DEAR ABBY: I have a 10-year-old son. “Zack’s” a great kid, creative, funny and athletic. He has decided to grow his hair long. My husband and I figure it’s not illegal or immoral, so why fight it?
My family does not share our opinion. My mom and sister are cruel in their opposition to Zack growing his hair. They tell him he looks like a girl and call him names. There have been bribes, bullying and instances of utter insanity on their part, trying to make him cut it.
My sister’s son has been physically and verbally cruel to Zack, and she thinks it’s funny. She’s repeating a pattern from when we were children of being the “toughest” — if you can’t handle the abuse, you’re a “baby.”
I need to know how to stand up to these family members for my son. It’s a struggle for me to speak to them face-to-face, and they have called me a coward for sending email messages. My mother lives alone and sometimes has suicidal thoughts. Zack is stressed because he loves his grandma, but can’t deal with her harassment. Can you help? — GUILT-RIDDEN AND STRESSED IN ONTARIO, CANADA
DEAR GUILT-RIDDEN AND STRESSED: I’ll try. Somehow, for your son’s sake, you must find the courage to tell your mother and your sister to their faces that if they don’t knock it off immediately, they’ll be seeing a lot less of you and Zack.
The dynamics in your family are unhealthy — but you are an adult now and no longer have to tolerate it. Because Zack is athletic, enroll him in self-defense classes and make sure he knows he does not have to tolerate physical abuse from anyone and that includes his cousin.
As to “Grandma,” your son’s emotional health must take precedence over hers. I seriously doubt she’ll kill herself if she doesn’t have your son to make miserable, so don’t feel guilty about it.
DEAR ABBY: I was on a bus yesterday and a woman seated near me complained about how long the trip was taking for so long and so loudly that I ended up “catching” her negative energy. Because I couldn’t find a nice way to shut her up, I finally put on earphones and turned on my music.
When there is a toxic person in a public place, what is the best way to get them to stop spewing their hateful sewage onto everyone else? — ALLISON IN BROOKLYN
DEAR ALLISON: The most obvious way would be to put physical distance between you and the person, if that’s possible. If it isn’t, then the way you handled it was appropriate. In the interest of safety, I would not recommend confronting a possibly emotionally disturbed individual.
DEAR ABBY: My wife and I are retired and financially secure. Our three adult children shower us with costly gifts on Christmas, birthdays, and Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Most of them end up on our closet shelves.
How can we tell them that what we would really prefer is just a kind, handwritten (not store-bought) note with possibly a recent picture of them or our grandchildren enclosed? — DAD WHO HAS IT ALL
DEAR DAD: Why not say it the same way you expressed it to me? You are financially secure. Your closets are filled. You don’t have room for any more “things,” and this is the kind of gift you would prefer. If they disregard your wishes and give you more gifts you can’t use, you can always donate them to a needy family.