Is It Disrespectful to My Dead Father to Speak to His Estranged Brother?


My father, who died seven years ago, was estranged from his brother for over 40 years. (I don’t know why.) So, I haven’t seen my uncle in decades. On a whim, when I was writing Christmas cards this year, I sent one to my uncle. On Valentine’s Day, I came home to find a dozen red roses and a box of candy on my doorstep with a note that read: “Your Christmas card meant the world to us!” It was signed, with love, from my uncle and aunt. I wasn’t sure what to do next, so I sent another note, sharing the details of my life — and eventually I received another dozen roses on my doorstep. My sister is appalled that I reached out to our uncle: Our father would not approve, she said, and it might upset our mother. So what should I do now: honor my dead father’s grievance or give my uncle a call?

NIECE

My mother was extremely charismatic (and equally temperamental): She built bridges to others with ease and often burned them down just as quickly. So, I spent much of my youth monitoring her grudges and feeling protective of her. Do not follow my lead! You are a person first and your father’s daughter second.

I admire whatever loving whim it was that led you to send a Christmas note to your uncle. It clearly meant a great deal to him and your aunt. What could be wrong with that? It certainly doesn’t strike me that you love your father less because you were kind to someone with whom he quarreled. And if your sister feels differently, let her! We each walk our own path.

As for your next steps, they are up to you. Keep writing notes to your uncle, give him a call, invite him to lunch. You may do whatever you like — or nothing at all. You have already created a lovely patch of kindness here. So, trust your good instincts. (My only advice: Steer clear of the animosity. It is not your responsibility to broker peace among people who do not want it or to investigate the merits of cold cases from 40 years ago.)

My spouse and I (early 30s) live in the suburbs of a major city. We love entertaining family and friends from out of town. The issue: airport pickups. The public transportation option can be daunting with required transfers. But there are always cabs or ride shares that cost about $60. We pick up older guests or those traveling with young kids. Recently, though, people our age who live in cities have asked us endless questions about train schedules and other information they could find easily online. Are they fishing for pickups? Or can we tell them: “You’re a millennial with a phone. Google it!”

HOST

Speculating about the ulterior motives of houseguests before they even arrive does not seem to match the great generosity of your hosting impulse. It’s also a stretch to suggest that asking a few annoying questions is hinting for an airport pickup. You are not required to ferry guests to your home. But since this shower of questions occurs regularly, why not pull together the salient details and keep them at the ready to text to anyone who asks?

We have been cordial with our next-door neighbor for years. He began to build a structure in his yard without permits recently and received a stop-work order from the city. He may believe that we reported him to code enforcement, but we didn’t. Still, that night, he began shouting expletives about my husband and blaring music from open windows at odd hours. This is way out of character for him: We’ve never heard a peep from him before this, and I’m freaking out. How can we approach this issue safely?

NEIGHBOR

Your neighbor’s aggressive behavior would frighten me, too. Do not go next door to speak with him. But I wouldn’t call the police yet, either. Though you are certainly entitled to, that may only escalate his grievance without communicating what may be the most pertinent fact: You didn’t report him! (Not that his harassment would be appropriate even if you had.)

I would start with a letter, informing him that you had nothing to do with the stop-work order and demand that he stop his unneighborly behavior at once. If he doesn’t, I see no alternative but to call the police.

I video chat with my 40-year-old daughter frequently. Lately, I’ve noticed that while she is speaking, she sticks her finger in her nose, then wipes it clean and licks it. (Sorry to be so gross!) She has good social skills and is neat and tidy, but this new habit stops me cold. I am afraid to mention it: She may be offended. Should I send her a carton of tissues?

MOTHER

My condolences on your video chats! Still, many of us do gross things every day. Tell your daughter what you have observed in a straightforward way. Do not characterize the behavior as disgusting or judge it in any way that is apt to increase her embarrassment: Just the facts, ma’am. With luck, she will stop once she is made aware of what she is doing.


For help with your awkward situation, send a question to SocialQ@nytimes.com, Philip Galanes on Facebook or @SocialQPhilip on X.





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