Ask Amy: Neighbors wonder about thanking with wine

November 11, 2013

DEAR AMY: Our next-door neighbor is someone most people would think of as an ornery old man who is probably an alcoholic. He rarely acknowledges anyone, drinks and smokes while tinkering in his garage every day, and does things like keeping the kids’ soccer balls when they land in his yard until a parent comes to retrieve it with the child.

We ignore his alcohol breath and unpleasant personality and have a civil relationship with him. We have taught our children to be respectful no matter how much they dislike him (unlike some others in the neighborhood).

He has been a good neighbor by informing us when our garage door is open late at night, our outdoor pipes are leaking or gushing water, etc.

I have asked him for advice on what to do regarding an outdoor household problem, and he has voluntarily fixed it for us with supplies from his garage. He doesn’t stop until it’s done correctly in line with his high standards.

We thank him profusely and have “repaid” him with bottles of good wine, which makes him very happy. Are we being “enablers” by repaying a likely alcoholic with wine? -- Enabler?

DEAR ENABLER: Sidestepping the issue of enabling, I’d like to point out that when you give your neighbor wine, you are providing him with the tools to make him less competent, healthy and (selfishly speaking) less useful to you. If you were really grateful, you could also throw in a carton of smokes, making him happy but decreasing his life span.

There are many ways to thank this good neighbor that don’t involve feeding his addiction — for instance, you could give him a gift card to his favorite hardware store. You could also offer to rake his leaves or shovel the walk this winter.

DEAR AMY: My parents have been divorced for nearly 20 years. They have remained good friends and talk often. My mom has a partner, “Henry,” and has been with him for many years. My dad is single.

During the holidays, my mom wants us to spend every other year with her and every other year with my dad. She says that it makes Henry uncomfortable to be around my dad.

My brothers and I have to find another date to celebrate the holiday with the parent who doesn’t have us on the holiday day.

As you can imagine, this makes the holiday season crazy for all of us and our children. We have nine kids among the three of us.

We all have to coordinate our schedules to be sure that our parents get time with us. We have our in-laws to consider as well.

I am tired of having to work around my parents’ divorce. I think my parents should just “suck it up,” so my brothers and I and our families can enjoy our parents together, particularly as they are aging. I also think it would be great for our kids. Do you think this is reasonable? -- Divorced Holidays

DEAR DIVORCED: This is more than reasonable. You and your siblings should put the word out that this year the family holiday celebration will be at one of your homes. Everyone is invited (in-laws too). If your mother and father want to negotiate switching off to attend every other year, then it’s up to them (not you) to work it out. The number of adults and kids there should inoculate “Henry” somewhat from discomfort.

If this causes your mother to miss the celebration this year, then she and Henry can pop in to visit you another time, but you won’t have two group celebrations for your parents’ sake, because it’s just too hard on everyone.

DEAR AMY: Responding to the letter from “Upset Mom” about her 26-year-old son living at home, I wish more parents would understand that their job as parents is not to protect their children, as they seem to think it is. Their job is to prepare them to live in the real world. -- Also Upset

DEAR ALSO: This question received a large response; most agree that these parents had not served their son well.

Amy’s column appears seven days a week at www.washingtonpost.com/advice. Write to Amy Dickinson at askamy@tribune.com or Ask Amy, Chicago Tribune, TT500, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60611.

by the Chicago Tribune

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