Help! My Son Is a Worthless Slacker.

Advice on manners and morals.
March 29 2012 6:00 AM

Not So Proud Papa

Our son is an unmotivated lunkhead. How can we light a fire under him?

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photograph by Teresa Castracane.

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Dear Prudence,
My son is 25 years old and has always been unmotivated in nearly every aspect of living. My wife and I have been nurturing and supportive of any potential he has shown. He has few friends and had only one girlfriend, briefly. He stays up late, sleeps at odd hours, and eats lots of junk food. He is probably 50 pounds overweight but doesn't seem to notice. He was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes as a boy. He manages it pretty well, although my wife and I still have to monitor his health care. He dropped out of college after freshman year. Around that time he was prescribed antidepressants, which he has taken off and on since. Six months ago we insisted he move out, and he now lives with his 23-year-old brother. He refuses to engage in any meaningful conversation with us. On the plus side, he has chosen to be an automobile technician, is very capable at it, and makes good money. He has a passion for motor sports. He doesn’t seem to be unhappy. My wife and I are trying to reconcile ourselves that this is how he will live his life, although it’s not healthy or what we consider fulfilling. Should we give up, give in, or just let him find his own way?

—Concerned Parent

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Dear Concerned,
As I started reading your letter I thought, “We’ve seen this movie so many times before.” Slacker Americanus: Cheetos-munching, tubby, semi-verbal, nocturnal, no prospects, repulsive to females. Think of the house of slobs in Knocked Up. Then you threw in a twist ending. The kid is employed, he’s got skills that are in high demand, he has a passion in life. He’s happy! (I understand he’s been on anti-depressants, but they're effective.) I’m inferring that you and your wife would prefer, and understand better, an arugula-eating son toiling on a doctorate in comparative literature. However, it could be that at the end of that son’s labors, you’d wish he’d spent less time analyzing Love's Labour’s Lost and more time getting some skills that resulted in a paycheck. Your son may be naturally monosyllabic, but it’s also unpleasant to constantly discuss with your parents why you’re such a disappointment. Since you say you were nurturing and attentive parents, I assume you engaged professionals to figure out what was going on with your son and got no definitive answers. So now, instead of working on your son, try working on yourselves. Start by letting him know how proud you are that he’s developed the skills to have a successful career. Take your car in for a tune-up to his shop as a paying customer. Tell him you don’t know a bleed nipple from an output shaft, and that you’re impressed that he does. Ask if he would take you to some car races with him. Once you establish a better relationship, tell him you and his mother are going to start turning over his diabetes care to him. Before you do, say you’d be happy to pay for some consultations with a nutritionist to help keep his condition under control. Tell him you’re making this offer because the healthier he is, the better he’ll be able to do the things he loves, and because you love him.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence: Mixing Business and Carnal Pleasure

Dear Prudence,
Should I report sexism from a business school interview? I'm a young female professional living in a big city, with several years of work experience in the event planning industry. This week I had my first MBA interview at a business school here, and I was appalled by the comments made by the admissions director. In addition to my work experience, I graduated from college magna cum laude, lived abroad, and volunteered with large nonprofits. The interview was standard until the end, when the director gave me some constructive criticism. He said I need to refine my “'elevator pitch” and explained why. Then he added, “How do I know you aren't just another pretty girl whose looks got her these opportunities?” I thanked him for his feedback and left the office angry that I didn't ask him to clarify his comments. How do I report this behavior without jeopardizing my graduate application? I certainly don't want other female applicants to have their experience judged by their looks.

—Just Look at My Résumé

Dear Résumé,
The head of admissions either had a stroke during your interview or he’s been watching way too much Mad Men. That this guy said to your face that your success is possibly a result of your pretty face is a violation of about 30 years’ worth of evolving higher education rules. His superiors definitely need to know. Look at the school’s directory and find the appropriate deans in positions over him and send them an email. You can make your subject line something like “Disturbing question asked at my admissions interview.” That should get their interest, and blood pressure, up. Make your description factual and uninflammatory. You can say that the bulk of the interview was fine, but you were completely taken aback when the admissions director said what he did about your looks. Give a short summary of your work history and say you were appalled to have someone question whether your achievements were based on anything but your skills and hard work. Add that you know their school is excellent and you are still interested in being a student, but that they need to know the kinds of things being said to applicants. I doubt you will have hurt your chances for admission, though the head of admissions may have helped his chances for retirement.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
I am a 22-year-old wife and mother of two young children. My husband is not the father of my eldest child, who is 7 years old. I met my husband when my daughter was 2 years old, and since then he's been the father figure to her. My husband’s family refers to her as their granddaughter. But they often ask why my daughter's father isn't in the picture and why his name isn’t on her birth certificate. It's a private matter that I find difficult to discuss, so I just change the subject. When I was 14 years old, I was raped by a family member and became pregnant. I am ashamed and disgusted that I never pressed charges. The rapist is living his life like nothing happened. My husband is aware of my daughter's origin. He wants us to tell his family so they will stop asking. But discussing it would be like reliving it over again. Is there something I can tell his family so that they will stop asking?

—Touchy Subject