Advice on manners and morals.

Advice on manners and morals.
Dec. 6 2007 7:25 AM

I'll Be Home for Christmas

But only if I can avoid seeing my father.

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Dear Prudence,
I am a college student who's worried about returning home for the holidays on break. My parents have been divorced for a few years. I have a much better relationship with my mother than with my father. Whenever I spend time with my father, I end up feeling worse about myself after it's over due to his constant put-downs and emotional abuse. He makes me feel like a horrible daughter if I don't spend a great deal of time with him during any holiday break. However, I do love spending time at my mother's house. The difference between the two experiences is like night and day. Shuttling between houses has always been difficult, but unfortunately this year, I'm also undergoing surgery, which will limit my mobility. Driving myself between their places (which can be up to a three-hour trip) may be physically, as well as emotionally, painful. Prudie, how do I get through this holiday season and split my time without feeling horrible about myself or like an ungrateful daughter?

—Holiday Worries

Dear Holiday,
Your father sounds as if he has a gift for emotional blackmail: He insults and abuses you, then you feel guilty when you don't want to spend more time being insulted and abused. I'm sorry you're having surgery, but it provides you with a perfect opening to establish some new guidelines with your father. Write him a letter and tell him that because of your operation, you won't get to his place during winter break this year. Then explain that while you do want to see him, you two need a new understanding of how you expect to be treated. Say that while you love him, you usually leave his place feeling terrible, because, while he may not be aware of it, you get a constant stream of criticism from him. Tell him you'd be happy to talk about this, and try to find some time to get together so you can mutually enjoy each other's company. Once you send the letter, be prepared that his response will be to let loose with a stream of insults and guilt-tripping. It's crucial you don't cave. You must stay focused and repeat your message: You should be treated with courtesy and respect, or you can't spend time with him. Get support as you do this. Perhaps your mother has enough distance from him that she can help you strategize having a better relationship. And a therapist who specializes in family issues can help you work through this and stay resolute. I hope your father will recognize he has to change how he behaves toward you, but whether or not he does, know that you have the power to change how you behave with him.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence Video: My Three Boyfriends

Dear Prudence,
I am a woman in my 30s living in Portland, Ore. My husband is black. For some reason, at dinner parties, bars, you name it, people assume we're Democrats. We are not! Comments range from "Why do Republicans exist?" to "I hate conservatives" to worse. I've lived in highly conservative areas of the country, and never seemed to encounter such annoying habits from conservatives; neither did my husband. Do people assume this because of his skin color? Why do people assume everyone within earshot agrees with them? What is the correct response?

—Not a Democrat

Dear Not,
It is maddeningly presumptuous that because you live in a certain ZIP code, everyone thinks they know precisely what you think, i.e., what you think is precisely what they think. More insulting is the conclusion that belonging to a certain racial or ethnic group is itself a statement of a set of beliefs on all political and social matters. (And we all could benefit by examining our assumptions. You point out your husband's race, but not your own or anyone else's. Is this because you assume we'll understand that since only your husband's race is an issue, everyone else is white?) How you respond depends on the circumstances and your willingness to discuss issues on any given occasion. In the most casual situations, at a bar, say, it's probably best just to shrug and let it go. But if you're at a dinner party with people you consider friends, you may want to let them see if they really believe in diversity. In response to "Why do Republicans exist?" you could say, "We exist to spice up your dinner parties." Be prepared for gasps and disbelief: You look like normal people, yet you are Republicans and you walk among us! Also be ready to change the subject to something more neutral (alas, the weather is no longer an option) if you start to feel you're doing the morning briefing at the White House press office.