Monday, July 25, 2011

Problems With an Aging — and Angry — Parent

Posted By on Mon, Jul 25, 2011 at 9:12 AM

Dear Jack,

I am the youngest of three kids. My mom died several years ago and my dad has been living on his own. As the only child still living in Memphis, it was up to me to keep tabs on him, but that was pretty easy. He stayed active, involved in his church, had many friends, walked every day at the gym, worked in his garden. He was happy.

Then he injured his back while cutting some tree limbs. Early into the physical therapy after the surgery, he blew out his knee and had to have a knee replacement. He’s been in an assisted living place ever since.

The other day I went to see him. He begged me to take him home. He said he couldn’t live there anymore, he wanted to go home and die. When I refused, he ordered me out. Then my brother calls me and asks me why I’m forcing Dad to live in a place where they mistreat him. My sister calls and asks if she is going to have to come back and take care of Dad since I clearly seem incapable of handling it.

I tried to explain to them that Dad can’t even get out of bed, and his doctor says he isn’t ready to come home. He has not recovered and is not recovering because he isn’t trying to recover. He won’t do the basic physical therapy that would get him back on his feet.

Of course they don’t believe me, I think because I am the youngest and have a history of being nearly useless. I’m not that kid anymore, but they can’t see it. I don’t know what Dad has told them about me and about the place where he’s living, but it’s pretty clear he’s trying to guilt them into coming back to Memphis to take care of him. The things he has said to me have been hateful. He used to not be this way. He used to be a man I admired, but now he has turned into this shrieking creature who won’t even let me visit unless I promise to take him home. What can I do?

Unfortunate Son

Dear Whipping Boy,

Pain changes people. Your father is probably scared to death by what he has gone through and his inability to easily bounce back from injury, maybe for the first time in his life. He feels helpless, so he lashes out. Your brother and sister feel helpless to help him, so they lash out. All these blows land on you. You must bear them.

You’re going to have to be the grownup in the family now. Are you over the age of eighteen? Then he can’t order you from his room. Step number one to resolving this situation is to stop letting your dad and your older siblings push you around.

You have to be strong for your father. Do you have kids? Right now, your Dad is your child. He’s your responsibility and you have to be the one who makes him do what is good for him, no matter how much he whines or cries or complains. You can help ease his acceptance of your dominance (to be perfectly blunt) by making sure the grass gets cut and the garden weeded. The next time your sister calls, tell her, fine, come on home – the yard needs mowing.

At the same time, you can’t treat your dad like a child, because that’s what he wants. He’s hurting and he wants someone to make it go away. That’s why he wants to go home, to the place where he’s always felt safe and in control. He’s not in control in the hospital. He’s scared, and he’ll do whatever it takes to escape. The lashing out is not personal. He’s just human.

Finally, he needs a good talking to, almost an intervention. I’d try to get the help of one or two of his friends, maybe his pastor or priest, and his doctor and nurses. This intervention absolutely must be led by you – the friends, doctors, and priests are there for backup. Let it be known that he can go home when his doctor says he is ready, and not one day sooner. That means weeks of painful physical therapy, but his doctor can help him manage the pain. If he does the work, he’ll get to go home, but if he doesn’t, if he stays in that bed, he may never get out of it.

With physical therapy, he will start to regain control of his body and his situation. He’ll feel strong again, master of his own destiny. He’ll have something to work toward, a goal to motivate him. This will restore his confidence and ease his fears. In time, you’ll see him transform back into the man you used to know.

Got a problem? Jack Waggon will set you straight:

Monday, July 11, 2011

Should He Take His Old Job Back?

Posted By on Mon, Jul 11, 2011 at 8:57 AM

Dear Jack,

About seven weeks ago, I lost my job of sixteen years. Sixteen years of dedication and loyalty and service and support. Sixteen years of doing the right thing without having to be told to, working late hours while my family sat at home waiting for me, and always going the extra mile for the company. Gone. Worthless in today’s economy. I’ve never felt more betrayed.

I’ve been unemployed ever since. It’s been so long since I looked for a job, I almost didn’t even know how. It’s a different world out there now. I haven’t had much luck, to say the least.

Then a few days ago I finally got a call – from my old boss. A position has opened up and they immediately thought of me. I would be perfect for it because it’s almost exactly like what I was doing before. Could I come in for an interview?

I still have friends working at this company and this is what they told me – I’m not the first person to be offered their old job back. The company has a policy where if you leave and come back within six weeks, you get to keep your seniority and vacation accrual. Which is why they wait seven weeks to rehire people into their previous jobs – starting all over at new hire pay, 90-day probationary period before any benefits start, two weeks of vacation after the first year. Also, I’ll be doing my old job plus the job of someone who isn’t going to be hired back.

