I can’t stand losing my beauty as I age!

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 I’m 43 and I’ve always been beautiful, and now I am in a state of shock at what’s happening!

 Cary’s classic column from THURSDAY, NOV 15, 2007

Dear Cary,

I am a 43-year-old woman. I have been married and soon will be again. I do not have children.

Without sounding like an arrogant jerk, I am very pretty. I have taken this prettiness for granted my whole life while thinking (somewhat hypocritically) that “looks aren’t that important.” Certainly I have not consciously coasted on my looks — I have held very senior positions in very well-recognized companies. My looks might not have hurt me in my jobs, but certainly I did not coast to the top of a highly competitive field without something to offer other than a pretty smile.

I’ve always known that people admire me for my looks; I’d have to be blind and deaf not to perceive my effect on most men. I’ve always been impatient with women who talk about how “lucky” I am, or men who presume that I can get whatever I want because of my beauty. Even pretty people have to earn a living; even we get taken to task for our capabilities, if we presume to test them, which I have. To that end, I am a well-rounded person — I read a lot, I recorded an album of acoustic songs and sometimes play at gigs. I am good at a few sports — very good at one. I am well-traveled, speak a few languages, and I’m a pretty good cook.

So it’s been with some surprise that, as I entered my 40s, I have realized that my looks are becoming more, rather than less, important to me. I find myself scrutinizing women all around me — usually in a critical way. It’s horrible — I don’t recognize this voice that has suddenly taken over my head at all. It picks apart young women and derides older women. No woman, it seems, is spared from this internal critical monologue. As for women over 50, forget it. I see them dressed up or getting their hair done at my salon, and I think, “Why does she bother?”

I have always been somewhat “low maintenance” — no makeup, simple hair, very little fuss. I like nice clothes but I frequently wear jeans and the kind of clothing you can find at REI. I do not dress to call attention to myself, and I’ve never consciously tried to appear sexy. When the Botox craze first came to light I was horrified that women would do that to themselves. I’ve always been pretty disdainful of plastic surgery, too.

And now, suddenly, I am buying magazines about just these procedures, surfing the Net late into the night, eagerly looking at all the things I can do to myself to preserve my looks.

I don’t understand this at all. It makes me feel miserable about myself. And then I project that misery out onto the world and find myself making up reasons to resent young women and the men who are attracted to them. Which is silly — I don’t blame men my age for being attracted to women half their age. I certainly can appreciate the beauty of a guy half my age. I’ve dated a few.

Is it death that I am afraid of? Or just aging and losing the power of my beauty, the power of being the center of attention even when I don’t seek it? And if it’s the latter — well, why are all of my many accomplishments suddenly not enough?

My boyfriend is two years younger than me. He is very good looking — but looks his age. I have studied the signs of aging on his face and feel nothing but affection for them. His crow’s feet and sun damage do not detract at all from his appeal, in my view. Why can’t I relax and assume that other people can be as forgiving toward my signs of aging as I am toward theirs? I find myself very uncomfortable if someone stares at me. Whereas I used to dismiss it as another guy admiring me or trying to get my attention, now what I think is, he’s noticing the lines on my forehead, or the way my skin isn’t as smooth as it once was.

I read your column regularly and know that if you publish this certain mean men are going to eagerly jump out of the woodwork and gleefully tell me that I am finally getting what’s due me, that men don’t find women my age attractive ever. The thing is, I don’t believe this. I don’t believe this and yet I am afraid that it is so, that if every man in the universe were to take a quiz and be totally, totally honest about what kind of woman he’d prefer to be with, he’d pick “young” over any other attribute. But isn’t it funny — I never felt that way when I was young. In my 20s I always felt at a distinct disadvantage around the older, more sophisticated female executives around me. I never took the admiration of the men around me very seriously — I felt their admiration was quite impersonal, not really directed at me, but at the idea of me. I could have been anyone — there was nothing personal at all in their regard for me.

So what’s causing this terrible antipathy toward aging (and not just aging — female aging)? Why now? And how do I stop this?

Aging Beauty

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Dear Aging Beauty,

I think this is not so much about death as it is about the loss of social power, and, moreover, the loss of a certain daily vitamin of high regard that sustains and energizes the beautiful.

