Help! My Son Thinks His Mentally Disabled Sister Will Be a Distraction at His Graduation.

Advice on manners and morals.
April 16 2013 6:15 AM

All About Me

In a live chat, Prudie advises a woman whose son has asked for his mentally disabled sister to be watched separately during his graduation.

(Continued from Page 1)

Q. Hateful, Hurtful Words: My niece and her partner got married at the first legal LBGT wedding ceremony in our city (yay!). I posted pictures of the wedding on Facebook and luckily saw that my aunt had posted the following comment about the album: "Ugh, yuck, barf." I immediately deleted the comment. My question is, how do I deal with my aunt? I want her to know that those remarks were unacceptable and yet I still would like to retain a good relationship with her. She's elderly and entitled to her opinion but I don't want my niece hurt by her great-aunt's attitude. I was stunned by my aunt's response to the photos (which are beautiful). She must know that I'm LBGT-friendly: There have been previous posts had said that I supported gay marriage, I'd shared items from PFLAG, etc., and she had not posted anything similar for those.

A: There are two ways to go here. One is to accept that the majority of people with your aunt's reaction are not in the vanguard of life, let this go, but block your aunt's ability to see or comment on your wall. The other one is to reach out to her and explain that you know she was raised in a world that had different attitudes about homosexuality, but back then it meant that gay and lesbian people had to hide and pretend. Say you know she loves her niece and you're hoping that even through her discomfort she can support her niece's personal choices. You know your aunt, so can decide which approach would be most productive.

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Q. Dad's Weight Problem: I am at a complete loss over how to help my father. He's been overweight my entire life, and I'm reaching a point of feeling like I have to do something about it. I found out when I went home that he's broken 300 pounds. My mother has tried countless ways to get him to start being healthy and losing weight, but it isn't working. I've been overweight pretty much my entire life to some degree, though I never went as far as obese. I'm proud to say I lost weight as soon as I went to college (I'm 20 now) and have successfully kept it down. But because of that, I understand what feelings my dad has if my mother or I try to comment on his weight. But it's terrifying to see my dad like this. I fear for their marriage and for his life. I'm afraid he won’t be around to walk me down the aisle, or meet his grandchildren. He has also been a daily drinker my entire life—nothing more than a couple of glasses a wine a night, but obviously a problem. In the past few years, he's tried on and off to stop, but my mother recently divulged she thinks he's gone back to drinking, started hiding it from her, and even gone to hard liquor. The reprimand he gets from the occasional doctor's visit only leaves an impact for a few weeks. Prudie, I am so lost and confused about how to help.

A: Let's deal with the alcohol question first. If a 300-pound man has a couple of glasses of wine in the evening, I don't see how that makes him an alcoholic unless he pours his libations into vases. You want to do something about your father's weight, but as you've discovered, there's really nothing anyone can do about someone's else's weight. Indeed, he may be significantly shortening his life. That would be sad, but if you make the time you two have together revolve around how big his coffin will be, then you'll all be miserable. You can make a final stab at helping. Say you'd love to have him join you at Weight Watchers, or whatever, because you love him and want him to be around. If he won't go then let him know that despite your worries, you're going to stop cajoling and commenting on his choices.

Q. Re: On the aunt who posted rude Facebook comments: If we're excusing the aunt for being elderly and growing up in a different generation, then we've also got to remember that she almost certainly grew up in an era when manners were more emphasized than they are now. There is NO excuse for posting things like "yuck" or "barf" to someone's wedding photos. There is room for polite disagreement, but that is just rude and uncalled for. Sheesh, whatever happened to "if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all?"

A: Great point. Yes, Auntie's remarks certainly sound contemporary, even juvenile. My point is not to excuse her, but to weigh whether getting into it with an elderly bigot is worth it.

Q. Ex-Girlfriend Woes: I just got out of a nine-year relationship with a man who had a child from a previous relationship. She was 2 when we met, and over the years we became really close. I enjoy a good relationship with the child's mother, but I have zero interest in having the ex-boyfriend in my life. I've been struggling how to act toward the daughter. I moved a few hours away, and of course I miss her. But I don't want anything to do with the father, who cheated on me for most of the nine years and now has a new girlfriend. I don't think I can be part of the kid’s life without having him involved. I feel like a coward for avoiding her, but I just don't know what to do. I've remained Facebook friends with her, and she asked me to go to her play, but I chickened out. What should I do?

A: I wish you had gone to her play. It was a brave invitation on her part. It's probably the case that in the long run you will ease out of her life because of the end of your relationship with her father and physical distance that now exists. But it will be a good for this girl to know you truly did and do care for her, irrespective of what happened with her dad. She is growing up with a father who treats women badly, so she could use some more trustworthy adults in her life. Because you have a good relationship with her mother, use the mother as a go-between. Say you don't want to just disappear from Diana's life, but you want to avoid her father (which mom should understand). Maybe you can pick Diana up for an occasional outing, such as a trip to a museum or a baseball game. Keep in touch with her on Facebook. Let her know that even if you and her father are no longer together, she remains an important person to you.

Q. Sorry He's Not Sorry ...: My husband had an affair with a co-worker a while back. We're separated but in marriage counseling. The marriage counselor has stressed the importance of us caring about each other's feelings. Today my husband told me that he's not sorry that he had the affair, or that he remains friends with the co-worker. Our marriage had problems prior to the affair, and we've made tremendous progress in healing from those problems. The affair, however, has been the elephant in the room throughout counseling. He doesn't seem inclined to cheat again, but is there a point to trying to continue a relationship where I can't get an apology for such a transgression? The closest he's gotten has been "I'm sorry that you got upset" or "I'm sorry that you're jealous."

A: Sure, it's more expected that he would be wearing sackcloth and ashes and flogging himself for his violation of your vows. But if under the sackcloth he's spelled out "Ready to party!" with the ashes, you're better off knowing his true feelings. What he's said is very painful, but the therapist's office is a safe place to air difficult truths. He's not sorry he cheated, he's just sorry you found out. That seems to me clear evidence that he's not committed to your admittedly troubled marriage. Since he's been willing to be so blunt, you should be too. In your next session you need to raise the question you've asked here for both of you to ponder: "Why should I stay in this marriage when my husband isn't even sorry that he cheated on me?"

Emily Yoffe: Thanks, everyone. Talk to you next week.

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Emily Yoffe is a regular Slate contributor. She writes the Dear Prudence column. 

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