Having been betrayed and cast aside by this company, and then offered my old job back at less pay with fewer benefits, I am reluctant to return. But I badly need a job, not just for the money but also the health insurance. There just isn’t anything else out there for me. Should I wait, or go back?

Torn in Two

Dear Mr. Twain,

As someone famous once said, “I feel your pain.” I thought of him when I read your letter because, no matter what you think of his presidency, he did preside over a fantastic economy. Between 1994 and 2001, the longest I was ever out of work was two days. One time I found a job while driving home from the bastards who had just fired me. The proverbial pink slip was still in my pocket.

Like you say, it’s a different world out there today. One of the biggest differences is the number of places that will not consider you for a job if you are unemployed. It’s an automatic no call back.

So yes, you need to take that job if you hope to find a different one. You’re going to have to swallow your pride and bend over. But don’t let them welcome you home and suck you back into your old habits of company loyalty and dedication. Just do your job, punch that clock, and go home. You owe them nothing.

Meanwhile, renew your job search. As an employed person, you will be considered employable. Don’t get lazy or complacent. Don’t worry about leaving unfinished work on your desk as you take a long lunch to go to an interview. Keep hacking away at it until you find a better position. The bastards have done you the favor of making you a new hire, so becoming a new hire somewhere else won’t stop you from leaving.

Got a problem? Jack Waggon will set you straight:

Thursday, July 7, 2011

What Goes Around ...

Posted on Thu, Jul 7, 2011 at 8:40 AM

Dear Jack,

I recently found out that my longtime boyfriend has been cheating on me. I won’t go into the details of how I found out, because it’s rather pathetic. I know he’s not in love with her without even having to ask. She’s the proverbial low-hanging fruit that only a saint or a eunuch could pass up. I was, however, surprised how well I took it. Though I was angry, after about three days my anger just seemed to pass, leaving me shrugging.

Being somewhat attractive, I have never had a shortage of men expressing interest in me. Lately I have considered whether I should see what life has to offer. However, I have no interest at all in trying to do this on the sly. I’m not a very good liar and I hate the thought of sneaking around. I’ve been thinking about proposing an open relationship with my boyfriend. He can date who he likes, while I date who I like.

I still love him dearly, but if he’s going to raid the neighbor’s orchard, there’s no reason why I can’t take a walk through the vegetable patch. Right?


Hungry for Something Different

Dear Hungry,

I had a similar arrangement with one of my wives – I don’t remember which. One day I caught her taking flute lessons from a man who wasn’t a flutist. When I dared to protest, she proceeded to explain that what was good for the gander was good enough for the goose.

She had known all along about my marital infidelities and had thus engaged in a series of her own, but I was so self-absorbed and, frankly, clueless, I didn’t notice. If not for a power outage at work, I would never have found out what she was up to.

We agreed to give the swinger lifestyle a try, dating whomever we wanted, as long as we always put each other first – no bailing out on nights or weekends together to be with someone else. It worked wonderfully, until one day she said she wanted to go back to a monogamous marriage – only not with me.

If you want my advice, and obviously you do, I’d skip the open relationship. Nothing easy is worth doing. When you make the initial offer of an open relationship, he’s going to say yes. Hell yes, in fact, followed by a fist pump. Then he’s going to tell his friends. Then his friends are going to call you up, and everything will proceed to fall apart.

Be an honest sneak, or just leave him and find someone new. How many times a day do you have to remind yourself that you still love him? Maybe it’s time to move on.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

She Doesn't Want to Go to College

Posted By on Sun, Jun 26, 2011 at 8:08 AM

Dear Jack,

I’m 17 years old, just graduated high school near the top of my class. I was a student class officer and involved in several clubs and societies. I also scored well enough on my SAT to receive several generous scholarship offers, from which I selected a school to begin attending this fall. My parents are delighted. I’m not.

I don’t want to go to college.

Ever since my first lemonade stand, I’ve wanted to own a restaurant. It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. My parents have always treated my dream like some kind of childish fantasy, like when you say you want to be an astronaut. It’s always been assumed that I would go to college, just like they did, and then pursue a professional career, just like they have done. I never fought back against them, but as the day of my departure gets closer, my dread and fear are overwhelming me.

I don’t want to be a doctor or an engineer. I just want to cook. I’m already the best cook in my family. I do most of the cooking for my parents and younger brothers. I’ve cooked Thanksgiving for three dozen people. I’ve even catered a small wedding. It’s not even like work for me. It’s play, I love it so much.

I have made friends with a chef at this restaurant we go to all the time and he’s willing to hire me in his kitchen. He says I can start whenever I’m ready. How am I going to tell my parents? They’re going to have a heart attack if I don’t go to school. But I know if I go, my dream is going to die and I don’t want that to happen.