Most of us are only really lovely for a few short years in childhood. But not so for the beautiful. In the day-to-day world, where most of us lose so much of ourselves and are granted so little in the way of courtesy and love, the pretty person absorbs love out of the air, off the street, in the stores, absorbs love like a child cared for by a loving mother and an adoring family whose faces light up every time she enters the room. The beautiful are constantly absorbing love from the world in a way that is scarcely recognizable to others and even to herself — for has it not always been this way?

To accuse you of taking this for granted is needlessly unkind: How could you not become accustomed to it? It is not vanity, I don’t think, but the lucky satisfaction of a natural need to be loved on contact, just as who we are, just because we are there. To whom does this happen otherwise than the beautiful? Only to children! Only a child can walk into a room and find herself a delight to all, having done nothing, having prepared no performance or recited no lines, just because she is who she is, we turn to her with delight and love.

But of course for most of us this period of automatic love and warmth is very short. We soon find that we are mostly a nuisance, and have to work for every smile of praise. But the beautiful? Go to buy a cup of coffee, walk down the street, sit on an airplane — yes you are often the object of boorish affections and resentments, but you also receive a constant hidden dividend of high esteem. That is not to say that you have it easy. I do not mean that at all. I believe everything you say about your accomplishments and I do not for an instant think that your life has been all that much easier, only that you have had this more or less constant vibe of approval, of pleasure in the way people regard you.

And then it vanishes! One day the admiring glances cease!

It may have been happening gradually, but you notice it suddenly, in the loss of a table or an overlooked invitation — We were going to invite you, of course we were, of course, how could you doubt that?

Your notice magnifies it all: Harsh disregard is everywhere now!

You would expect the sudden withdrawal of this wonderful feeling of acceptance to be painful and upsetting. And indeed it is.

So what to do? How to age gracefully? How to adjust to this new world in which your presence is either ignored or treated as a bother, in which your needs are attended to begrudgingly by unconsciously beautiful young things who do not even seem to see you really, who do not even seem to look at you, who make you feel, in a thousand little ways, that you do not belong in their world?

Argh. Well, you could just get plain nasty. You could use your money and prestige to make the lives of others a living hell. There would be some satisfaction in that, you must admit. But it would only make things worse in the long run.

No, I think really what we must do, those of us who experience this jarring shove into irrelevance, this undeserved demotion in the esteem of strangers, what we must do is content ourselves with our pleasures as we find them.

Oh, what a stupid, empty cliché that is! Jesus! Can I do no better than that?

And the truth is, no, not really. I have no solution. This is how it goes. This is youth’s revenge. It was ever thus.

What can you do? You used to breathe in high regard from the very air; it used to be what you swam in. Now it is rare, hard to find, you have to seek it out. It is all around you but you have to dig for it. It is in art and music, in the love of friends, in all the other clichés that I now find spilling out of my brain.

You have to find it in your intimates, in your family, in those who love you and will always love you, to whom you will never be anything but spectacular.

Cary Tennis Newsletter Sign Up

Help! I’m getting older!

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I’m not ready for cats and pottery class, but I don’t know how to deal with the fear.

Cary’s classic column from TUESDAY, FEB 7, 2006

Dear Cary,

I find myself pondering the notion of dating again after the demise of a long-term relationship. I’m female and in my late 30s, and I find myself increasingly self-conscious about being “an older woman” on the dating scene. While I’ve always been aware of the power of female youthfulness, the volume of that cry for the young ones seems ever-increasing, and sometimes it gets downright mean, as if women who age do so out of spite. In this big bad Northwest city, it seems cruelly competitive, and even scrolling through the letters section of Salon, I come across nasty references to women’s “expiration dates.” I can’t say I blame men for wanting to date younger women, and I’m not looking for an explanation or justification for this state of affairs. I know men face ageism in dating, too, but it’s far less common on the other side of the gender fence. The whole thing scares me and I don’t know how to deal with that fear.

