Q. The problem with which you may be able to help, I have entitled "Where Have All My Contemporaries Gone?" or, "How Does a 68-Year-Old Deport Himself in a World Populated by 19 to 45-Year-Olds?
I do not speak of deportment in social situations. My concern is with the business world.
There is no pressure upon me to retire, and in any event, my youngest child, who is still in high school, would, I am sure, feel some real or imagined disapproval from his peers in having to acknowledge a retired father. As a consequence, I go daily to a midtown office, ride the elevators, and walk the corridors with all the other 9-to-5 people, eat lunch with them or among them, and in general do the same things I have done for the past 45 years.
Increasingly, I am aware that the persons around me are not of my generation. Sidelong glances I formerly construed as admiring or as coquettish, I now read as saying, "What is that old guy doing still coming in to work?" or "I hope to God I am not still in this rat race when I reach his age."
I deal with the situation with restraint, the practice of which, however, is leading to a sense of isolation. Can Miss Manners help? Is there a code of behavior that will help me play an acceptable role in the office scene, or should I get out with what grace I can manage and head for the golf courses of Arizona? And, what then? Will not the positions of myself and my son be reversed? I may find my long lost contemporaries there, but to him, they will be strangers.
A. The nervousness of the elderly who accept the premise that it is better to be young is quite upsetting to Miss Manners, who is looking forward to a tyrannical old age. If there are any sidelong glances to be made in the workplace, surely you should be making them at people of less experience at the job than yourself fatuously assuming that they can run the place.
Why, however, are any generational distinctions necessary here? Miss Manners rather doubts that your colleagues are as fascinated with your vintage as you seem to think. Neither does she think the imagined opinions of a child's high school classmates a sensible factor in making vocational decisions.
If you must make an issue of it, play it to advantage by making yourself available to listen to the troubles of younger workers, helping them with difficult tasks, and generally putting your experience at their disposal, should they show an interest in drawing upon it. A colleague who is not a competitor for one's place, but a source of information and comfort, can be more lovable than a potential rival.
Q. Recently we attended the wedding of a cousin in a nearby city. The reception was held in a very fine downtown hotel. We parked in the hotel valet parking lot and proceeded upstairs to enjoy the festivities.
When we attempted to leave the parking lot, we were hit with a rather substantial parking fee. Our protests that we were part of the "Smith" wedding party were to no avail. To say the least, we were shocked, as we had assumed that the bride's father would have provided free parking for the guests. A number of other guests voiced the same opinion, and someone even commented that oftentimes when an event is catered in a hotel, parking is provided at a reduced rate or free of charge.
Now, we don't mean to nitpick, but we do feel a bit put out and we are curious about the extent to which a bride's family is responsible for such incidental costs.
A. Of course you don't mean to nitpick. You merely mean to invoke the traditional social rule, which eludes you but which you are confident that Miss Manners will supply, that states that the bride's father is responsible for paying parking fees of wedding guests, reimbursing them for the amount of gas spent getting to and from the wedding (receipt required) and arranging to have their tires rotated during the ceremony. Incidental costs, indeed. After what you ate at the reception?
Q: I was divorced from my first husband more than 10 years ago, moved to a new city, remarried, and now have three children. My husband travels for business and suggested that I may join him (with our kids) in the very town, 1,500 miles away, where my ex and his new wife and child live.
Would it be appropriate to write in advance and suggest coming for dinner or a drink, if my husband agrees? We separated fairly amicably, all things considered.
A: One can hardly ask for a more interesting social event than the reunion of formerly married people, especially when the current families are present, observing their spouse-parent carefully for signs of renewed interest, demonstrations of current loyalties, and so on. The ex-es must satisfy them, with whom, after all, they have to live, and at the same time evaluate and show off to the former spouse -- all the while maintaining faultless politeness because any tiny slip will be over-interpreted by everyone present as deeply symbolic.
At least, that is Miss Manners' idea of good drama. It is not everyone's, especially when they are emotionally connected to the situation. It is certainly, therefore, a good idea to obtain your husband's consent, and to obtain from him a little advance goodwill by explaining that your curiosity has to do with your present happiness and the desire to indulge in your relief that things turned out as they did.
For the same reason, do not be disappointed if your former husband does not accept the invitation, because he and his wife do not feel up to this frolic.
But by all means, issue the invitation. Just remember, if the event does take place, that generous charm is your best proof that you are not being eaten up by regrets.