There Are No Erroneous Invitations

by admin on April 7, 2010

My brother and I, who were raised by our father after our mother died very young, have been estranged for almost 40 years. No one knows why (I suspect even he has forgotten), but he simply stopped speaking to me at one family party and has never spoken to me again. None of his family has been allowed to keep in touch with me. My father finds it a source of bewilderment. The men in my family are world class grudge holders (my grandfather cut his entire family out of his life when he was in his twenties, and my father has not seen or spoken to his own brother more than half a dozen times in the past 30 years) so perhaps it’s some as-yet-undiscovered gene. For the first 20 years or so I made countless attempts to heal the breach, sending Christmas, birthday, and other holiday cards, letters of apology, gifts for the birth of his children, etc., but the silence from his side of the wall is so complete that eventually I had to accept what I could not change, and move on with my life. I’m not angry about it, just sad, especially on behalf of my daughter, who has never had a chance to know her aunt, uncle, and cousins.

Years passed, and eventually my niece was to graduate from high school. Imagine my astonishment, my joy, when I opened the mailbox and found an invitation to her graduation open house! At last! I felt sure my brother was using the celebration as an opportunity to open the long-closed door. I jumped around the house in excitement, called my husband at work to read the invitation to him, and later that evening called my dad long distance to bubble to him about this wonderful, unlooked-for blessing. Dad sounded excited himself, but perhaps a little doubtful. I should have paid attention to that note of caution in his voice and held off making travel plans. Two days later he called and reluctantly told me that the invitation had been sent in error, and that I was not welcome after all. I was completely crushed. I sent a congratulations card to my niece and canceled my plans.

Two years later, my nephew had his own graduation open house. Lo and behold, I received another invitation. Much less excited, I once again called my dad. And once again, I learned the invitation had been sent “in error”. Niece is now engaged to be married. If I receive an invitation to the wedding, I won’t be fool enough to think they actually want me to come.  0331-10

Invitations are not sent in error.  Think about it…one has to create a guest list, get addresses, write out those addresses on the envelope and then mail it.  The process of extending invitations has a least some thought put into it.  An erroneous invitation just does not spontaneously generate itself.    We don’t know what transpired in your father’s conversation with your brother but what happened was the invitation was allegedly retracted.   To be honest, I would not have relied on a second-hand report from Dad.   Information gets distorted, miss-communicated and misunderstood when passed back and forth second-hand even when there is an attempt to communicate with integrity.    Brother’s family issues the invitation and only they can retract it.  If Brother lacks the Spauldings to do that to you directly, then the invitation is valid and can accepted.

Miss Manners has written of how one can use etiquette to make others appropriately uncomfortable.  There are some situations where graciousness, kindness has the effect of making others squirm in their self-inflicted etiquette dilemma.   I would have attended the event and been the most charming, gracious guest ever.  Bubbling with enthusiasm, greeting my brother and his family with affection as if nothing had happened.  The wife and cousins will wonder what on earth this decades long feud is about since Auntie is so gracious and sweet.   If Brother squirms, oh well.  That’s his problem.   The alleged “erroneous” invitation is an issue between him and his family.

If you get a wedding invitation, do NOT call your father.  Simply make plans to attend, go to the wedding as invited and be sure to bring the invitation, in its original envelope, with you just in case.   If you get a legitimate retraction after rsvping to the wedding, please consider sending me the original wedding invitation and the documented retraction and I will personally make sure Brother rotisserates in Ehell.

{ 33 comments… read them below or add one }

ferretrick April 7, 2010 at 7:25 am

Something is off in this entire story. She really has NO idea what her brother’s problem is? And why is all this communication funneled through Dad? That triangular communication is a really unhealthy dynamic within a family. I do suspect that the invitations might be coming from a well meaning sister in law without brother’s permission, or niece and nephew themselves.

