Carolyn Hax: Dealing with an estranged dad and a dying grandmother

Carolyn Hax
Columnist March 11, 2012

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Hi, Carolyn:

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

My dad’s mother is not expected to live through the weekend. I am estranged from my dad and haven’t spoken to him in almost a year.

While I would like to pay my respects, I know that if I go anywhere near this, my dad will become overly dramatic (as he is prone to doing) and think that all is magically forgiven and forgotten (as he has done repeatedly in the past).

Complicating matters is that my grandmother has Alzheimer’s, so I am doubtful she would recognize me. Any suggestions whatsoever?


At a Loss

I’m sorry. These decisions, where you have strong feelings and only one shot at getting it “right,” are almost too personal for outside advice. I say “almost” because there is a general standard that might be helpful:

Think of it in terms of what you’ll wish you had done 10 years from now. By that time, any surmountable obstacles — money, Dad’s drama, missing an event, etc. — will have been reduced to blips by then, and the insurmountable ones will have lost none of their significance.

Chances are, since it’s obviously a difficult situation, there’s a voice somewhere teasing you with the idea of an easy way out. You want to tune out that voice in favor of the voice that says, “This is what I feel I need to do.”

Dear Carolyn:

I’m 26, with an expensive law degree, and I just flunked the bar exam.

Of course that’s not the end of the world (only missed it by a few points, and will retake in a few months), but you know all those articles about ’80s babies whose identities were built on all the praise they received for being brilliant? Yeah, that’s me — to fail at something for which I couldn’t rely entirely on my wits is an utter embarrassment.

In the meantime, I’m working at a job that is well beneath my qualifications, and living at home. I have supportive parents, a great boyfriend, and friends who don’t judge me (mainly because they don’t know where I’m “supposed” to be), but I still feel like the universe is judging me.

It’s gotten to the point where I dread meeting people because of the “What do you do?” line of questioning. How do I walk around with my head held high?

Post Bar-Exam Insecurities

This fits the one-decade-out plan in a different way: Ten years from now, these three months will be a blip.

That is, unless you use them memorably and well. You say the universe is judging you. I say the universe doesn’t give a poo; it’s your life to care about, to learn from, to harness into something worthwhile.

Whenever circumstances dump you somewhere unpleasant, it’s okay to have a poor-me moment — as long as you have the heck out of it, and then stop having it, and move on to the moment where you say: “Okay, what can I learn from this, or turn to my advantage?” In your case, I can think of two quick things to take away: “1. I’m wicket smaht and I still need disciplined study habits”; and “2. I probably needed to get over myself at some point, and now’s as good a time as any.”

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Subscribe at www.facebook.com/carolynhax.

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