Surprise birthday planning tips
December 18, 2016 4:19 AM   Subscribe

My husband is turning 50 soon and I've invited his family (brothers, sisters, parents, children, nieces and nephews) for a surprise party weekend. I've gotten the basic planning done but could use some advice please on how to make it special.

Husband's birthday is on a Thursday a few weeks from now and the surprise is happening on the following Friday. There will be 15 of us. Guests range from 12 - 75 years old but are mostly grown ups. His family are driving over (about a 4 hour drive) and checking in to a hotel nearby. They are then turning up at our house all together to shout "surprise" and have birthday cakes and drinks.

Saturday we are going to a laser tag/bowling place (his family's idea) starting at 12:30 for a buffet lunch and games. Then Saturday evening we are going out to dinner at a local restaurant. His family have paid deposits for everything and I've made the reservations and paid.

I want to make this special and fun for everyone but there are some serious constraints. For example, it's not easy to get stuff for the party without my husband finding out, although I will be able to run out to the local small grocery shop on Wednesday evening as he will be out then. Also we are very short on money as my husband lost his job this year (his depression about this is one reason his family and I want to make his party great).

I will be picking up a cake for him on Wednesday and hiding it in my closet until Friday evening! And I have candles for it. His family are bringing a selection of drinks for Friday evening. I offered to make everyone breakfast on Saturday morning but they said they would just have breakfast at the hotel.

My question is - what else can I do that would make the party extra nice for my husband and/or his family? Or have I done enough already? I've never actually thrown a party before, let alone a multi-day surprise party so any suggestions would be very helpful!
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Honestly I think everything you have planned sounds so sweet and thoughtful, I don't think you need to worry about doing more. It's great that his family members have helped with plans for the weekend, too. I think your husband will be very moved at the effort you all went to on his behalf. Make sure to take pictures and have a great time! You sound like a very caring partner.
posted by little mouth at 5:42 AM on December 18, 2016 [4 favorites]

Agree - all this sounds so special already. Maybe there is an outlandish party hat or giant floppy boutonnière the man of honor has to wear all weekend that will just mark him as the happy feted one immediately in every single photo you take!
posted by sestaaak at 6:50 AM on December 18, 2016 [3 favorites]

This sounds great as is, but a couple ideas based on what my dad did for mom's surprise birthday party a few years ago:

-- He hired a band she liked to perform
-- He had put together a slideshow of photos from her life that was played during the party
-- A photographer friend put together a slideshow of the party on CDs for us
-- She loves Elvis impersonators, so he hired one
-- He got a proclamation from the city declaring the date of the party [Mom's Name] Day

A lot of this required lying to my mom (by omission) but it was worth it.
posted by girlmightlive at 8:53 AM on December 18, 2016

I could be wrong, but maybe part of your concern is that you want to give your depressed partner a very happy event but you have some worry that his unhappiness might still spill over during the party? (I don't need an answer, because "is this what is bothering you?" is more of a rhetorical question. If it doesn't shine any light on the situation, please feel free to ignore my guess.)
posted by puddledork at 9:25 AM on December 18, 2016

I think...what you really could do is to dial down your expectations on his reaction.
What you are doing is awesome and it would make any reasonable person very happy. But he is depressed and feeling like he failed at life. All the attention and the love you guys are heaping on him could very well make him feel like more of an impostor than he does already. Every wonderful thing you do for him will remind him how he does not in fact deserve this, how much he sucks and how you are all doing this out of pity or something.

I'm not saying this to bum you out. I'm saying this so that you don't react disappointed or awkward if he fails to be happy at this party. You want to avoid the dynamic where you try SO HARD to please him and of course he notices and tries but fails to be pleased for your sake, and feels like a failure for letting you down, and in the end you all feel like crap. You can't stop him from feeling sucky. But you can stop his depression from influencing the mood.

His whole family should go there with the aim of having a damn good time, enjoying being together and sharing the love. That will make it easier for him to be part of the happy dynamic. Nobody should be there with the aim of shoring up his self esteem and making him feel better.

Otherwise you 'll be setting yourselves and him up for failure.

Again, this is an awesome thing you are planning. You don't need any extra details to make it extra awesome. Your air of calm acceptance and genuine joy is the best extra you can add.
posted by Omnomnom at 11:06 AM on December 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

It's on the late side for this, but in the pleasantly cheesy comic strip "For Better or For Worse," the wife makes a massive birthday card when the dad turns 50. ("It took me nearly a year to get all the signatures," she says, but that was in a pre-email era...) You could chase down all sort of friends and fondly remembered former colleagues, ask if they'd like to e-mail a few words which you would then cut out and glue on the card. (Of course the family in attendance will sign it, grandly with metallic markers or something, when they get there.) IIRC there were a few photos on the card filling in the blank spots.
posted by kmennie at 11:52 AM on December 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

Seconding have someone (not you, since you've done enough) make a photo / video montage of his life. Put it on one of those motion photo frames on the dining room table for posterity. Ditto have someone make a second montage of the event and send copies to those who want one.

Do you have a plan B for bad weather? Can you borrow some vintage board games, 1970 - 1980s movies, music? Clear the floor and teach some old dance steps (disco ball anyone?)

This may become a regular family reunion thing (Husband's Annual 50th Birthday Bash). I'd plan the next one in milder weather to get everyone outside, or find a host in a warm winter climate.
posted by TrishaU at 12:06 AM on December 19, 2016

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