I disagree with Miss Jeanne slightly about accepting the invitation. It sounds to me like she doesn’t live close to her brother and attending the wedding might involve serious financial cost of a flight, hotel, etc. I would not be spending that kind of money for a party I’m not sure I’m really wanted at. What I would do is skip the phone call and 2nd hand communication from Dad if an invitation is received, and call Brother directly. If she doesn’t have the number, get it from Dad, or an e-mail or anything, but one way or another find a way to speak to Brother directly and ask in so many words if you are really wanted. And, if not, you’ve just got to move on. I suspect the years of groveling and sending gifts and begging forgiveness are just feeding Brother’s ego. At some point, you’ve got to accept that just because someone is family doesn’t mean they aren’t a &#%$&, and they aren’t worth the effort.


Ann April 7, 2010 at 7:28 am

Those graduation invitations may have been from the gradates themselves. From their side, they may see their father’s behavior as out of proportion, or they may be curious about their aunt… and they may be trying to initiate contact. Accept the invitation at face value and stop using dad as a go-between.


Margaret April 7, 2010 at 7:48 am

It makes me wonder who sent the invitation – the wife? the niece? — perhaps without the brother’s knowledge in the hopes of reconciling the family.


Chocobo April 7, 2010 at 8:11 am

This also put up a few flags for me. It’s pretty much impossible to send a mailed invitation by mistake. First you have to make a guest list, either on paper or in some kind of Excel program. Then you have to either write out or print the addresses for the envelope, and even if you use an electronic mail merge to populate printed addresses for you, OP was still on the electronic guest list in the first place. And even after all this, you have to put a stamp on the envelope to send out. I can understand perhaps inadvertantly sending an email (which I have done before), but there are simply too many steps involved in “snail mail” for Brother or his family not to notice.

Something is fishy. There are only a few reasonable explanations I can come up with for a retracted invitation: Perhaps Brother’s Family is going behind his back to try and mend burnt bridges, and when Brother finds out (via Dad), he vetoes. Or Dad has something to do with this; did he ever explain how TWO invitations were sent “by mistake?” Or, as is often the case in Etiquette Hell, it’s a gift grab. But somehow this seems more complicated than feeding the gimme pigs.

I say if the wedding invitation arrives, RSVP yes and just go. If Brother really doesn’t want you to come, then he can call you and explain himself. Don’t let Dad talk you out of it second-hand; if Dad calls, tell him Brother sent the invitation, so he can talk to you if there is a problem.


Virg April 7, 2010 at 8:42 am

I definitely think the Dame Herself has the right idea here. The writer received two invitations from her brother only to hear from her father that they’ve been retracted. I don’t usually like to suspect people without reason but there’s a doubt in my mind as to whether the father’s information should be trusted. a simple phone call or RVSP to the invitation would tell her whether the invitation is valid or not.



Mrs. A April 7, 2010 at 8:49 am

To me it seemed like a money grab type invitation. You know the, “I don’t really want you and you know that but I know you’ll send my kids some graduation money” type…. I could be wrong.


Mom2PBJ April 7, 2010 at 9:19 am

Hmmm…maybe dad is the reason brother doesn’t talk to sister. Who knows what dad said to brother after learning about sister’s invitation for brother to “take it back”. Maybe he didn’t want brother to have a nice relationship with sister since he didn’t have one with his brother.


mommaknowsbest April 7, 2010 at 9:39 am

I agree with admin. Dad is sticking his nose in it somewhere. I know exactly what’s going on. OP gets invite, calls dad, dad calls son and says OP got innvite, what’s up? Son says I didn’t send it, must have been the wife, tell OP I don’t want her there. Dad, in an effort not to have a family brawl, tells OP it was a “mistake”. Dad is not helping at all in an effort to “keep the peace” in his old age, and OP could just go, get reacquainted with family and things will eventually probably be fixed one way or another. I know this because this is exactly what’s going on in my family right now.


librarianinhell April 7, 2010 at 10:31 am

I think the brother probably invited her to either make a scene or to ignore her. Dad proably knew what the brother planned and didn’t want her to experience that. Or maybe niece and nephew wanted her to attend (and called grandpa for the address) but the brother found out and called grandpa and let him know that she isn’t invited, with the brother not telling his kids.


