Dear Carolyn:

My older sister recently got married in a beautiful ceremony that cost my parents an arm and a leg. She also has a graduate degree, paid for, with pleasure, by my parents. My father has always said that when I choose to go back to graduate school, he will be thrilled to pay for a year of it (that was how long my sister's program was), and, when I choose to get married, he'll also pay for whatever kind of ceremony I'd like to have (within reason, but I think my sister's wedding changed the meaning of the phrase "within reason'').

My concern is that I don't know if I'm going back to graduate school, I'm not getting married anytime soon, and I think my father's money is poorly invested and could just disappear, and his promises along with it. Asking for a check seems rude and ungrateful, but serious money was spent to give my sister her two desires, and I don't want to lose that same kind of floating opportunity. Thoughts?

The Sister

If your sister's birthday were in January, and yours in August, and you were afraid your father would be hit by a cement truck in the intervening months, since there's no guarantee he won't be, and you therefore asked for your birthday gift at the same time your sister got hers, just in case? You'd be a monster.

So please don't ask for your milestone payments upfront.

Especially since this isn't YOUR money that your father's merely safeguarding (badly). It's HIS money that he's using as a carrot to encourage husbands and advanced degrees.

If you don't like the goals he's setting for you, that's your prerogative; you're under no obligation to reach them.

Likewise, it's his prerogative to choose which goals he'll reward. He could declare that your first tattoo, your first 30-day rehab and the bail for your first offense were on him, if that were the daughter he wanted to raise.

The good news is, he sounds like he's more interested in being a good daddy than a social scientist or satanic puppeteer; it's possible he limited his promises to marriage and a master's only because his imagination fell victim to tradition.

So if you ever fix on a productive goal for which you could really use his support -- starting your own business or nonprofit, renovating a house, volunteering for specialized search-and-rescue work -- then go for it, ask if he'll broaden the scope of his promise.

But if this is all just, "No fair, she always gets the bigger cookie!" with a more complex vocabulary, then please drop it and live your own life.

Dear Carolyn:

My ex-boyfriend and I got along well, except our timing was off for any commitment from his side. About a year ago, I stopped calling him back because I didn't know how to express the frustration I felt. I really miss our conversations. Should I call him?

Wondering

If you can apologize sincerely for your disappearance; find a way to express your frustration, even if it's gone now; and be in touch with him without getting mired in a whole new set of frustrations and (pointed throat-clearing) false hopes of commitment, then now is a good time to call.

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