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Careless son-in-law leaves trail of chaos in his wake

Brownwood Bulletin
Jeanne Phillips

DEAR ABBY: My son-in-law "Kirk" has issues with closing doors, kitchen cabinets and refrigerator doors. Three times my daughter has had to throw out food because it spoiled. He doesn't close cereal boxes, bags of candy or chips, either.

My husband and I tolerated Kirk's behavior until a recent visit to our home. He again left the door to our garage open, where our inside cat could have escaped. He was rough when opening our recliner, and he also didn't turn the cap all the way down on the seltzer bottle, but I know better than to shake the bottle before checking the cap because I once spilled orange juice everywhere after he failed to tighten the cap.

My daughter says she has known Kirk for 15 years, and he isn't going to change. She says he doesn't focus on the task at hand but is thinking about something else. I suppose she has given up and continually goes behind him to fasten things.

My husband and I feel he doesn't respect our home when he behaves this way. After my daughter spoke to Kirk after his last visit, she has brought our granddaughter over twice, but he stayed home. I feel like both of them think we are making much ado about nothing. -- OPEN-AND-SHUT CASE IN VIRGINIA

DEAR OPEN-AND-SHUT: Has your daughter or son-in-law actually said that to you? You were not wrong to speak up, and it's not much ado about nothing. It is consideration for the property of others. You should have drawn the line after the first time your immature and inconsiderate son-in-law left the garage door open. (Was he stoned during those visits? Distracted by his cellphone?) Address the matter directly with your son-in-law, and consider seeing them at their house instead of yours.

DEAR ABBY: My mom insists on giving my oldest child, "Jim," less money than the other grandchildren because he's my stepson. Jim is 19, and I am the only mother he has ever known since he was 2 1/2. I'm still married to his father, and Jim is part of the family.

I realized what she was doing only last Christmas, when she gave Jimmy $100 and the other 12 grandkids $500 each. (This included my two younger children.) When I asked her why, she couldn't give me a straight answer. I have always regarded Jim as my own and thought she felt the same way. Now I'm no longer sure she's going to leave him an inheritance when she's gone, and I feel crummy about the entire situation. -- LOST IN THE SOUTH

DEAR LOST: I don't blame you for feeling crummy because this is a sad situation. Unfortunately, in some -- not all -- families this happens. Bear in mind the money your mother is gifting is hers to do with as she wishes, and there is nothing you can do to force her to behave more charitably toward Jim. However, you and your husband might consider equalizing it in your own estate plans when the time comes. Have the two of you already talked with an attorney about wills, advance directives, etc.? If you haven't, now may be the time to discuss the subject.

DEAR ABBY: I'm 35 and have been a widower for almost five years. I began dating about two years ago.

In my adventures of dating I have encountered a lot of divorced moms. I met someone very special (I'll call her Rose) a year and a half ago. She's great. We share lots of laughs and goals, but she does something that drives me crazy. She's constantly showing me Facebook memories/photos of her daughter when she was young.

I never got the chance to have children and rarely bring up my past because I feel that's behind me. Rose's ex is "toxic," according to her, and from what I've witnessed, he's pretty bad.

I see her daughter two weeks out of the month. The girl is very spoiled and entitled, and when she's not around, Rose keeps shoving old photos of her in my face and asking, "Isn't she so cute?"

I can't relate, and I don't care for her daughter. Does that make me a jerk? I feel those old photos of her daughter are really her memories with her ex, and it would be just as bad if I showed photos of my late wife and asked, "Isn't she beautiful?" Am I wrong? -- UNPARENT OUT WEST

DEAR UNPARENT: If you plan to continue a relationship with Rose, you are going to have to deal with your feelings about her daughter, some of which may be off base. It is important that you communicate to her the connection you make when you see those photos. The quickest way to work this through would be couples counseling.

If your description of the girl is accurate, then realize that as long as she's a minor, she will be a presence in your household. If you and her mother can't figure out a workable arrangement, you shouldn't waste any more of Rose's time or yours.