Bee April 7, 2010 at 10:44 am

I agree that it’s unlikely the invitation was “sent in error”. Perhaps someone’s being cruel, toying with the Aunts’ emotions, but it takes time, effort, and attention to detail, when handwriting addresses on invitations. Furthermore, wedding invitations can be expensive – no one would send them out willy-nilly to just anyone.
And this happened twice?


Jae April 7, 2010 at 11:02 am

Sounds like someone was suppose to send a check to “not disappoint the niece” and that is why other invitations followed. “Ooops, don’t come, but do send something to my kids because you are not mad at them.”


ladycrim April 7, 2010 at 12:20 pm

Cynical me wonders if the brother sent the invites in the hopes of receiving gifts for his kids, and the father said the invites were sent in error because he didn’t have the heart to tell his daughter the truth.


AS April 7, 2010 at 2:40 pm

Like other people above, I too feel that OP’s dad might be responsible for her brother not talking to her – maybe he didn’t do it deliberately, yet said or did something that the brother got upset with his sister. Anyways, at the moment, dad is not doing something constructive so that his children patch up and start communicating again. You definitely should speak to your brother directly.
BTW, this does not look like a gift grab. This was probably only a genuine effort on someone’s part ( SIL probably, or even the brother) to patch up the sister’s family.


Louise April 7, 2010 at 3:07 pm

I’m also wildly curious to know who addressed and mailed the invitations. I wonder if it were the same person? My first impression on reading this was that someone was hoping the aunt would mail a check but not show up. I think dad is making a massive mistake by acting as go-between. He should refuse to pass messages and force the kids to sort it out themselves.

I have to say, if my brother randomly cut me off, I would camp out on his doorstep and make him talk to me.


Zanzibar April 7, 2010 at 4:40 pm

RSVP to the invitation sender if you receive any more. It’s entirely possible the nieces and nephews are trying to get to meet you.


Mom April 7, 2010 at 7:30 pm

My son is graduating in college from May, and said college has sent me two solicitations for graduation ‘announcements’. Now, I am assuming that OP is bright enough to tell the difference between an announcement (which is a money grab) and an invitation to a graduation celebration (which is not). Perhaps Dad is looking to avoid drama? Ultimately, you attend if you want to, and don’t if you don’t. It could be brother’s peace offering, but don’t assume that kids are sending out invites because they ‘are curious about Auntie’ – that just doesn’t happen w/out Mom and Dad’s OK.


Baby April 8, 2010 at 9:27 am

in my opinion, whoever sent the invitation was probably hoping for “well-wishes” for the graduate–likely in the form of a large check. Perhaps when you discussed making travel plans with your father, he called your brother to see what was going on, and your brother said that he really did not mean for you to attend, but was hoping that you’d still send his kids a ‘graduation gift’. This seems like the likeliest of reasons for your ‘accidental’ invitations.


Lizajane April 8, 2010 at 10:49 am

“an announcement (which is a money grab) and an invitation to a graduation celebration (which is not). ”

Really? There’s no reason to send a graduation announcement except to solicit gifts? How about because relatives or close friends are proud of the graduate and want to see them walk? Or give the valadictorian’s speech, or class president’s speech?

I think we have an interesting assumption here.


Enna April 8, 2010 at 2:22 pm

The person should have checked with the niece/nephwew/mother direcitly. Like it has all ready been said before this could be a gift/money grab and invitations are never sent in error. Unless Dad is jealous and meddeling or a family member has gone behind brother’s back. It would be interesting to know what happened between the brother and sister to make him not talk to her – she might have a silly brother or she might be a silly sister but since she was so happy about the invite I’m guessing a silly brother.