Can Stand the Heat

Dear Stand,

So don’t let it happen.

I’m tempted to tell you to tell your parents to piss off, but as a parent, I can’t do that. There is a rather small window of opportunity for the best scholarships. When you drop the big news, all your parents will see is how they’ll end up footing the entire bill for your college after you quit the restaurant three months down the road. Working in an actual restaurant is nothing like cooking for your family. The hours are long and late with no weekends off, and more often than not you end up toiling under some tyrant who treats you like a slave but expects you to perform like an artist. The washout rate is high.

However, the window of opportunity to pursue your dream is equally small. If you put it off, before you know it you’re saddled with debt and a couple of kids and you can’t afford to chuck it all in and start at the bottom bussing tables.

The obvious solution is culinary school, but I suspect your parents wouldn’t see that as an acceptable exchange for your college scholarship. So what I’m going to do is offer you a compromise. Suck it up and go to college. Be a business major, get a glimpse of what you’ll face from the ownership side of the restaurant business. Owning a restaurant isn’t all about cooking. You also have to run the place, deal with employees, pay the bills and make sure the lights stay on and the toilets keep flushing. Meanwhile, get your chef friend to write a letter of recommendation so you can get a kitchen job in a good restaurant in the town where you go to school. Work those long, late hours while keeping your grades up, forge your spirit in the ovens of a busy restaurant. If you can survive and thrive in that environment, doors will open for you. Hold yourself in readiness to take the plunge.

Most importantly, you will pursue your dream without burning the bridge to your parents. Think of it as part of your education, like a double-major. You get to cook and learn the business while they get to comfort themselves with the idea that you will get a respectable job one day. Before you know it, they’ll be sitting at one of your tables, looking at that restaurant entrepreneur magazine cover with your picture on it, wondering how it all happened. Got a problem? Jack Waggon will set you straight:

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Not Into Boys' Life

Posted By on Sat, Jun 18, 2011 at 8:34 PM

Dear Jack,

My male coworkers are constantly asking me to join them after work and on weekends. One guy wants me on his softball team, another wants to take me golfing. Thursday night it's the movies together, Friday afternoon at 5:05 they're sitting in the bar across the street. There's the Grizz and Tigers games, Redbird games, and hey let's all head up to Nashville a catch the Titans, or we're all meeting at such and such to watch the playoffs. Then there's the never-ending saga of their Twitter and Facebook posts and their fantasy league picks and results.

These guys have been working together forever and they're all best buds in the most obnoxiously masculine way. Some are single, some dating, one is married, but they spend more time together than with their girlfriends/wives.

When I first started working here, I accepted their invitations in order to better merge with the team, but it got old quick. I'm just not that into sports or pretty much anything else that binds together their bro-hood. I have a couple of close friends and don't really want any new people in my life. I would rather go to a wine-tasting than Hooters. I prefer my own company or the company of an intelligent, beautiful woman to a bunch of 12-packs, high-fives, and booyahs.

The last time I did anything with them was the final Grizzlies home game. I finally started saying no. The other day, one of them jokingly (but not really) asked if I was gay. How can I let them know that, although I enjoy working together, I don't care to spend my free time with them, without coming off as an effete snob?

Bored with Men

Dear BM

Have you tried interesting them in what you enjoy? I know, I know guys like that are about as likely to understand the nuances of a particular wine as you are to enjoy the beauty of well-timed fart in a public place.

If you can show them where your interests lie, and thus that you and they have almost nothing in common, they might leave you alone. You don't even have to invite them along, just talk about what you're doing this weekend with as much enthusiasm as they do when discussing sports. The most important thing in your position is to maintain their respect without losing your self-respect. If you hide, dodge, and lie, you'll come across as embarrassed and ashamed of your "somewhat less-than-manly" extracurricular activities.

You can be a part of the team without having to go home with the players. That will be a new concept for them. You'll probably take a quite a bit of ribbing at first, but if you don't back down, hopefully they'll learn to accept and even value your differences.

Have you considered the possibility one or more of them is sweet on you?

Got a problem? Jack Waggon can set you straight:

Friday, June 10, 2011

He Went From Nudist to Exhibitionist ...

Posted By on Fri, Jun 10, 2011 at 10:15 AM

Dear Jack,

When is a nudist not a nudist? When he is an exhibitionist. When “Adam” and I first met, we were both enthusiastic naturalists. Our relationship flourished because we could share in this passion. We went on trips to nude beaches and naturalist camps whenever and wherever we could, including some really wonderful, dream vacations to faraway places. Under those beautiful, romantic tropical conditions it was almost impossible not to fall hopelessly in love.

