Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is online weekly to chat live with readers. An edited transcript of the chat is below. (Sign up here to get Dear Prudence delivered to your inbox each week. Read Prudie’s Slate columns here. Send questions to Prudence at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon. I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving! Props to my 95-year-old mother-in-law for another great meal. Love that Thanksgiving sauerkraut!
Q. Her Weight Problem, Not Mine: Over Thanksgiving, I volunteered to host my relatives. This included my cousin who used to be a plus-sized woman, had gastric bypass five years ago, and now believes in fat shaming. She targets me especially because of the fact I am a plus-sized woman too, but love my body. During Thanksgiving, she talked about my weight to anyone that would listen, even after I told her to stop it. I am ashamed to say that after she made a reference to my black swimsuit as a Shamu suit, my temper got the better of me, and I grabbed some mashed potatoes with my hands and started throwing them at her, screaming that she was a hateful, horrible person and then tossed her out of my house.
Now that the dust has settled, my family feels I owe HER an apology and an invitation to spend Christmas with me! Please help me get them off my back already!
A: Now I’m kind of sad that my family’s Thanksgiving was so civilized that no one got a bowl of sauerkraut and dumped it on anyone’s head. I can totally understand how instead of passing the potatoes you decided to toss the potatoes at her. Your cousin is a despicable person. What you have to do with such people when you’re forced to share space with them is walk away. I understand you were highly provoked, but you should have kept in mind that in her attempts to fat shame you, she was actually shaming herself. Unfortunately, you made it physical. So be the better person, and apologize for losing it. But as for Christmas, unless in response to you she gives you a full-bodied apology in which she explains she now sees how cruel and insulting she has been, I don’t see any reason for you to invite someone to your home who rejoices in making you miserable.
Q. Panty-Wearing Man: A widower for some five years, I enjoy wearing women’s lingerie: panties, camisoles, nighties, the occasional bra. I do not wear dresses, apply makeup, or try to “pass” in any way. I just enjoy the sensuality of the clothes. A widow and I have been sharing company and if I’m reading the signs correctly, are heading toward intimacy. My late wife was fine with my undies choice; how do I inform my friend that she might not be the only one shopping at Victoria’s Secret? We’re each in our early 60s. Thanks!
A: Before you get intimate, binge-watch with your friend the Amazon series, Transparent. It’s an exquisitely written and acted (and very funny) series about the coming out as transgender of a middle-aged father of three grown children. I know that’s not your situation. But there are many scenes that will absolutely hit home for you, and it will be a great way to open the discussion you want to have with your new lady. I advise people with kinks to disclose them early to new loves. It’s simply unfair months into a relationship to have an, “Oh, by the way, there’s something I should have told you …” discussion. It also sounds as if this isn’t an occasional thing for you, but an essential thing. You need to be prepared that this might be a shocking or difficult revelation for her, but what matters is what she then does with the information. And even if it turns out she’s not as open-minded as your late wife, I assure you, you’ll be glad you watched the series.
Q. My Son Calls My Husband “Daddy”: My 3-year-old has very little contact with his father, who lives 700 miles away. I recently married a wonderful man, whom I love dearly and who takes care of both me and my son. My son has recently taken to calling my husband “Daddy” every now and then. Should I try to discourage this or encourage it? My son’s father sees him about once a year, and calls about twice a year. My son usually calls him by his first name. My husband likes being called “Daddy” and, honestly, I like it, too. What do we do here?
A: Yay for Daddy! What a wonderful gift your marriage has turned out to be for your son. He now has a true father in his life, one who embraces this boy and wants to be his real father. Your son has already told you how he feels, and you all agree with it. So please, encourage him to call his stepfather “Daddy.” His biological father is a nonentity, so he can make his annual appearance, and your son can say, “Hey, Willy, how you doing?” I have had so many wonderful letters over the years from people who celebrate the stepparents who came into their lives and truly stepped up. How wonderful your husband is joining this crew.
Q. Vacationing Dad: My retired parents had scheduled a trip to Spain, but my mother became violently nauseated and feverish on the way to the airport. My father mistakenly believed that his trip insurance would only cover my mother, so he called my brother to pick her up and take her to the hospital, while he went on the trip alone. She was very sick and in the hospital for three days, but it turned out to be a non-life-threatening virus of some sort. I was furious with my father, but my mother is not, and my brothers feel that it was just Dad being Dad. Is this shockingly bad behavior, or is this sort of thing socially acceptable?