Tonja April 8, 2010 at 8:11 pm

Its VERY obvious this was a gift grab… Nothing more nothing less.


TychaBrahe April 9, 2010 at 2:54 am


An announcement would be sent after the fact, so no one who received one would have the choice to see the graduate walk. And since most graduations have limited seating, with each graduate being given a very few tickets for family members, even if a dear friend wanted to see the graduate walk, they would be unable to do so.

Which is not to say that all graduation announcements are gift grabs. I sent quite a few, to the people on my Christmas card list and a few of my mother’s close friends. I think of the forty or so I sent, one person sent me a gift. I hadn’t been expecting it, and was very grateful. I did receive quite a number of congratulatory cards, all of which I have saved.


nkkingston April 9, 2010 at 6:15 am

The gift grab stuff never occured to me either. In the UK, it’s not even required for the parents to get the graduating child a gift, let alone anyone else! I think this is probably a well meaning spouse or relative sending the invites, only to have them vetoed when the brother finds out.


Lizajane April 9, 2010 at 2:56 pm


Yes, I realized after I typed that what we call graduation announcements are really invitations to the commencement exercises.

I still don’t like the attitude that the only reason anyone sends out announcements (either in the proper or regional definition) is for a gift.


Miss Marie April 9, 2010 at 4:09 pm

You know, because she is going off of 3rd party information, it could be that her father is lying to her.

Without speaking directly with her brother or her brother’s family, she doesn’t really know what was going on. It could very well be her brother’s attempt at trying to mend fences. Or, it could be either of the children or the sister-in-law trying to attempt a reconciliation. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a gift grab.


Amy April 11, 2010 at 12:02 am

I can see that maybe, 1 time it was sent in error, but not over and over…..?


PrincessSimmi April 11, 2010 at 2:38 am

Some people are just not nice. Take the invite at face value, be a gracious guest, and hopefully it’ll all get sorted out. You may even find out what your brother’s problem is.


Amanda April 12, 2010 at 5:24 pm

I also wonder who actually sent the invite and hope that they had the good intention of reconciling the families. She should go if she gets a wedding invitation. Or if she lives close enough, stop by or call to try to see what is going on.


Lyons April 18, 2010 at 4:15 pm

I would not triangulate further…but if the OP receives a wedding invite, go only if you really want to go, don’t go with an agenda…

Part of me feels that when the OP called her father and he then called his family that that just gave them the excuse to renege on the invite…so don’t include the father in the details. In my immediate family years ago there was way too much “he said/she said” going on with my mother and me about my step dad and my sisters…and over time my sisters and I had to make a rule with ourselves to make sure that if we had something to say to each other we said it to each other and not our mom.

My late MIL grew up with some cousins who did not, did not want her ever to have contact with her parents and siblings…decades later she discovered that they had been trying to keep in contact and that the cousins simply threw the letters away.

I personally cannot understand why anyone would send an invite and then say, “Oh that was a mistake…” that’s just cruel…like holding out a toy for a kid and then snatching it back and saying, “Nope, I was just kidding…”

Go if you really want to go to the wedding if you are invited, take that invite…but go with a glad heart for the bride and groom and not for any other reason…not to challenge the family or heal the family, but just for the bride and groom.


C in TX May 8, 2010 at 7:43 pm

I can see how the invites could be sent out as a mistake, very easily in fact. The person sits down with an address book and makes out the invites. If they are not close with the aunt then I assume they have no idea who she is and what her last name is. The person who maintains the address book (say for Xmas cards) knows to skip that person but no one else does. If they told the graduates to use that address book and does not tell them who to skip, then they get an invite. Simple.