I honestly think Adam was a true nudist back then, but recently he has become more and more the exhibitionist. It began with him slipping out of the house into the backyard late at night. Then it moved to the front porch. We live in a bungalow with a privacy fence and a deep front porch on a dark street, so I could live with that and even sometimes join him after a few drinks to get my courage up. It was still fun. Then it moved on to sex on the front porch, which was sometimes fun. And then to sex in even more public areas, even during the day, even when doing so is extremely risky. It is no longer any fun at all. I’m scared to death of getting caught, but he gets so frustrated when I complain. He says I’ve lost my free spirit. There have been too many close calls, but every time we’re nearly caught, he seems to want to go even farther the next time. How am I going to face my parents and my employees if I end up getting caught and going to jail?

I know I helped create this monster by not putting a stop to it before it went too far. How can I get back to where we were without losing him?

Eventual Jailbird

Dear Eve,

How can I possibly help you when you’re being so vague? I must have details. I cannot pontificate without data, including future times and locations. I kid.

I wonder if you can put the cork back in this bottle of champagne. I also wonder if you could have stopped it from popping in the first place. If his obsession is as strong as you suggest, he was going to find ways to express it — with or without you. All you can do now is tell him how you feel, as straightforwardly and honestly as you can. Talk to him about your fears. You haven’t lost your free spirit, but you do have people who will lose respect for you if they find out what he’s making you do. Growing up and taking on responsibility is a balancing act between who you want to be and who you have to be.

If he won’t listen and continues his evil ways, maybe a night in jail will finally give him the thrill he’s seeking. You are under no obligation to join him in the joint, but you might have to bail him out. If nothing else, it will give you two something to talk about when you’re too old to be arrested.

Got a problem? Jack Waggon will set you straight:

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Jack Advises a Man With a Disinterested Lover

Posted By on Sat, May 28, 2011 at 10:32 PM

Dear Jack,

My girlfriend and I have been together almost four years. Everyone says we are perfect for each other, and we are. She is the best friend I’ve ever had. But over the last few months she appears to have lost all interest in sex. Our sexual relationship has never been spectacular, not even in the beginning, but it has always been pretty good. Neither one of us are particularly adventurous in bed. I have been faithful to her since the beginning, and as far as I know she has been faithful, too.

Nothing else has changed in our relationship – just the sex. She seems to have some excuse every time I try to get intimate, while she hasn’t tried to initiate sex since I don’t know when. I’ve tried to talk to her about it, but she doesn’t want to talk. She says nothing is wrong, but clearly something is. Meanwhile, my boiler has been steadily building pressure. It’s getting more and more difficult not to blow my top. I’ve spent a few nights on the couch, sitting up most of the night watching television and trying not to think about it. But it’s getting to the point where it’s all I think about, and eventually that will change the other parts of our relationship.

I want to stay faithful, but how can I under these conditions?

Boiling Over

Dear Over,

I could make some jokes about experiencing the joys of marriage without the expense of a wedding and a divorce, but I won’t. I commend you for your desire to stay faithful and your success so far. Unfortunately, I’m afraid you’re in a situation that is only going to get more difficult.

I’m not a doctor, though I was once pre-med, so my medical judgment is about as trustworthy as my judgment of race horses. But I’m going to guess your girlfriend has issues that can only be worked out with her doctor. A drastic decrease in libido could indicate a medical problem, or it might be a symptom of depression, or who knows what. Something may have happened that she can’t talk to you about, for whatever reason.

If she won’t talk to you, you need to do your best to get her to talk to someone. If she doesn’t already have a therapist, suggest she talk to her gynecologist. I suspect you’re going to have a difficult time getting her to do even that, if she is so insistent that nothing is wrong. You need to convince her, somehow, that it is. My first wife used to complain about my snoring, but I always denied that I snored, until she made a video tape of my snoring and showed it to me. (Then she sent it to America's Funniest Videos.)

Maybe if you mark on a calendar each time the two of you had sex over the last six months, and show her the days and/or weeks that passed between moments of intimacy, that will convince her. If not, you’re going to have to make the even more difficult decision of whether to talk to a female close to her, like a friend or sister. Hearing it from them might shock her into realizing how concerned you are. Then again, it might strike her as an unforgivable betrayal on your part, so you need to tread carefully.

Whatever happens, you will need to be as patient and understanding as you can. No matter how angry you may feel, she isn’t doing this on purpose. She isn’t trying to hurt you. She needs help, and you need to help her find it. And last of all, trust in the healing power of time. Things won’t always be this way. Don’t do anything you know you’ll regret. Even the fierce urgency of Sex Now Dammit! will pass.

Got a problem? Jack Waggon will set you straight:

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Jack Doubles Down

Posted By on Sun, May 22, 2011 at 9:05 AM

Dear Jack,

I married somewhat late in life and now am the father of two beautiful young children. My problem is that everywhere I go, people think my kids are my grandchildren. How do I answer people who ask me, “Are these your grandkids?” I don’t think I look that old.