I do have a few things going for me in the midst of this onslaught of matron-itis: I keep myself in great shape, I delight in all the feminine trappings — from fishnets to backrubs after a guy’s had a hard day to debating politics because it’s sexy, plus I’m blessed with excellent health. While I don’t lie about my age, I could shave off some years and successfully pass (but it’s not about that for me). While I’d like to have a serious relationship (marriage, most likely) with kids in our shared life someplace, I’m not at the mercy of my biological clock. I wouldn’t mind adoption, stepkids, foster kids, or even just being the crazy aunt ‘n’ uncle to the kids down the street. So I’m not racing against time in that regard, which relieves some pressure. Plus, I am pretty flexible about age myself. If some beguiling 58-year-old presented himself as a potential suitor and we were compatible, I wouldn’t think twice about hopping into his sidecar and blasting down the road with him.

I’m not the type to adopt a fire-sale mentality when it comes to dating — hardly desperate, hardly dependent upon a man to define my value. But I still find myself psyched out by the fact that I’m not as young as I used to be, and that that may count against me in more cases than not. I don’t need to hear that I should date in massive volume to better my odds or that my own self-worth is more important than the worth anyone else might ascribe to me. I simply would like you to tell me, friend, how exactly to run between the raindrops of this age thing? I’m not quite ready for cats and pottery class.

Scared of Math in Seattle

Dear Scared of Math,

There are people who can give you advice on dating and so forth, but I don’t think I’m that person and I don’t think that’s what you’re asking for. You’ve made it clear that you don’t want to hear certain predictable pieces of advice or platitudes. Plus you’ve written to me, as opposed to maybe some other person who might be able to offer more in the area of practical advice. That in itself says something.

So after reading your letter, which was very enjoyable — I like the way you have thought this through, and I like the way you express yourself, especially when you note that some people seem to think women age purely out of spite (that was good!) — I went over it again looking for actual questions or problems that I could address. And I found this: “The whole thing scares me and I don’t know how to deal with that fear.”

Now that I can relate to. The prospect of aging scares you and you don’t know how to deal with the fear. That’s a very honest statement. I think it’s a great place to start. It’s a great place to stop, too, if you get what I mean. It’s not really about age, it’s about fear.

You’re dealing with aging very well already. You’re taking care of yourself. You’re thinking through the options it presents and what it requires of you and so forth. But you didn’t say you don’t know how to deal with aging. You said you don’t know how to deal with the fear.

The fear, the fear, the fear. How does one deal with fear? How I deal with fear is mainly I try to identify and make concrete what it is I’m actually afraid of.

Have you ever noticed that a person who is not afraid to state the facts as they are can seem fearless? A person who is not afraid to say I am a socialist or I am a Republican or I am 65 years old and who dares you to do something about it — that that person can seem fearless? What is it about saying the obvious? Well, it makes the obvious obviously less important.

Watch me: My name is Cary Tennis and I am a 52-year-old recovered alcoholic.That’s the truth. You want a piece of me? I had a friend who was a writer who lied about his age in order to seem more interesting. We’re not really friends anymore. I wonder why. I am attracted to people who can tell the truth. It’s a good quality in writing as well — the ability to tell the truth. So I suggest you tell people exactly how old you are and let them deal with it. I mean, do you really want to have a serious relationship with a man who can’t handle the truth?

Another thing I suggest you do about your fear is to make a list of the things that you actually do fear that are related to aging. Make them concrete. Say them out loud: What if a man should reject you when you tell him your age? What would happen then? Would you have to go to the hospital? Would you be unable to speak for a month?

Let me play too: I fear being thought of as an old person. That is too vague. We want to zoom in even closer. And let’s make it you instead of me. I’m not playing anymore. So who exactly would think of you as an old person and how would that affect you? Well, say a man you like were to think of you as too old to date. Say he were to lie to you and tell you he didn’t want to go out with you because he was too raw from a recent breakup, and then you find out later that was a lie and really it was because you were too old for him. What would be the consequences of that? Would that make you lose your job or walk with a limp? Or say that you have a relationship and then the man decides you are too old and breaks up with you and tells you that’s why he’s breaking up with you. What would the consequences of that be? You would probably be angry and upset; you might be more upset than you expected to be. The real fear there, it seems to me, is the fear of emotional pain. It’s normal to fear emotional pain — to fear pain of all kinds. Would it be worse emotional pain if he broke up with you because you were older? How? Because age is something you cannot control?

