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My longtime friend “Toni” is getting divorced from her husband, “Cal,” after his affair. It has been very messy. Toni has gone scorched-earth and demanded everyone choose a side. Cal is very close to my husband and my daughters. I have known Toni for over 15 years—including when she had an affair and had an abortion to keep it a secret. I held her hand during the procedure. Toni just accused my 23-year-old daughter of having sex with Cal because she wanted both Toni and Cal at her graduation. My daughter called me crying, and I don’t know what to do. My immediate impulse is to call Toni and tell her off and then let everyone else know what Toni did. I know that is not the right thing to do, but I don’t know what that is.
Oh, I think telling Toni off is absolutely the next right thing for you to do here. What she did to your daughter was unconscionable and a certified act of friendship-ending. Give yourself a day or two to calm down so that you’re able to speak with composure. Don’t call her names or throw her abortion back in her face, but aside from that, feel free to let her know how cruel and unnecessary her lie was, that she’s utterly broken your trust in her, that you hope she never treats another person the way she’s treated you and your daughter—and that she’s no longer welcome at the graduation ceremony. If you want to talk to your friends about Toni’s latest accusation about your daughter, you’re well within your rights to do so. But don’t bring up her previous affair or abortion; that’s a private and painful event worth protecting regardless of how badly she behaves. —Danny M. Lavery
From: “Help! My Friend Accused My Daughter of Sleeping With Her Husband.” (Aug. 9, 2018)
We recently moved abroad and will stay there for three years. Our 4-year-old son’s name has an unfortunate meaning in the local tongue. It’s a common word but unflattering for a child (think “jelly” or “rat”), and he’s getting teased. He’s been learning to laugh it off, and it’s getting steadily better. But the teacher recently suggested he pick a new name, and since then, it’s “teacher said” and “I want to change my name.” I think the teacher is way out of line (he’s being teased, not excluded or bullied). Am I being too hard on my son?
So imagine showing up at your new office, introducing yourself around, and ignoring the startled looks and sniggers when it turns out your name means “Large Bottom” in the local parlance. The teacher is not suggesting changing your son’s birth certificate, but making a tweak so that he doesn’t have the burden of spending the next three years in misery. I think she has made a great suggestion, and you, your husband, and your child can figure out if he wants a brand-new nickname for this adventure abroad, or if he wants to transpose a few letters to his given name. Give your son the opportunity to have a name that means “viking warrior,” not “rat jelly.” —Emily Yoffe
From: “Help! My Son’s Name Has an Unfortunate Meaning in Our New Country’s Language.” (Sept. 22, 2015)
My father was diagnosed with cancer last year, and he has been refusing chemo in favor of some “alternative treatment” he found on the internet. When my siblings and I expressed some concerns about his approach, he basically stopped communicating with us because we weren’t supportive enough. We weren’t even informed recently when he ended up in the hospital for a week. His illness seems to be seriously progressing, and I don’t know how much time he has left. I live across the country, and I’m honestly not sure if I want to visit him while I have the chance. I’ve been thinking about my relationship with him and I don’t have any good, happy memories. He was a workaholic who was never around when I was really young. When I was a teenager, all he ever did was hit on my friends and complain about his relationship with my mom. And as an adult he only talks to me in order to lecture me about how awful every single life choice I’ve ever made is. I dread every interaction with him. I know he’s never going to apologize or say he’s sorry for being a bad parent, so I know I won’t get any closure. I have anxiety, and it’s worse than it’s been in a long time, in large part because he’s forcing my family to watch him slowly kill himself. If I have to sit through one of his self-righteous lectures about how I’m a giant failure, I will probably just fly off the handle and feel awful for weeks. I guess I’m not really asking if it’s OK not to visit an estranged dying relative—I’m not going to make myself do this if I can’t handle it. But if I decide not to, how can I deal with the inevitable criticism I’m going to get for my decision? I know people are going to treat me like a monster if I don’t.
You’re in an incredibly stressful situation, and I want to commend you for recognizing what you can and cannot do for your father. If you’re worried about criticism from acquaintances or people you don’t know very well, please know that you are under no obligation to share your decision with anyone. It’s more than OK to keep this decision confidential and to talk about it only with close friends or a therapist. If you fear hearing this from other family members, remember that you can always end a nonproductive conversation by saying, “This has been a painful decision, but my relationship with my father has never been healthy or supportive, and I cannot subject myself to further verbal abuse. He has not asked for me to visit him or expressed interest in reconnecting after he cut me off, and I think it’s best for both of us to keep our lives separate. You don’t have to agree with my choice, but I’m not comfortable discussing it further, and I ask that you respect my privacy.” You may not be able to convince everyone around you that you’re doing the right thing, but you don’t have to subject yourself to endless second-guessing from others, either. —D.L.
From: “Help! I Don’t Want to Visit My Jerk of a Dying Father.” (Feb. 14, 2017)
My ex-daughter-in-law has full custody of my 18-month-old granddaughter “Kimmy.” We always had a strained relationship, even more so after the bitter divorce she and my son went through, but I was able to get her to agree to let me visit my grandchild once a month. Last month I took her out to a park and fed her a nutritious lunch and snacks. When “Irene” found out I had fed Kimmy meat and cheese, she chided me for not respecting her decision to not feed Kimmy animal products. I am convinced that depriving my grandbaby of nutritious meat and dairy (except for her mother’s milk) is abusive, and I called the authorites. Now Irene won’t let me see Kimmy anymore, but the authorities haven’t done anything either, as far as I know. I’m so sad and angry. And worried for my sweet little Kimmy! What can I do to make sure she gets well fed and taken care of?
That was quite a lunch, Grandma. It has ensured that instead of being a loving presence in your granddaughter’s life, and a bridge to her father’s family, you are probably forever persona non grata. All because of a Happy Meal. You have turned a single visit into a reason Irene will probably one day tell Kimmy that sadly her grandmother is a dangerous person who tried to have Kimmy taken away from her, so that’s why she can’t see Daddy’s family anymore. After a bitter custody battle, your daughter-in-law graciously allowed you visitation—something she was not obligated to do. You needed to be extra careful not to say or do anything that would sever this delicate connection. Instead, in response to a “chiding” by Irene for deliberately flouting one of her child-rearing requests, you called the authorities to report her an an abuser. I’m not surprised that Child Protective Services hasn’t acted—lack of ham and Swiss doesn’t rise to the same level of concern as beating and molestation. Yes, it takes special attention to nutrition to raise a vegan baby, but probably half the children in Berkeley, Calif. would be removed from their homes if this constituted child abuse. For the sake of shoving a milkshake and cheesburger into your grandkid, you’ve deprived her of the sustenance of a relationship with her grandmother. But given the obliviousness of your letter, perhaps this is for the best. —E.Y.
More from Dear Prudence
My wife is well-endowed and skinny but is ashamed of her body. We’ve been married 30 years and now have an empty nest. I’m trying to spark a little fire and honestly I want to enjoy her body. I have bought her some low-cut shirts and dresses and have told her it would make me happy if she would occasionally wear them, like once in a while on a Friday night. She refuses to even try them on. She says she will buy her own clothing, but it has been about a year since I first asked her and she’s done nothing. It’s like having a fabulous bottle of wine put on the table every night and being told you can’t drink it. Thoughts? Ideas? Web sites?