A: Umm, are you sure prior to the trip your father didn’t encourage some ailing toddler to give your mother a big wet one? I’m having a hard time imagining this scene at the airport where your brother carts away your desperately ill mother, while your father waves adios. Yes, this is shocking behavior, but you really don’t have standing to do anything about it. Since everyone writes this off as “Dad being Dad,” maybe your mother enjoyed the pampering she received during her hospital stay more than she would have enjoyed being in Spain with her oblivious spouse. Everyone has shrugged this off but you. But Dad’s home, Mom’s out of the hospital, and about the only suggestion you can make is that next time your parents take a trip that they both read the fine print on any travel insurance.
Q. Re: Panty-Wearing Man: The letter writer makes it very clear that he isn’t trans. The fact that you call it a kink shows that on some level you understand this. Equating a kink with being transgender is very offensive.
A: I explicitly said I understood that being trans was not the letter writer’s situation. Then I said that there would be scenes in the show that spoke specifically to the conversation he wants to have. If you think that being transgender is offensive, I don’t share your view.
Q. Boy in Pink: My 5-year-old son’s favorite color is pink and he wants to incorporate pink anywhere he can. On days he has dance class he often wears pink leggings and he likes to paint his nails pink. At school there are no issues, his classmates and teachers embrace it, but we’ve had some concerns with family and in public. To other kids and family when something is said he tells them that boy and girl things don’t exist and people can like whatever they want. How do I respond to family and his dad when they tell me I overindulge him by buying him pink shoes and painting his nails? Do I correct strangers in public that assume he’s a girl because he’s wearing pink leggings or let it go? I want my boy to know that he’s loved and supported no matter what.
A: I love your son! What an amazingly wise and confident little guy you have. How wonderful that you say his classmates and teachers are all onboard with the boy in pink. The world really is changing! Strangers are irrelevant. It sounds as if your son has a handle on the fact that some people incorrectly think people think pink is only for girls, and this doesn’t bother him. But what is concerning is how bothered your husband is. He is absolutely entitled to feel unease, but having recognized that, he has to examine these feelings and then figure out what’s best for your son. None of you know that this pink phase means. But what’s important is letting your son feel supported in his choices. This seems like a good issue for you and your husband to discuss on a short-term basis with a counselor. Your husband can air his concerns and figure out what to do about them, so that your boy feels both his parents have his back.
Q. Re: Daddy: My 5-year-old stepdaughter has a wonderful mother, with whom she lives during the school year. I came into her life when she was just turning 3, and by the end of our first week together, she started calling me “Mommy.” Now older, she calls me by my first name around her mom, but when in our home in our routine, she calls me Mommy. She once confided in me that her mom did not want her to call me Mommy. I told her that I didn’t want her to get in trouble with her mom, but that in our house, she could call me whatever she was most comfortable with. I always felt that I didn’t want her to think that I loved her less than my own children. If your husband is the only father figure he is close to, I think you should just let your son take the lead and go with it.
A: Beautiful, thank you.
Q. Re: Shamu Suit Cousin: I understand that at the point someone is throwing mashed potatoes, they’ve literally lost it. That being said, some people deserve a face full of mashed potatoes, and quite frankly, I don’t think your letter writer should have to apologize. In fact, I think she should evaluate why on earth she has people in her life who want her to invite her hateful cousin back into her home? Why isn’t she getting more familial support?
A: Good point about the rest of the family. What’s going on there? Maybe it’s time to spend Christmas with friends. As I said, I understand the face full of potatoes, but it’s better for the letter writer to acknowledge she shouldn’t have done it, no matter how awful the provocation. That allows her better to move forward and explain she is not going to allow such a toxic person in her home.
Q. Re: Boy in Pink: Dad may want to check out James Braly’s excellent story from The Moth called “Oliver’s Pink Bicycle”—it’s a wonderful story of a parent’s acceptance of his son’s obsession with pink.
Q. Am I Responsible for a Parent I Barely Remember?: When I was 3 years old, my funny, intelligent, handsome father developed paranoid schizophrenia, including very disturbing hallucinations that made him act erratically. My mother feared for her life and mine and divorced him and moved us halfway across the country—he wouldn’t stay on his meds and she felt she didn’t have a choice. He maintained contact with me as well as he could. After his parents passed away, we lost touch. I assumed that his brother and sister knew where he was and what his condition was. Now I find that they haven’t heard from him in 10 years. I’m an adult now with a family of my own, and I find myself increasingly worried and wondering about his wellbeing. Do I try to track him down? I know the mentally ill aren’t more likely to be dangerous than others, but I’m still worried that, even at 65, he may be off his meds and unpredictable. Is it fair to my kids to pursue this?
A: What a tragic story, and how broken our mental health system is. You can start by gathering some information about your father without contacting him. A private investigator should be able to put together a basic dossier on him. At this point, you don’t even know if he’s alive, so first establish that. If he is, then see if he’s employed, or has been arrested, etc. The information will allow you to make a better decision about whether you want to proceed and how.
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