Possibly.

You are a smart person. You can see where this is going.
What happens when we examine our fears in detail is a couple of things. Either they seem to melt away as trivial, or they lead to more existential things that genuinely do frighten us but which are big universal conditions that we share with all people. It is understandable to fear things we cannot control. That is the human condition.

I could do this all night. The issue is fear.

It also may be helpful to know that you do not have to get rid of your fear. It is OK to feel fear and continue to do what you are doing. There is a book out called “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway” by Susan Jeffers. I haven’t read it … but it’s a great title, don’t you think? It’s almost all you need to know right there.

The real problem is the fear … itself. Oh, boy, I’m not going to have to quote FDR, am I? Actually, it’s sort of bracing to listen to that famous speech. Maybe before you go out on your next date, just listen to that old guy FDR hammering out his lines. It’s actually, as I said, rather bracing.

My dad threatened to shoot us all and chop us into pieces

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I’m not sure how much filial devotion
I owe my father, now that he’s talking
about buying a rifle.

Cary’s classic column from WEDNESDAY, APR 4, 2007

Dear Cary,

Since our mother’s death four and a half years ago, the burden of caring for our elderly father has fallen to my siblings and me (particularly my oldest sister and my brother). When my parents retired they moved far away to a rural area in another state, which is difficult to reach by plane and is easily an eight-hour drive. My mother was never particularly happy there, and we were never very happy about having to travel so far to see her. Nevertheless, my father’s law ruled and she remained there until her death, lonely and isolated.

My father, to put it bluntly, has never been a particularly likable person, and he has alienated virtually everyone he has ever known. He is narcissistic and selfish, self-pitying and mean, insulting and dismissive. He has virtually no friends where he lives and is barely tolerated by his neighbors and fellow churchgoers. None of us feels any particular bond with him, outside of a feeling of obligation that we must care for him. All of us have admitted to each other and ourselves that we do not love him.

From afar, my sister pays his bills, makes his doctor’s appointments and schedules repairs for his tractor and appliances. My brother, who is disabled and doesn’t work, has made several extended-stay visits with him despite the severe emotional toll these visits take. Though we have persistently lobbied my father to move closer to us since my mother died, he has stubbornly refused to acknowledge his dependency on us or the excessive toll caring for him is taking.

In the last several months a few events have happened that have pushed the situation to a crisis point. First, an aide we hired to come to his house to assist him with medicines, buy groceries, etc. has become a romantic obsession for him. This came to our attention after he asked her to buy condoms so that they could “have sex ” because he is “in love” with her. Since she entered his life, he has attempted to transfer all of the duties my sister had been performing for him (and before that, our mother) to her, and became very irate when we interfered with this make-believe relationship by limiting the amount of time and types of activities the aide could perform. Next, his license was suspended (and will soon be revoked) because he is not fit to drive, an event we hoped would “wake him up” once and for all to the situation he is in, but it only gave him an excuse to rely more heavily on his aide. When she is not available, he continues to drive, putting at risk his own life and the lives of countless numbers of people unlucky enough to share the road with him.

Last weekend my sister and her husband drove down to his house to disable his car and ask him once again to come back with them, but unsurprisingly he refused. Then, he got it into his head that my brother-in-law must be at the bottom of this conspiracy (when in fact he has only been an exceedingly patient observer) and came after him with fists up. My brother-in-law restrained him, telling him he didn’t like the way he was treating his wife and the rest of his family, to which my father replied, “She’s my daughter and I’ll treat her any way I like.” When they decided to leave, my father ran after them, telling my sister that although she was once his “favorite” he didn’t love her anymore, and that he was soon going to buy a rifle and kill us all and chop us up into little pieces.

To say the least, we are fed up and disgusted. After the considerable investment of time and emotional energy she has contributed to our father’s cause over the past few years, my sister is devastated. He was a shitty father always, but when our mother was alive she was a buffer between him and the rest of us. It has only been in the last several years that we’ve had to face, so starkly, how much we truly do dislike him.

