to recognize the occasion. We think it is the least we can do, because 50 years of marriage -- even if the marriage has been troubled -- is still an accomplishment.

My mother, of course, bristles at any acknowledgment of the occasion. My father realizes they don’t have a perfect marriage, but seems to want to recognize the anniversary. In other words, we can’t make them both happy. What is the proper thing to do in this situation?

GENTLE READER: From your description, your mother’s reaction to the proposed celebration is unpleasant and unsympathetic -- but, given her past behavior, unsurprising.

What, if anything, can be done? Miss Manners fears that you cannot force someone to be a guest of honor. But you can, privately, remind her that hers are not the only feelings to be considered. You can say that you know how unassuming she is, but that you and your sisters and the grandchildren would enjoy the celebration, and you know it would mean a lot to your father.

If she still refuses, you will have to find alternatives that do not require her consent, such as calling with chatty good wishes on the day, and sending flowers.