The Washington Post

What’s the right way to rebut Dad’s personal doomsaying?


Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear 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

What can I say when my father starts talking about how he will be dead in x number of years? He usually says by age 65 — seven years from now — but once he predicted he will die at age 68, the day after his 50th anniversary with my mom.

There is nothing wrong with him that lifestyle changes wouldn’t fix, but his father was in ill health for several years, and Dad is afraid of that.

I don’t expect to change his mind, but I am looking for a respectful response that lets him know I think he’s spouting “horse biscuits” (as he himself would call it).

(Nick Galifianakis)

Nihilist’s Child

I’m not sure I understand why you need to be respectful when he’d be one to say, “Horse biscuits.” The first response that comes to mind is, “You’ll keel by next week if you keep eating like that.” Is he a holdover from the do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do era? Is he used to being king, and commanding attention accordingly? If not, I say respond to him in kind.


Actually, no — he has always encouraged us to speak our minds. I guess the timidity is coming from me, not him.

Next time I’ll say some variation of, “Or you could try quitting smoking and taking a walk around the block now and again. Oh, did I tell you about that cute thing the baby did?”

Nihilist’s Child again

Sounds good, but skip the cute-baby-anecdote buffer. You sound like strangers, not father and child.

It’s probably worth making the distinction here that I advise this kind of response only when he makes comments about his imminent demise. I don’t think it’s your place to initiate any nags about his habits, nor do I think it’s productive.


If I try, “Sounds like you’re afraid that what happened to Grandpa will happen to you,” then he reiterates that his solution to that problem is to die; he has actually been pretty explicit about that. Then what? I ask, “Can you think of any other way around it?” He says something about how it’s too hard to quit drinking and smoking. Then I’m back to saying “horse biscuits” and changing the subject because it makes me uncomfortable and I’m not getting anywhere. Anything wrong with that?

Nihilist’s Child again

Yes, actually.

Do what you can to get comfortable with the subject. Death is awful, but it’s inevitable, and being able to talk about it, prepare for it, voice your fears of it and generally just face it will help you deal with it.

When he says “it’s too hard” to change his habits, then you can say, “Okay, yes, it’s hard. But obviously you find it hard to think about dying, too — as I do. I guess I’m just hoping you can be comfortable with whatever choice you make, whether it’s to keep your same habits knowing they might kill you prematurely, or to try to improve them knowing there are no guarantees.”

Be an adult about it, and maybe he will, too.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or Sign up for Carolyn Hax’s column, delivered to your inbox early each morning, at .



Success! Check your inbox for details. You might also like:

Please enter a valid email address

See all newsletters

Show Comments
Most Read



Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Your Three. Videos curated for you.
Play Videos
Deaf banjo player teaches thousands
Unconventional warfare with a side of ale
It's in the details: Five ways to enhance your kitchen makeover
Play Videos
Drawing as an act of defiance
A fighter pilot helmet with 360 degrees of sky
Border collies: A 'mouse trap' for geese on the National Mall
Play Videos
Bao: The signature dish of San Francisco
This man's job is binge-watching for Netflix
What you need to know about Planned Parenthood
Play Videos
How to save and spend money at college
Pandas, from birth to milk to mom
Europe's migrant crisis, explained

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.