The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Carolyn Hax: Dad struggles with wedding toast to ‘selfish’ and ‘ungrateful’ son

(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)
3 min

Hi, Carolyn: My son is getting married, and I’m expected to give a toast. I am struggling to say something nice about him. He’s selfish, excessively frugal, and doesn’t do for others except (thankfully) for his future wife. He is, in a word, ungrateful.

I’ve tried to talk with him about his anger and depression but he won’t discuss it. He’s ruled therapy out.

Do I just thank everyone for coming and wish the couple well in their future lives? That seems inadequate and impersonal. I’m at a loss.

— Upset Dad

Upset Dad: Yikes.

I do appreciate your candor, but I’m also wincing at chickens and eggs. When did your not liking him start, and his selfish behaviors begin?

I’m also wondering if those five negative traits — selfishness, frugality, ingratitude, anger, depression — are really just one condition with five symptoms. Depression could explain it all. Envision for a moment all the behaviors you cite. They’re all versions of curling in on oneself against the rest of the world.

Generosity and gratitude, by contrast, as well as selflessness and joy, open us to the world and expose our vulnerabilities. Maybe he’s hoarding — conserving — himself as part of his illness.

These ideas have nothing to do with a wedding toast but everything to do with how you see your son (and how that reflects back?). Maybe seeing his struggle from a different angle, through a lens of compassion, will give you kinder words to say.

Even without that, even if I’m wrong, you have this: He is generous with his future wife. So there’s your toast. Describe how beautifully he treats her, how she brings out his best, and how welcome she is in your family. Share with the world the version of your son that you see when they’re together. Maybe you both need to hear that.

Maybe it’ll set the example that helps him see, at a crucial time, this giving part of himself, and believe in it more.

You were right to suggest therapy, by the way, even though he dismissed you and regardless of chickens and eggs. I hope he comes around.

Dear Carolyn: So, over the past two years, I have realized I could just stay home forever.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not agoraphobic. I do get out to run occasional errands and, very infrequently, to socialize. But frankly, I don’t want a steady obligation of in-person interaction. I work from home, and I like it. I talk to my co-workers on the phone. I take care of my family. They get out more than I do, and that’s fine with me as well.

My interests are kind of solo interests. I read, garden, cook and watch movies. But I worry this is unhealthy, that I am allowing myself to fall into patterns that will eventually leave me isolated. How do I balance a natural inclination to love being alone with the risk of becoming a misanthropic hermit?

— Hermit

Hermit: With a healthy dose of realism. This works for you now, so enjoy it. But also recognize you may be retired and living alone someday, which would mean even your tiny need for human contact — which you currently satisfy with family and colleagues — will require some effort for you to meet.

If that happens, then you’ll be grateful to your younger self for not letting all your social muscles atrophy.

You don’t need to bedazzle your calendar with “steady” plans. Just make enough plans for it not to feel weird — and actually show up for them, too, through the temptation to beg off and stay home instead.