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55+ AND ALIVE: Life is short and opportunities to gather are precious

Davis College of Business Dean Dr. Don Capener

With Easter coming up in mid-April, I’ve been thinking a lot about how wonderful it is to get everyone in our families back together again.

When my older children were young, we never thought about orchestrating “together time.” We just all piled in the back of the SUV and took a road trip, since buying eight plane tickets was impractical. It didn’t matter whether the drive was six or 18 hours, we simply hunkered down and enjoyed or endured those moments together.

Fortunately or unfortunately, we now wait for events such as funerals or weddings to get everyone together. I thought for this month’s column I would talk about the practicality or impracticality of getting everyone together again when you are the patriarch or matriarch of your multi-generational family.

Some of you will recall the time your oldest daughter or son told you they had “met someone.” The next important sign was when they said, “Dad, I want you to meet (insert name here).” The next thing I knew, I was hearing about their engagement and wedding plans. As a father of six beautiful girls, I braced myself for the financial shock of underwriting all these events, but I got off easy at first.

I love the movie “Father of the Bride,” with Steve Martin playing a dad named George. If you’ve seen it, remember the scene when Martin’s wife, played by Diane Keaton, translates what the wedding planner (played by Martin Short) recommends for his daughter’s wedding? Let’s just say George wasn’t as fortunate as I, from the purely financial side of things.

My oldest daughter asked me to host a party somewhere between where I live in Jacksonville and her home in Olympia, Wash. We chose Salt Lake City so my mother and extended family could attend. My expenses included $2,500 for airfare for eight airline tickets and another $600 for the open house/restaurant food.

My second daughter, on the other hand, eloped at 18, so my financial outlay was close to zero (except for the emotional shock of marrying an 18-year-old man who had just completed Marine Corps boot camp in San Diego). Despite this beginning to their marriage, my second daughter Rebecca and her husband Tyson are happily married and living near Dallas. Plus, I got a great little granddaughter, Malia, out of the deal.

I’m blessed with two married daughters, four grandchildren, two girls ages 10 and 12 still at home, two older daughters and twin sons. If you did the math, that’s eight children. Getting everyone to agree to be in the same place at the same time is not only impractical logistically, but can cost a fortune if you are underwriting it and don’t plan things carefully. With my eight kids, it would conservatively cost $6,000 to $8,000 to underwrite the entire event.

Here are a few ideas to enhance the experience:

• Plan the family event way in advance. Talk to as many of your children as you can six months or more in advance of the time you want to get together. Make it clear what you want to do and why. Once you have implicit or tacit approval, put together a plan and budget. Use Facebook or Evite to send out invitations rather than traditional snail mail. Assuming you can afford to financially underwrite some of your children’s travel, communicate what you can and can’t do way in advance. I often use the miles I accumulate in business travel to purchase tickets for my children and grandchildren.

• Find accommodations that can facilitate interaction and family time. I recommend using AirBnB or condo-style accommodations so that family meals can be done in economical fashion as long as a Costco is nearby.

• Plan to take pictures and video of the event. This will make it easier to do another family event, by pointing to the evidence for all the fun and frivolity someone might miss if they don’t attend your next family reunion. For the group picture, hire a professional photographer. It’s worth the $400 investment.

• Be the peacemaker. Just because our children are grown up doesn’t mean they’re going to get along. See my column on conflict management on LinkedIn. You can be the peacemaker as the patriarch or matriarch of your family. (If you’re interested in reading that article, join LinkedIn. It’s free and you only need to invite me as a contact to see that article and others that might be of interest.) Although it’s impractical to think everyone will get along, being able to get together without a major breakdown is a victory in it of itself.

Dr. Don Capener, Dean of the Jacksonville University Davis College of Business, lives in Jacksonville with his wife, Annie, and their two youngest daughters. His 55+ And Alive is an occasional column in The Florida Times-Union’s PrimeTime section. He can be reached at dcapene@ju.edu.