Hey, That’s My Dad You’re Talking About!

Posted June 1, 2018 5:52 p.m. EDT

Q: I’m 15, and my parents separated this year. I’ve always been close with my mom, but since the separation, she’s hard to take. My dad definitely behaved badly, but my mom spends all day on the phone repeating his bad behavior to anyone who will listen. When the phone calls are over, she starts complaining to me. It’s calmer when I stay with my dad. (We don’t talk about anything deep.) But my mom gets mad when I go there — like I’m being disloyal to her. Summer vacation is coming, and I’d rather spend more time with him. Would that be wrong? — ANONYMOUS

A: The truest thing I will tell anyone this week is that it’s not your job to take care of your mother, your father or their marriage. In fact, I’m upset that they’re not looking out for you! You’re still (partly) a kid, and you’ve been through a lot. What makes this complicated is that, at 15, you’re also old enough to see that your mom is deeply hurt and your dad behaved badly. But that doesn’t excuse their selfishness.

Stay with your dad for the time being. It’s a more neutral environment with fewer stressors for you. But don’t give up on your mom. You were close; and, sad but true, there are times we all fall down on the job. (This sounds like her time.) Keep in touch with her, but be prepared: She may lash out at you for your decision.

Say, “Mom, I know this separation has been hard on you. But I need a break from hearing about it. I can’t be your confidante about Dad.” This may be the jolt she needs to help her see the bigger picture — and your place in it. And if there are counselors or teachers at school you like, drop by to talk. They can help with a lot more than college admissions and trigonometry.

You Call This a Guest Room?

Q: My wife and I were invited by friends to stay at their beach house for the long weekend. When we arrived, the bedrooms were occupied. The wife showed us to the laundry room where she had set up two air mattresses. She acted as if this were normal. We stayed for one night (of the proposed three), then I begged my wife to let us leave. She relented, and I made up a story about not feeling well. Is it wrong for houseguests to assume that they will have a bed? — R.F.

A: Your question stinks of entitlement — which, sadly, I share 100 percent. I have heard of magical air mattresses and pullout sofas, but have yet to encounter a good night’s sleep on one. Unless we warn houseguests in advance, give them beds. (I’ll get back to you on futons, OK?) As for your white lie about “not feeling well,” I get it: There was no room at the inn. Why make your hosts offer to shuffle bedrooms by complaining? Someone was always going to end up on an air mattress.

Thanks for Nothing!

Q: I drove two friends of my tween daughter on a school field trip. Neither of them greeted me or thanked me on getting out of the car. I was raised with much higher expectations of courtesy to adults. But I wonder what’s reasonable these days? What are my obligations to teach other kids manners? — JULIE

A: When I was a boy, there seems to have been a loose consensus that any adult could correct any child — certainly in my neighborhood and car pools, but possibly in the whole wide world. As an adult, my experience of rude children is that parents seem more defensive (and protective) about other adults fine-tuning their kids’ behavior.

Next time, say, “Hi, Heather, Susie!” when the girls get into your car. This may encourage a greeting in reply. But I’d stop short of telling them they owe you thanks for the ride. Focus on your daughter instead. Help her become a beacon of politeness and send her into the world as an emissary for all tweens to emulate. (Also, get used to feeling like an unpaid Uber driver.)


Q: I am by no means a gym expert, but I have worked out long enough to exercise without injury. I see a man at my gym who is all enthusiasm and no technique. I am concerned he will injure himself the way he throws himself into his exercises. May I speak to him? — L.S.

A: No one likes a smarty-pants. Don’t make unsolicited corrections of a stranger’s technique at the gym. By your own admission, you are untrained, too. At my gym, I recall a free training session I received when I paid to join (and never went back). If your gym offers that perk, you could extol it to the man with lousy technique. Or if you can’t resist, tell the person at the front desk that a trainer may want to visit the human back-spasms-waiting-to-happen on the weight bench.