Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is on Washingtonpost.com weekly to chat live with readers. An edited transcript of this week's 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 email@example.com.)
Q. Scorned Emailer: If she does tells her ex what happened, she could end up in jail and/or as a defendant in a lawsuit.
A: As I was typing that answer I was thinking to myself, "Hmm, probably a potential lawsuit here." Yes, that's a possibility, but I've learned from this column that much of life is a potential lawsuit. I still think she should come clean. At the least it would allow him to contact his former employer and explain what happened. If the letter writer was willing to sign a statement saying she sent the email that might avert a potential suit the ex-boyfriend might have considered. And just because something has the potential for a suit does not mean that everyone will always reach for the nearest lawyer.
Q. Stop Sending Me Presents?: Are you kidding me? Your phone can be silenced. A note can be placed on the door asking the delivery driver not to ring the bell. What a problem to have!
A: Good points. My deliveries just silently show up on the porch.
Q. Baby Name: My wife and I are expecting our first child (a boy) in January and are contemplating names. Our top choices are traditional Hebrew names. We are both of Protestant descent but are agnostic. Much as we love the name Chaim, we're taking it off our list because we know it would always be mispronounced in our neighborhood and schools. But, Chaim aside, can we pull off a traditionally Jewish name?
A: The Jewish population in this country is too small to be responsible for Jacob being at the top of the list for the most popular names for boys. Without being Jewish, Abraham Lincoln managed to pull off having a traditionally Jewish name. And to paraphrase the old advertising slogan, you don't have to be Jewish to love Aaron, Adam, or Isaac. For your son's sake, you should restrain from naming him Jubal or Kish, but he could happily be the only Ephraim in his nursery school class. And as the granddaughter of one, I'm hoping Saul has a revival.
Q. Dismissing a Terminally Ill Co-Worker?: There is a man in his 50s with terminal cancer in my department. During the past months I've allowed him to take sick leave whenever he needed. I've transferred some of his work so he doesn't have to deal with the more stressful tasks. He says he will work until he physically can't because he has no family and loves his job and needs normality in his life. I want to support him in this, but I have the unfortunate task of laying off several staff because the company is struggling. To be honest, the colleague with cancer is not (cringe) a "profitable employee." I don't know if I can justify keeping him on board while I lay off other staff whose roles are needed more for the company. From the company perspective I know I should let him go, but from a human perspective I feel horrible doing this. What should I do?
A: I hope people in your department appreciate knowing they work for someone who struggles with the human consequences of your job. This knowledge could actually enhance your strengths as a manager, because while they understand you've had to make painful decisions about layoffs, you are not throwing a dying colleague into world of the unemployed and quite possibly the uninsured. However, given your employee's grave physical condition, I'm wondering if there's a way you can put him on a different status so that he works some hours, retains his health insurance, but is not being paid his previous salary when other people with their own pressing financial needs—including families to support—are being thrown into this terrible job market. Talk to human resources and see if there's a way to make this work. If you change his status you can explain to him that you want him to be able to continue at work while having maximum flexibility to attend to his medical needs.
Q. Carpool Dilemma : There is a colleague at work who lives within a few blocks of my home. He asked one day if he could carpool with me to share travel costs and I happily said yes. We've been carpooling for about three weeks and one morning he had an epileptic fit. I am not medically trained, nor have I seen anybody have a fit before in my life, so it was a huge shock for me. I had no idea what was going on and actually thought he was going to die. Later I phoned to check in on him and he explained that he had epilepsy but he was "pretty sure" he wasn't going to have another fit in my car. I know I sound insensitive but I am totally put off carpooling with him again. He lost control of his bowels and bladder and vomited in my car. I'm the type of person who nearly faints at the sight of blood or any other bodily fluid and I felt like vomiting myself as I drove to have my car cleaned professionally. I'm scared of having to deal with another fit, however unlikely he thinks it's going to happen. What if next time it happens on a highway, and causes me to crash? My question is, is it OK to ask him to reimburse me for cleaning and how can I tell him I want to stop carpooling?
A: No one is obligated to get into a carpool situation with a colleague, but you also don't want to be the kind of person to say, "You have epilepsy, so you can't get in my car again, buddy." Forget presenting him with a bill for cleaning. He likely has no memory around the seizure and doesn't know the damage he caused. But since your colleague did have a seizure while you were with him, he is obligated to open with you and willing to discuss the potential for another seizure and your concerns about it. Of course there are no guarantees about medical conditions, but just saying he's "pretty sure" it won't happen again is not really addressing what was a traumatic and dangerous situation for you. If he's not even willing to discuss this, then you should feel free to say it turns out the carpool is not working out for you. But if he can address his condition with you, it would be fair for you to say something like you would feel more comfortable possibly resuming if he is seizure-free for a few months first.
Q. Family Singing: I have to disagree with your response to the mom whose sense of pitch is better than her husband's. If her child is going to grow up loving music, it is important for the child to learn that part of music is just having fun and being joyous. It is not joyous to shush other people. What will work better is for the mom to sing clear and true. She doesn't have to change anything to "match" the dad. He can make any sounds he wants to. Everyone will have fun. The baby will not get "messed up" by hearing the dad's voice. The baby will learn to tell the difference. The baby will also learn that s/he has two loving parents who know how to have fun with music.
A: But what happens when a person who can't carry a tune sings with someone who can is not that the tone-deaf one sings better but that the musical one gets messed up. Believe me, we bad singers have power. You're right that this is not a performance of a Bach Chorale, and sometimes Mom should sing and Dad should just croak along and everyone should have fun. But alternating verses is not shutting up Dad, it's just preserving Mom's sanity.
Q. 9/11 Bridal Shower: My future daughter-in-law (age 21, son is 23) has a shower being "thrown" for her on the 10th anniversary of 9/11. I feel very uncomfortable going to such an event on this monumental day for our nation and my family, personally. My husband rejoined the Army National Guard after 9/11 and has spent two of the last four years overseas in Iraq because of it. My son was also on the last tour with his dad ... doesn't this day count for anything? This is future DIL's THIRD bridal shower, and I just don't feel right going. What should I do? Attend and be resentful? Just send a present? Do nothing?