Dear Prudence

Help! My Dad Spent His Career Getting Companies off the Hook for Harassment. Then It Happened to Me.

Read what Prudie had to say in Part 1 of this week’s live chat.

Woman with her head in her hands. A man comforts her with a hand on her back.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by fizkes/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Dear Prudence is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.

Jenée Desmond-Harris: I’m ready to solve all your problems—or at least try. Let’s go.

Q. Flip Flop’s Daughter: Prior to his retirement two years ago, my dad spent his entire career in law very successfully getting companies off the hook for sexual harassment claims. This career paid for a wonderful childhood, ruined many women’s lives, and created a major rift between my parents and me from my teen years onward. As a woman in my late 20s, I have a complicated relationship with my parents and have done everything I can to take no money from them and handle my affairs independently.

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Six months ago, I was assaulted by my boss in a series of circumstances that led to a mental health emergency. Unable to afford inpatient care, I gave in and reached out to my parents. Prudie, they did everything perfectly: paid my bills with no strings attached, took care of me when I was released from the hospital, organized my FMLA paperwork, and welcomed my girlfriend into their home during my recovery.

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I’m back home now, and still in therapy, but I can’t let go of how enraged I am at my dad, for knowing exactly what to do for me while making life hell for other women. I’m particularly angry because he’s suddenly become an “advocate,” as if sexual assault is a new, previously unknown topic. I’m grateful he’s suddenly enforcing behavior with his golf buddies about microaggressions, but I’m deeply angry about how much he’s contributed to this problem over the decades. How do I navigate this toxic brew of gratefulness and rage? It’s truly hard to tell if he’s acting out of guilt or legitimately thinks he’s a champion for women.

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A: This sounds like good material for a long letter in which you explain the mix of emotions you’re feeling and tell your dad what, if anything, would help you to move forward and heal your relationship with him. After you write it, decide whether you need to send it, or whether getting everything out gives you a sense of peace.

Q. Too Soon for a Vasectomy: How do you know when you’re done having kids? My wife and I (both in our 30s) agreed that our ideal family is two children spaced about five years apart. However, our first was recently born via an unplanned C-section that was traumatic for both of us (more so for her, obviously). That experience paired with all the standard trials and tribulations of raising a newborn have really soured the idea of having another kid for me.

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My wife and I have been talking openly about our struggles and, unprompted, she surprised me and asked if I’d consider getting a vasectomy. I said I would feel comfortable with having the procedure and we agreed to keep the dialogue open as time goes on.

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But how long should we leave that conversation open-ended? Objectively, I feel like I should be a parent for much longer before making that decision, especially since I wouldn’t want to reverse a vasectomy if we changed our minds. On the other hand, there’s always the possibility of an accidental pregnancy. My wife has limited birth control options due to different health conditions and neither of us is thrilled about using condoms again. Should we wait it out and see if we have a change of heart? I don’t want to shut that door prematurely and regret my decision down the line, but I also don’t want to risk another pregnancy before we decide that’s what we want.

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A: You say you’re both “not thrilled” about using condoms, so I guess in order to decide how long to think about what to do, you two have to decide if you would be less thrilled about using them anyway, about doing nothing and having an unplanned pregnancy, or about wanting a child and being unable to because a vasectomy reversal didn’t work, years down the line. Then make the decision that makes the thing you’re least thrilled about least likely.

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Q. Not Staying in the House: My parents and I have come to a crossroads over COVID boosters. I am a firm believer in them. They think it makes people get COVID, and that it’s a conspiracy between big pharma and the government, etc… They won’t get them. I’ve had people I know die from COVID, suffer from long COVID, and those who cannot take the vaccine because they are allergic to the vaccine serum. I also have underlying health conditions (several bouts of pneumonia) that put me at greater risk of problems if I contract the virus. It’s maddening to see them so lost in their own bubble. I told them I won’t come home for Thanksgiving unless they get a booster shot. They won’t budge. It’s really driven a wedge between us. Is there an answer that makes everyone happy?

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A: An answer that makes everyone happy? Probably not. But remember, there are ways to connect without breathing in someone’s potential virus particles. Tap into your memories of 2020! If your budget and weather allow, you could go “home” but stay in a hotel and eat outside. And I know everyone’s sick of it, but don’t underestimate the power of Zoom. It really is miraculous to have a way to connect on special days without being in the same physical space.

