Oh, and that, and that, and maybe this.
September 2, 2010 5:23 AM   Subscribe

I asked idly in this thread, but I'd like your advice about talking to one's parents about inheriting some of their precious junk.

When my parents divorced, my father ended up with a few decorative pieces that I really associate with my pre-break up childhood--an old tile from the living room, a barometer from his dresser and a few other things. These items are likely not without monetary value--though I'd be shocked if they were worth more than a couple grand altogether. The real value, of course, is the sentimental value to me, and I'd never in a million years sell them.

My mother never remarried after my parents' divorce, and I stand to inherit all of those things of hers that I imbue with the same sentimental value. My father, however, remarried and has two teenage children. I don't know what my father's will says (if he has one).

I'd love to talk with my father about ensuring I end up with these mementos--hell, I'd buy them from him today, if that's what he wanted. But I feel a bit like a vulture saying, "Hey Dad, gimme that when you croak." He's in good health, and we have a good relationship--but our family has never been very good about having conversations about ourselves and our wants/needs. Can anyone recommend how to talk to him about this?
posted by Admiral Haddock to Human Relations (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Family members give each other gifts all the time, in fact it is frequently a huge problem figuring out what to give people. Not another tie! So, perhaps you can tell your father that you would like to receive, let us say, that barometer from his dresser as your birthday gift this year. I see no reason why he would not want to do so.
posted by grizzled at 5:35 AM on September 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Talk with him about these items and what they mean to you. And do stop calling them "junk."
posted by Carol Anne at 5:38 AM on September 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

Agree with grizzled - no need to associate these items with death. You could just say that something randomly prompted a memory of that item and it's a fond memory, so you'd appreciate it if dad wouldn't get rid of an item, and perhaps you might take it off his hands if he's ever thinking about getting rid of it. Depending on his response, you could mention that there are a few other sentimental items you'd like to see him keep or pass along to you.
posted by Terriniski at 5:40 AM on September 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'd talk to him and mention that there are a few items of his that have great sentimental value for him, and if he was ever thinking of getting rid of them to please let you know so you could buy them from him.
If, after that, he wants to give them to you, or leave them to you, that's his choice. Flat-out asking him to give or leave them to you is pretty crass imo.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 5:58 AM on September 2, 2010 [4 favorites]

*great sentimental value for YOU.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 5:59 AM on September 2, 2010

I like L'Estrange Fruit's suggestion. It's a polite way to let your dad know that the items are important to you and that you want them without sounding greedy or demanding.
posted by orange swan at 6:05 AM on September 2, 2010

Both my mom's and my dad's sides of the family love giving/promising their treasures to younger family members, and are flattered when the recipients appreciate them - bringing it up might be less awkward than you think. If you don't want to bring the death angle into it, say something like "Dad, this tile reminds me of so many wonderful things about my childhood. If you ever find yourself no longer needing it, I would be honored to take it. In fact, I would love it if you could save it for me." The birthday gift suggestion is good too.
posted by Metroid Baby at 6:07 AM on September 2, 2010 [4 favorites]

We're very open about that sort of stuff in our family. We just say "Can I have that when you die? No rush!" But perhaps "If you ever want to get rid of it, please let know" might be the neutral wording we are after here.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 6:10 AM on September 2, 2010

I've had this chat with my dad (remarried, slightly younger wife, no kids but stepkids about my age). We aren't super close but he was very receptive. Go for it, they'll get it.
posted by JPD at 6:19 AM on September 2, 2010

If he has kept them, they may well have significant sentimental value to him, too. Maybe you could have a very nice conversation with him about when and where he got that barometer, and what it means to him. He's held on to it for a long time.

Then, you'll have your memories plus his memories, and he'll know that you have a deep appreciation for it.
posted by amtho at 6:30 AM on September 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

No need to mention all the items at once, rather you can approach them conversationally one at a time. No heavy hinting-- just a cry of delight and enthusiasm "Oh, Dad, remember that time when....every time I see that ____, I am reminded of ____.

People respond to enthusiasm and they respond to praise as long as they feel it is genuine.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 6:59 AM on September 2, 2010

Just be open and honest with your father that you have an interest in a particular item. Be upfront and say "One day, I'd like to have X because it means Y to me." Alternately, you might say "If you ever decide you don't want or need X any more, please let me know because I'd love to have it." Parents frequently appreciate knowing of such interest well in advance of when the item may need to be handed over. It lets them know that there's a willing recipient for the item.

My Mom and I do this on a regular basis. Sometimes, she even sends me home with an item she's decided she no longer wants, needs or uses. We've kind of developed a short hand way of doing this. I now just say things like "In case you were wondering, that bowl would look great on my kitchen counter." If I give her a gift of something we've both admired but she really wanted, she'll frequently say "You know you'll get this in the long run." I reply with "I can wait."

It is not mercenary to have these conversations with your parents.
posted by onhazier at 7:15 AM on September 2, 2010

As a person gets older..they do give thought about things and who should have them-- but they can not know what is in your head. You have to say something because certainly the "new wife" won't know or give a fig. Just say something about it over lunch with just him. Say something like "I could use (whatever it is) right now if you wouldn't miss it"
posted by naplesyellow at 8:01 AM on September 2, 2010

I would not broach the subject with your father's wife or children around. However you decide to open the subject with your dad, the last thing you need is the sort of drama that ensues if they think they are entitled to all your dad's things.
posted by winna at 8:14 AM on September 2, 2010

We've had those conversations in my family. The phrasing most often used is something like, "You probably don't realize this, but I have a real sentimental attachment to those kitchen tiles. Please don't get rid of them without asking me first! I would be heartbroken if you decided to throw them away or sell them on eBay, and I only found out about it later."

This is not only obviously a plea to "be sure I can have this after you die," but it also opens the door to a pre-death situation.

People get into remodels, or decluttering kicks, or need to sell stuff to make some spare cash. You never know. It's good to let people know when something has a lot of sentimental value. Especially unexpected items like the things you mention.
posted by ErikaB at 11:36 AM on September 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

"mention that there are a few items of his that have great sentimental value for him, and if he was ever thinking of getting rid of them to please let you know"

Yes, this. Not all getting rid of happens at death!

My mother is wont to semi-randomly purge stuff from parts of the house, and I was lucky enough during an early round about a decade ago to mention, "hey, if you get rid of Dad's boxed set of LOTR, I'd love to have them." Turns out if I hadn't said something, they'd've all gone to the library; Mom doesn't care for fantasy.

After that, she developed a system of sorts to let us girls know when she's purging stuff so we can call "dibs" before things go to the goodwill/library. It's worked out pretty well, altho every so often a box of pure randomness arrives on my doorstep. cookbooks from the 70s?! kid's books I don't remember?!
posted by epersonae at 11:38 AM on September 2, 2010

Take him aside and explain to him how much these objects mean to you and that someday you would like to have them. My grandfather gave away children's books to his new wife's snot nosed grand kid. These were books both my dad and I grew up reading.
posted by nestor_makhno at 2:01 PM on September 2, 2010

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