— Not That Old

Dear AARP Member,

I had a beautiful old aunt whose eye doctor recommended she have cataract surgery. Although she thought she could see perfectly well, she finally acquiesced. After the surgery, she came home and looked at herself in the mirror. “Oh my God!” she cried in horror. “And here I thought I’d been aging gracefully.”

Your answer to those people should be, “They’re my kids.” Believe me, they will feel horrible for asking, and revenge is sweet. You can’t be young forever. Don’t mourn the passing of years, and for God’s sake don’t get some horrible dye job or, worse, plastic surgery. Embrace life and move on.

You might also want to have your eyes checked. A touch of color wouldn’t hurt, either.

Dear Jack,

There is a person from high school that I haven’t seen in about five years. I thought I had gotten rid of him. In tenth grade, we were the best of friends, then he started dating this girl and I hardly saw him for about eight months. At first I was mad, but then I started hanging out with other people and realized that he was actually kind of an emotional parasite.

Then I met a girl and we started dating. My old "friend" broke up with his girlfriend and wanted to hang out with me again, but I had a whole new set of friends who didn’t like him, and I didn’t really like him very much either. When he was dating that girl, he had no time for me, but when I was seeing someone, he expected me to make time for him, or worse, let him come with us on our dates.

After graduation we grew even further apart. It’s been five years now, and I thought I was rid of him. Then he sent me a Facebook request. What should I do?

—Moved On

Dear MO, Ignore it. Or reject it. You don’t want him in your life now? Don’t open the door. Maybe you will hurt his feelings, but at this point, who cares?

Got a problem? Jack Waggon will set you straight:

Sunday, May 15, 2011

She's Got "Kids" Who Mooch

Posted By on Sun, May 15, 2011 at 7:54 PM

Dear Jack,

Although I am not old, I have two grown children. One is married, one is in (for her) a long term relationship of a little over seven months.

My problem is that anytime my spouse and I try to do anything, like go on vacation or even just go out for dinner and a show, my children get mad if I don't invite them along. I wouldn't mind inviting them, in fact I welcome their company, except that they expect me to pay for everything for them and their partners/spouses: everything from picking up the tab at dinner to airline and cruise tickets. I find myself sneaking around or making up stories to explain my absences. I am thankful that they call every day, as I have friends who rarely hear from their kids at all, but sometimes I am a little envious and would prefer not so much attention.

You have grown kids. Do yours do this to you? What can I do to make them stop?

Tired of Sneaking Around

Dear Sneak,

I decided to use your letter not because I expect to be able to help you with your problem, but as a warning to all young parents out there.

Your kids do this to you for one rather simple reason: because you let them. I suspect they ruled your house from an early age, because it was just easier to give in and let them have their way, wasn't it? I would also bet good money that you are divorced from their other parent and spent their teenage years competing with your ex for the affections of your children, most likely by buying them whatever they wanted.

Spoiled brat kids grow up to be spoiled brat adults. But I might be able to help you, if you have the spine to follow my advice. What you have to do is this: Tell your kids to piss off. Let them get mad at you. Tell them they are welcome to come along, but only when you want them there, and if they come, they have to pay their own way. The gravy train has reached the end of the line. Time for everyone grow up.

But you already knew this, didn't you?

Got a problem? Jack Waggon will set you straight:

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Jack Advises a Grossed-Out Worker

Posted By on Sun, May 8, 2011 at 9:13 PM

Dear Jack,

At work, I share an open cubicle space with three other people. We work together as a team on many projects, and for the most part we get along fine and work successfully without much conflict. They are all good people and we’ve been together for several years.

However, there’s one woman on our team who does something that drives me nuts. She eats like a horse. I don’t mean she eats a lot, or that she eats all the time. She doesn’t. She rarely snacks at her desk. But when she does, she sounds like a horse – slobbery, sucking, smacking, lip-popping, jaw-chopping disgusting. Oh, and throw in grunting, eyerolling, and commenting about the deliciousness of whatever she’s got in her mouth.

I live in dread of her snacking moments. I’ve taken lollipops off her desk when she wasn’t looking. Whenever someone offers her a stick of gum, I just want to slap them. I can’t imagine what it must be like for her family, having to sit at the table and listen to her devour a full meal. The sight of an apple in her hand makes me want to hang myself.

After putting up with this for all these years, I finally got up the nerve to ask my other team members if she bothers them. They said they hadn’t noticed. I don’t know how they couldn’t notice. I suspect they’re lying in order to keep the peace.

Is it just me? Am I overly sensitive? Should I say something to her, or should I just look for a new job?

About to Ralph

Dear Ralph,

There is no ‘I’ in ‘team.’ But ‘team’ backwards is ‘meat.’ Which is to say, office clichés make me want to hang myself.

