When mean-spiritedness becomes cruelty

Dear Margo: I am 31, and my brother is 28. Our parents divorced five years ago.

Dear Margo: I am 31, and my brother is 28. Our parents divorced five years ago.

Our father is remarried to a woman with a 12-year-old daughter, “Leigh.” She is not especially bright, but she isn’t a hopeless nitwit. Our dad, however, is quite cruel to her. He calls her “Brain Damage” to her face (which Leigh thinks is a joke), writes e-mails to us about stupid things she does and rolls his eyes when she says something dumb. He’s also rather abrupt when talking to her. I’m not sure how much Leigh picks up on yet, but I’m certain she’ll figure it out sooner or later. She is a good kid who doesn’t give anyone much trouble. I really love my dad and am not sure how to approach him with this. I’ve tried speaking with him about it, but it doesn’t do any good. I’m afraid if I do talk to him more seriously, he’ll continue to do it when we’re not around. He was an excellent dad to my brother and me; we never saw this side of him. — Stepsister with Concerns

Dear Step: Your distress is very compassionate and clear-eyed. I would think the child’s mother would have weighed in on this issue, but apparently not. Because you say your dad was such a good father to you and your brother, I would try one more time to have a serious talk. The tack I would take is to point out that because he was such a great dad to you, you’re surprised at his lack of caring for a child who needs kindness, not derision. You might also suggest that his wife would surely appreciate his support, and that you are frankly stunned at what you consider his “cruelty.” Perhaps hearing this from you will wake him up to his callous-sounding. — Margo, supportively

Dear Margo: I’m a 23-year-old medical student with a dilemma. I’ve been with a man I love for four years, but I can’t forget my ex. We dated off and on from when I was 14 until I was 19, and I truly believe he is the love of my life. We recently reconnected after years of avoiding contact because I knew any contact would only make the feelings I have for him stronger. However, I could no longer resist communicating with him, and we have been talking for the past couple of months via email and telephone. We broke up because he needed to work through some personal issues and felt he needed to do that alone. Now that we’ve both grown up quite a bit, I can’t help feeling that I owe it to myself to give us another chance. On the other hand, I have my long-term relationship with a man who has been willing to move across the country with me three times due to my schooling, and who says he wants to spend the rest of his life with me. I can’t shake my feelings for this ex, however, and I really don’t know what to do. I don’t want to ruin a good thing with my boyfriend, but I don’t want to live a life of regret. — Torn in Two

Dear Torn: It would be crazy to go ahead with something you are unsure of, and unfair to the boyfriend. Tell him you don’t want to ruin his life, and you must settle something in your own thinking before you move forward. Take a break. You could lose both of them, or you could figure out whether or not the “ghost” of the old beau is viable. Sometimes there is an unreal aura to one’s first love. I think doubts are better dealt with before marriage. — Margo, fairly

Dear Margo: My husband and I (he’s 50, I’m 41) have been together for five years. Everything looked like roses and sunshine till lately. The man is acting like he’s single. For example, I was sick with a nasty case of stomach flu and could hardly lift my head. He had a choice of taking care of me or going to a party. You guessed it: He went partying, and it took four grown men to carry his tequila-smelling self into the house. Guess who got to take care of all of this? It didn’t stop there. He went to another party and was dared to go skinny-dipping with some of the people there.

Hubby and I do go skinny-dipping when we’re on our property in the country. I always thought it was our “bare ‘em and scare ‘em” time together, but he took that away from me by doing something with others that I thought was just for us. I asked him why, and he said it was a dare. (The man is 50, not seven.) He didn’t understand why I was so upset. How do I get the point across, without sounding like a shrew, that I don’t want everyone and their kids seeing him naked as a jaybird? I am hurt by this and don’t know what or how to say anything because I’m so angry I want to smack him with a rolling pin. — Madder than a Wet Hen in Texas.

Dear Mad: Hold off on the rolling pin, hon. What you need to do is knock some sense into him, not out. I would sit him down and explain how his actions have hurt you. Invite him to decide if he wants to live like a grownup or a college boy. He does sound thoughtless and immature as opposed to malicious and uncaring. Give it a try and see if things change. If not, get back to me. — Margo, tutorially

Dear Margo: I’m 23 years old, and my parents are getting divorced. It’s obviously hard, but it’s not earth shattering, because I’m older and have been out of the house living on my own for four years, etc. My dad isn’t one to talk about his feelings or have heart-to-hearts, so he pretty much refuses to talk about this whole situation. I think that actually makes it the hardest, because my mother will openly talk to me, and I can talk to her about the divorce. With Dad it’s like the elephant in the room whenever we talk. How can I get him to talk to me like an adult? — Concerned and Confused.

Dear Con: I think you are magnifying a personality trait of your father’s into a doomsday scenario of imminent radio silence. Some people just don’t talk about difficult things, especially with a child — even an adult child. It is interesting that you, yourself, say you can’t figure out how to tell him you love him.

Maybe discomfort with articulation is a familial thing? I suggest you tell him, as a statement, that you are not taking sides and you will always love him. This may open him up, and it may not. — Margo, attitudinally