DEAR ABBY: "Ron," the guy my best friend, "Stella," is seeing, is a manipulator. My mother was a pro at manipulating and gaslighting, something I recognized after going to therapy as an adult. I know it when I see it.

A month ago, I told Stella what I have observed, and it has escalated to the point that I told her I no longer want to be around him. Ron, who is 40, throws tantrums and threatens to leave when he doesn't get what he wants.

The last time I saw him was at a dinner Stella hosted. I left early after he threw another tantrum. Ron texted me an "apology" that did not address his behavior that night, but something else that happened a week ago. He then tried to guilt-trip me by saying my walking out hurt our friends and that he would stop hanging around because he didn't want them to be hurt like that.

I haven't responded to Ron's "apology" and haven't seen him since. I have seen Stella for lunch once since the incident. Must I accept his apology so everything goes back to how it was, or not see my friend until he is out of her life? -- NOT A FAN OF HIM

DEAR NOT A FAN: You don't "have" to accept Ron's apology any more than you have to accept any other unappetizing "gift" that is offered. But don't stop seeing Stella. From what you have written, she needs a levelheaded friend right now. If Ron acts up again in your presence, leave if he makes you uncomfortable. And while you're at it, tell Stella the reason and ask -- woman to woman -- why she tolerates his childish threats.

DEAR ABBY: My husband and I have been together since we were 21, and he has always had a distant relationship with his parents. I encouraged him during the first few years of our marriage to call them and visit. I stopped doing that after his mom and I had some choice words.

If he wants a relationship with them, that is up to him. The problem is, when she tries to call and text with typically no response from him, she reaches out to me. We have two daughters, so I don't mind sharing with her how they are doing. What I object to is her occasionally asking me to pass on messages to my husband. I'm a working mom of two, and I don't have time to be anyone else's secretary. The icing on the cake came when she informed me that the family dog they'd had for 15 years passed away and asked me to tell him. I told her what time he could be reached, but instead of taking my suggestion, she asked me again. I ended up telling him.

It wasn't my responsibility to do that, and I'm irritated with myself that I can't be frank about how she and his dad need to contact their son. Any suggestions would be helpful. -- FINDING A BACKBONE IN PENNSYLVANIA

DEAR FINDING: It may take courage, but the next time your mother-in-law tries to make you her messenger, tell her that what she's asking makes you uncomfortable and that she needs to convey the information herself -- by either texting her son or emailing. If, after that, she says she can't get through to him, point out that you no longer want to be in the middle. Period. And let your husband know what you've done.

Will this endear you to her? Definitely not. But the individuals who need to heal the relationship between your husband's parents and their son are the three of them, not you.

DEAR ABBY: My parents met when they were 14. They married at 18, raised four boys and had an incredible marriage. When Mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, they carried on as best they could with Dad providing her care. Sadly, Dad was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, so they moved in with me, and I quit working to care for them. Dad died three months later. Obviously, Mom was devastated in addition to being confused about why Dad was no longer there.

Mom and I often took walks through my neighborhood, and at one house in particular she would comment on the pretty flowers in the yard and how she and Dad enjoyed planting flowers every year. No matter how agitated or upset she was, seeing that neighbor's yard would cheer her up and bring back fond memories for her. Mom died a few years later.

I wrote a note to the person who lived at the property -- whom I never had met -- telling her how much joy her flowers had brought to Mom and thanking her for making my mother's final days brighter. Abby, I am writing now to share that even in the darkest times, a little beauty can make a world of difference. -- GRATEFUL SON IN ARIZONA

DEAR GRATEFUL SON: What you have written is true. Music can have the same effect on patients with Alzheimer's disease. My mother had Alzheimer's for many years, and my brother and I provided her with music from her era -- Pearl Bailey, the Andrews Sisters, etc. -- to help her pass the time. Toward the end, singing a song from her youth to her brought her back to me for a precious moment, and it, too, made a world of difference. Thank you for your letter and for taking me on my own trip down memory lane.