Your need to work together probable prohibits you from transferring to another desk, or preferably another building, much less telecommuting. No way you can say something to her without shattering the esprit de corporations and generally making everyone else miserable. So I’d say you’re up the office creek without a mouse-pad. Those Bose noise-eliminating headphones are expensive, but I suspect you’d pay almost any price to escape the guttural symphony of her feeding.

Rest assured, it is not just you. As a kid, I hated having to mind my manners at the table, but I have since learned that manners are an under-appreciated social skill necessary for the prevention of needless effusion of blood. Whenever I see the friends of my children moil over pizzas like a pride of lions, cracking the bones of the crusts with their teeth, their cheeks blood red with pizza sauce up to their ears, I thank my sainted mother for smacking my hand and telling me to sit up.

Perhaps I can offer an alternative to resignation and suicide. In the gag-inducing parlance of the office, this is not a problem, it’s an opportunity. Like most office workers, I suspect you don’t get enough exercise. Whenever the horsewoman commences to chomping on an apple, why not take a break, stretch your legs, do some stairs, go outside for a bit of real air and natural sunlight? You’ll feel better, and one day you might even find yourself bringing her suckers instead of stealing them.

Got a problem? Jack Waggon will set you straight:

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Jack Advises a Prodigal Son

Posted By on Sun, May 1, 2011 at 10:13 PM

Dear Jack,

About a month ago, I was laid off, and not long after that a tree wrecked my place during one of the storms. I had to move back in with my parents.

I moved out when I was 18, right after I graduated high school, because I couldn't wait to get away from my parents. It wasn't easy. I lived in a bunch of really crappy apartments and went though about a hundred lazy, slobby, worthless, crazy, thieving, and sometimes psychotic roommates. I worked two and sometimes three jobs just to make rent. My parents never tried to help me out, and I wouldn't have taken their help if they had offered it. We barely spoke for about three years.

Lately things have been getting almost okay. I had a stable group of two roommates in a decent rental house in a pretty good neighborhood. My relationship with my parents was getting better - you could almost call it normal. I thought I had won their respect. They never expected me to amount to anything. My mom recently told me that she thought every day I'd call begging to come back home.

That day finally came, but not through any fault or failure of my own. They welcomed me back and said I could stay as long as I needed. I moved into my old room and stored my stuff in their garage.

It wasn't three days before it was like nothing had changed. My dad has started treating me like I am 17 again, laying down rules that I have to follow as long as I'm living under his roof. He asks me three or four times a day if I've found a job and interrogates me on where I've applied. My mom is harassing me about cleaning my room and helping out around the house. I'm paying rent, by the way, but it doesn't matter. I paid rent when I was 17, too.

My roommates have found a place to live and have replaced me with a new roommate. I don't blame them, because they still have jobs. I'm looking, but there isn't anything out there like what I was doing before, certainly not making the kind of money I was making. I've had a few job offers, but the pay is barely more than I'm getting from unemployment. Today my dad asked me how much longer I plan to stay. He wants his garage back. I'd love to leave, today, but I've got nowhere else to go. Why can't they just leave me alone and give me a chance?


Dear Frustrated,

Parents sometimes see their adult children, not as adults, but as the same helpless little brats too stupid to pull their pants on the right way, because most of the time that's exactly what you are. Not all of us are strong enough to accept our obsolescence in the lives of our children, so the only way we can keep feeling needed is to keep treating you like a child.

You sound like you once had the backbone to stand up to them, walk out the door, and make your own way in the world, once upon a time. You did it once. Do it again. You're older and smarter now, so you won't make quite as many mistakes.

Plenty of people have to start over in life, often from scratch. I've done it six times that I can recall. It isn't fair, but life isn't fair. You may not be able to go back to where you were right away, no matter how much time your parents give you to get back on your feet. You might have to start all over, working low wage jobs and living in crappy apartments with psycho roommates. But isn't that better than having to kiss the ass of the man who wants his garage back more than his son?

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Sunday, April 24, 2011

Jack Says the American Dream is Over

Posted By on Sun, Apr 24, 2011 at 9:18 PM

Dear Jack,

I’m tired. Tired of getting screwed by my employers. Tired of receiving excuses instead of raises. Tired of being afraid all the time of getting laid off. People say, if you’re not happy where you’re working, find a different job. I have. It’s the same everywhere you go. There’s no money in the budget for raises, yet the bosses and the owners are buying second houses and fancy cars and taking expensive vacations. They don’t even try to hide it anymore.

It doesn’t help when I compare myself to my father and where he was when he was at my age. I’ve got a college degree. He had a high school diploma. I’ve worked for 11 different companies. He worked for the same company from the age of 20 until the day he retired – at 55. I’m making exactly the same gross salary that he was when he was my age, but that was 25 years ago, and his health insurance was free. There’s no way on Earth I’m retiring when I’m 55.