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Q. Worried About the Worrier: My MIL (with my husband for seven years total) has always been a very anxious woman over many aspects of everyday life. However, recently I feel that it has been intensifying. I’ve been home from work since having a baby and have been spending more time with her as she comes to the house to visit, joins us on walks, etc. I’m concerned her anxiety isn’t just anxiety anymore, but a sign of dementia coming on (it runs in her family). Daily tasks/routines seem to sometimes confuse her (where do we turn on the same walking trail we take every day, what time do we do this daily activity, etc.), she repeats stories/questions with more regularity, and she just generally seems more nervous/uncomfortable.

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I realize this is a difficult topic and not something that anyone wants to hear, so I brought it up gently to my husband after we had been at their house and I felt his mother had exhibited a few examples. His response was “Oh, that’s just mom, she’s always nervous.” How much do I press on this or is it none of my business until his family decides to acknowledge it? Do I mention it to anyone else (her husband or daughter)? I don’t want my husband to feel betrayed by me, but I feel like even if I’m wrong and it isn’t dementia, an actual approach to managing her anxiety that isn’t just ignoring it is becoming more necessary.

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A: This lady is still visiting you and taking walks. She can’t be that far gone that she can’t have a say in her own health care. Talk directly to her! Ask her if her anxiety and memory issues are things she’d like to look into with a doctor. Make sure she knows that if she does want help, you can assist with making the appointments. If she says no, stand down. You’ll have to do your best and any future decisions can be made by her children.

Q. Re: Too Soon for a Vasectomy: Remember that the vasectomy reversal success rate can be as high as 75 percent. You can also deposit your sperm in a bank for up to 20 years for a fairly low fee. Do this first (likely a few times to make sure you have enough of a “sample”) and then get the vasectomy. If you do decide to have more kids in the future, you have options.

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A: This is good information. But 75 percent is one of those stats that sounds good now, but might not sound great if, years from now, they decide they really want another child and have to face down a 25 percent chance that this first step of the process won’t work. Freezing sperm is another good option, but not one without significant costs (in terms of money, time, and the toll on his wife’s body if they choose to go undergo IUI or IVF to get pregnant and she has to take medication to make that happen).

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Q. Re: Flip Flop’s Daughter: I do not mean in any way to dismiss or denigrate your feelings about your father’s work. But as a lawyer, I want to give a little perspective on what it means to work with odious clients. Most of the time, people in your father’s line of work not only get their clients out of trouble, but they also work with those clients to teach them how to stop doing those awful things, to change the culture meaningfully, and to identify problem employees quickly and change their behavior or get rid of them before they can do too much damage. They also teach companies how to work more sensitively and respectfully with injured employees. Someone has to teach them how to behave more respectfully, and while I’m very sorry for you that it was your father who did that, without people like him, change will take longer and will be less consistent. Not everyone can stand to work with odious clients—I cannot and am lucky enough to be able to pick and choose my clients—and I’m grateful for people who can do this work and make a positive contribution by effecting change in these toxic companies.

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A: This is a great insight. Now let’s be clear: Plenty of lawyers defend awful, powerful clients (I’m not talking about indigent people who need public defenders in criminal cases here) who do a lot of harm because those clients pay and the lawyers don’t give a shit about anything except making money. But I do believe that what’s described here happens as well. Maybe a letter to Dad could open up a conversation about how he sees his work and help LW make sense of it.

Q. Re: Worried About the Worrier: I have seen dementia; lost my wife to it a bit over two years ago. The distinction is that dementia is progressive. In a period of months, you’ll see changes you can document. Watch over time and if you can document that a real change in behavior is occurring, that’s when to bring it up again. It’s how you distinguish dementia from behavior that’s just quirky or unusual.

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A: I’m so sorry for your loss. This is a really good tip. Thank you!

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Classic Prudie

My boyfriend and I have been together for six and a half years. He went on vacation a few months ago without me (I could not get out of work), and he met a woman on the plane ride there. She is his age, had similar interests, and loves beer. He gave her his number with the intent of possibly setting her up with our mutual friend whom he was visiting on vacation. They had all hung out a few different times, and he hung out with her one on one while drinking on vacation. Now normally, I wouldn’t be peeved. But my BF failed to mention her to me the whole time while he was on vacation because he said I would overreact about the whole thing.

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