Carly August 24, 2010 at 5:53 am

Miss Manners is right! It is no accident or error to recieve an invitation. Your dad is hiding something!


lkb August 24, 2010 at 8:37 am

Hmmmm. I think there is more to the story than the OP and the commentator have said. How did the OP know that the niece is engaged?
I guess if I were in the same boat (Thank God I’m not), I guess I would use the niece’s engagement as one last effort to make contact by any means necessary. First, I would send a congratulations letter to the niece (if she still lives with her parents I would not put my return address label on it to better ensure it gets to her.) Then, later I would send her another letter, explaining the situation in as charitable words as possible (the niece may be miffed and confused as to why dear auntie never bothered to come to graduation). Perhaps the niece might be able to provide insight into what daddy says is the problem.
While the OP says she has repeatedly tried to contact the bro to mend fences (very commendable), they have all been by mail. Has she tried telephone, facebook or email? Like another poster said, if it happened to me, at one point I’d try to camp out on the doorstep to find out what the deal is. If that is not literally possible, I’d somehow at least try to phone him to find out what the problem is.
While I’ve fortunately never had this problem, my dad lost track of his much older brother. I don’t know how much it bothered my dad, but that whole branch of the family is gone now and I for one would do almost anything to find out what happened.
In addition, on my husband’s side of the family, an uncle severed all contact with relatives, including his children, his mother and his siblings for years (we don’t know why). It wasn’t until he was found in his apartment several days after his fatal heart attack that all his personal mail was discovered piled up (including the Christmas cards we mailed every year without fail). If only someone had taken the time to go over and visit, those ties could have been restored.
Even if you don’t believe the breach is your fault in anyway, continue to do what you can to restore communications — he’s your only brother.


MeganAmy August 29, 2010 at 3:27 am

Something else to consider is that, all along, the father might have been the cause of the rift in the first place. Just because he’s a father doesn’t mean that he’s mature or well-intentioned.

For example, my grandmother often tells one family member something like “Your cousin X said…” and makes up falsehoods. Years ago, I believed something she told me that my cousin had said about me and I was very mad at my cousin for a few years, but was still polite to her at family functions. Finally, my husband said that I should ensure that my cousin had in fact said that because he couldn’t imagine her doing so. I talked to her about it and she said that she absolutely would never have said something like that and gave me a very believable explanation as to why not. Then, she told me that our grandmother has always been very divisive. She gave me several examples of how our grandmother has tried to pit family members against each other. From several family members, I now believe that my grandmother does it to make herself “the favorite.” The only one you can trust. The only one in whom you can confide. She thinks it makes her stronger to weaken to relationships between the other family members.

So I’ve learned that you should always go to the source directly and never trust any “he said she said.”

To OP, I hope that you can at least have some relationship with your niece and nephew in future years as they are now probably living on their own and can associate with whomever they choose.


cathryn coone-mccrary November 8, 2012 at 12:16 pm

On Sun., my mother-in-law invited me over for dinner on Wed. while my husband was away. We didn’t make definite plans, but I said I would call her in a couple of days to firm up plans. On Tues. I called her as I said I would and left a message. When I didn’t hear back from her, I assumed that she might have missed my message (as she sometimes does), so I called her again Wed. afternoon and left another message. Again, she didn’t call me back. When my husband mentioned this to his brother-in-law, who lives with my mother-in-law, and asked if everything was OK, my brother-in-law apparently conveyed the message to my m-in-l, who finally called me at 6 PM on Wed., the day of the invite. She left a message and gave a long, rambling explanation of why she hadn’t returned my call–she had switched her phone off while voting on Tues., then didn’t turn it back on til mid-day Wed., at which point she noticed my message. I should mention that the phone is a vital part of her job–she’s a home health nurse and is supposed to, I assume, have her phone on at all times during work hours. She also said she’d had a horrible day (which is not uncommon in her job) and mentioned something about “maybe tomorrow.” I’ve observed before that if she doesn’t want to do something or her mind changes, her M.O. is to drop off the radar and not communicate.

I’m miffed. What is the etiquette on something like this? Was she wrong to retract an invitation so late in the game? She’s also told me to come over anytime, and yet that clearly wasn’t the message last night.


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