I’m sick of being lied to. The American Dream died for my generation. The other day a friend of mine said he was thinking about moving to the beach and being totally useless for the rest of his life, because he’s just as tired as I am.

--Sick of It All

Dear Sicko,

What, you wrote just to complain? This is an advice column, not the agony column.

Welcome to the real world, pal. Did you just get off the boat? The American Dream’s murdered corpse had rotted to bones in the ditch long before your generation learned to ride on two wheels. It was never much of a dream anyway. For a few years, a man with a high school diploma could get ahead in the world. Before that, people worked until they died.

So yes, you’ve been lied to. The world sold you a bill of goods. So what are you going to do? You can move to Jamaica and live off the money you make braiding people’s hair. You can try out for American Idol. You can play Powerball and hope for the best. You may already be a winner!

You can swallow it and get along as best you can. This is what most people are doing today. No, you’re not going to retire at 55, and when you do retire at 67 or 70 or whenever the politicians say you can, you’ll have to live off what you’ve saved or mooch off your kids, because the same politicians who set the retirement age will have robbed Social Security of every penny in order to buy more yachts for billionaires.

You can sell your soul and become one of the bosses, if second homes and fancy cars are what you really want out of life. Those things are nice, but they can be taken away – usually by ex-wives.

Or you can make your own world. Stop working for The Man and become The Man. Only, be a better The Man than the liars you’ve known all your life. It’s not about becoming a tycoon. Just try to maintain. Take care of the people who work for you. You’ll work harder than you ever will working for someone else, and you’ll never be a billionaire and you won’t be able to retire early, but at least you will have done some good. And that’s all we can really ask for – the chance to do some good.

Got a problem? Let Jack Waggon set you straight:

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Don't Drop Out. Tune In.

Posted By on Sun, Apr 17, 2011 at 5:19 PM

Dear Jack,

Here it is, the middle of April already, and I haven’t been to more than five classes since February. I’m a sophomore at a local university, and my major is in a field that I love, but I can’t seem to bring myself to go to school.

It didn’t used to always be this way. My first semester as a freshman, I finished with all As. Second semester wasn’t any harder, but I slacked off and got a C in one class. I took a couple of summer classes, including the one I got a C in, and I finished with an A in both classes, but fall semester was horrible. I skipped a couple of classes, then caught up, then skipped a few more. The semester went so fast and it was finals week before I knew it. I ended up with three Cs and an F. That was the first time in my life I’ve ever made a C, much less an F. My parents went nuts when they saw my grades.

I’m not stupid. I’ve always done well in school, though I wasn’t valedictorian or anything. School has always been easy for me. My IQ is near genius level. Yet now I’ve got Fs in every class except one.

I don’t know what’s wrong with me. Monday, I drove to school and then just sat in my car rather than go to class. Maybe I’m afraid to face my teachers after skipping so many classes. I just don’t know, and I don’t know what to do.

--Flunking Out

Dear Flunkie,

Wouldn’t it be a better world if all us supra-geniuses didn’t have to waste all those years going to college? Why won’t they let us just take the tests and get our diploma?

A long time ago in a university far far away, I had a physics class in which I made an A on every test including the final, yet when I checked the professor’s door for my grades, I had an F for the semester. I inquired as to why (that’s putting it mildly). He said I hadn’t turned in a single piece of homework. Not one. Frankly, he wasn’t sure how I managed to make A’s on all the tests without doing any of the homework. He didn’t accuse me of cheating, but he suspected it – enough to give me an F.

However, he said that if I would do all the homework before the end of the semester (btw, that was two days away), he would give me a B. So I did all of it – an entire semester’s worth – and I got my grade.

You need to go back to school today. Right now. Go to your professors and explain what’s been going on, even if you don’t know why. They hear sob stories all the time, but sob stories work. I know a woman whose success in college is due entirely to her sob stories, as she never finished an assignment on time. Your professors don’t want to fail you, and they’ll probably give you a chance to make up your work and salvage the semester to some extent. Maybe not all of them, but even one or two Cs is better than all Fs. And you’ll have the satisfaction of having tried, rather than just giving up.

You also need to talk to a doctor. If you don’t have insurance, see if there isn’t a campus clinic or something along those lines. My guess is you have attention deficit issues. I do not make this guess lightly, because I also have this problem. Just ask my editors.

Got a problem? Let Jack Waggon set you straight:

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Jack Advises a Ticked-Off Ex-wife

Posted By on Sun, Apr 10, 2011 at 8:25 PM

Dear Jack,

The other day was my son's birthday party. As usual, my ex-husband arrived ridiculously late with his newest girlfriend in tow. This girl said she was old enough to drink, but I have my doubts.

He's consistently late (when he comes at all) to recitals, school programs, and sporting events, and he always shows up with his latest acquisition on his arm. Every year, his girlfriends seem to get younger. Pretty soon he'll be dating women younger than his own children. It's so bad, even the kids are disgusted with him – except my son, of course, who thinks Dad's dates are hot.

He's always doing crap like this and I'm sick of it. What can I do to him to make him stop?

--Sick of the Party Pooper

Dear Sick,

Were we ever married? Never mind, I know it's not me, because my girlfriends stopped getting younger years ago.

If you're looking for some kind of magical legal advice that will put a stop to his disruptive activities, some way to hit him in the wallet or drag him into court, I can't help you. Though I'm not a lawyer, I have paid for second homes for a few lawyers in my day. And having been on the business end of a drawn and loaded legal opinion more often than I care to remember, I can say that your options in this situation are probably pretty few.

So why not consider the human side of this? Try to see him, not as your ex-husband, but as a human being. He's clearly being disruptive, and he clearly enjoys being disruptive. Why? Because it so thoroughly pisses you off. Your anger isn't just a form of entertainment, it's his way of getting you to pay attention to him. Now ask yourself why your ex-husband is trying so desperately to get your attention.

That was a fun thought experiment, wasn't it? I'll wait until you finish screaming. Please, put down the scissors.

He will stop being disruptive when his disruptive activities no longer satisfy his need to piss you off. You can't change him. You can only change yourself. So stop letting him piss you off. You need to commit to six months of being obnoxiously pleasant and accommodating. You have to show him that his antics don't affect you at all. Instead of rolling your eyes at his latest bit of eye candy, welcome her and pull her off his arm. She is both his shield and his sword, so rob him of his power to ruin your life by being bigger and better than he is. He'll either grow up or go away.

Another option is to give him positive attention away from the kids instead of negative attention in front of the kids. You've been divorced a while now. Maybe it's time to stop being mortal enemies. But tread carefully, for down that path may lurk remarriage. It's happened before, though thankfully never to me.

Got a problem? Let Jack Waggon set you straight:

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Jack Advises a Guilt-Ridden Daughter-in-Law

Posted By on Sun, Apr 3, 2011 at 9:06 PM

Dear Jack,

My father-in-law and I have never got along. When my husband and I first starting dating, his father accused me of corrupting his son. He didn't support our marriage. When we got together for family events, he hardly ever spoke to me, which suited me fine.

When we started having kids, I never tried to prevent them from knowing their grandfather, even though he had never been anything other than a horrible father to his own children. Yet he always had something to say about the way we were raising them, where they went to school, etc. One time he tried to sign them up for private school, even offered to pay for it. That was the one time I put my foot down because I knew, from past experience, that he would pay for maybe the first six months and then tells us it was time we started paying. We had a huge fight about it.

Recently, Grandpa died quite suddenly. My husband was shattered. My kids are truly grieving because they loved their grandfather. I feel like a monster. His own kids always said they hated him, but at the funeral they acted like he was some kind of saint they would miss for the rest of their lives. I feel like I never really knew the man. Maybe if I had tried harder, been more patient, we might have had a more peaceful relationship and could have actually been friends. I just feel so guilty now that he's no longer with us, especially about all the horrible things I said about him.

Guilty in Germantown

Dear GiG,

My father was a genuine bastard, probably the worst person you could ever meet. My hate for him made me who I am today. I made a vow at a very early age that I would never be like him and spent a good part of my life steering my course away from his star.

He lived long enough to be a crotchety old know-it-all without a good thing to say about anyone except himself. When he accidentally electrocuted himself (he refused to hire a contractor to do some work in his house because he could do the work better than any overpaid electrician), do you think I grieved? Just because there are good fathers in the world doesn't mean all fathers are good. Some we are better off without.

I don't know why dying turns bastards into saints, but this is common to our culture. Maybe it's superstition – a fear of speaking ill of the dead. Maybe it's just good manners to extol their redeeming qualities, even if you have to make them up. Nobody wants to go to a funeral and listen to stories about all the people the stiff hurt in the years he cursed this earth with his presence. It's just not done.

Don't feel guilty because you didn't know he was about to die. I doubt, had you known, that it would have made any difference. All you can do is mind your manners and go through the polite motions of grief. Find something nice to say about him – he loved his grandchildren – and repeat it at appropriate moments. Those who really are grieving will appreciate it.

I suspect the real source of your guilt is your lack of grief. You know you're supposed to think better about the dead, but in your heart you really don't. If you're like me, you probably feel profound relief. Don't beat yourself up about this. You're not a monster. You're only human. Life goes on.

Got a problem? Jack Waggon can set you straight:

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