The question is, what to do? If he won’t help himself, and refuses to let us help him, what obligation do we have to bend to his whims? We can no longer care for him from where we live, and we no longer want him to move closer to us. It may sound cruel, but as the situation is not likely to get better, we would prefer to distance ourselves from it altogether. If he wants to be alone and as isolated from us as he is from the rest of the world, what obligation do we have to subject ourselves to his abuse and disdain?

Practically Fatherless

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Dear Practically Fatherless,

I would say you have very little filial obligation at this point, aside from the bill paying and medical scheduling that your sister is already doing. Because the relationship with a parent is felt to be so special, we sometimes neglect to consider the ways in which it is just another human relationship that must conform to the same norms and standards that every other human relationship conforms to. We overlook behavior that is in fact beyond the pale and intolerable, and that leads to insoluble conflicts and impossible situations.

It is understandable that you feel the age-old pull of fatherly gravity, that you are susceptible to an ancient wish to make things right. But not only do your well-meaning efforts meet with resistance — they seem to make matters worse. So remember this:

Your father is still capable of making choices. They may be bad choices, but they’re his choices.

In this case, he chose to chase the car down the road, threatening to buy a rifle and shoot you all and cut you up into pieces.

His threat may indicate that he is mentally unstable and in need of care. So I advise you to consult local psychiatric social services about what you can do in this regard. For while your obligation to involve yourself further may be limited, you do have an obligation to understand the legal and medical situation, so you can make informed choices. If he were willing to give up certain of his rights, by appointing someone his guardian and/or assigning durable power of attorney to someone, then you would have certain powers to conduct his financial affairs and restrict his movements. In this area, in addition to consulting with social services, you should get a full accounting of your legal rights and responsibilities from an attorney with experience and expertise in elder law. The SeniorLaw Web site lists many resources. An aging person, with certain indications of dementia, does not proceed neatly one day from “competent” to “incompetent.” Rather, for a period of time one is lucid at times and not at others. So I think unless and until he is declared incompetent, you must judge him by the standards you would use to judge anyone else.

All this becomes moot once he buys the rifle.

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Few prospects are more chilling than filicide. And, as this short monograph on Answer.com reminds us, Freud maintained that where there is a prohibition, there is a wish. Else why the prohibition, eh?

And parents do not just kill their little babies. They also kill their adult children. According to “Classifications and Descriptions of Parents Who Commit Filicide,” a research report authored by Linda Cylc while she was doing graduate work in psychology at Villanova University, “fathers generally kill older children. Murderous fathers frequently have histories of drug and alcohol abuse, previous criminal records, and very high levels of environmental stress, and the murdered children often have had previous injuries (Palermo, 2002; Stanton & Simpson, 2002) … One more stressor seems to be important; fathers who kill their children are very often going through a separation from their wife or other marriage/relationship problems, and this can be seen as an additional risk factor (Marleau, et al., 1999).”

So do what you can, and absolve yourself of guilt. Consult with legal and social services to get a firm understanding of what your options are. Try to define a trigger point at which you would petition the court to have your father declared incompetent. Otherwise, stay out of his way. And warn the neighbors!

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I think my dad’s too old to vote

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Cary’s classic column from Tuesday, Apr 15, 2008

He says he’s not really following politics, but is planning to vote anyway.


Dear Cary,

My 84-year-old father voted a straight ticket in the 2008 primary.

Now he says that at his age he doesn’t keep up with politics anymore. When he was younger he was very interested in politics and read everything he could get his hands on about the political agendas and knew what was what. He doesn’t even read the newspaper or watch the news on TV. He says it isn’t relevant for him now that he is at the end of his life.

Nevertheless, he has declared that he will vote in November!

My question is how do I tell my father that he shouldn’t vote if it isn’t relevant for him and he doesn’t know what is going on?

I told him that it will be relevant to his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Help!

Cary Tennis Writing Retreat in France

Dear Help!,

My dad is 84, too. He’ll turn 85 in May — unless he makes a wrong turn and ends up back in April.

It could happen. He gets confused. You take your eyes off him, he’s in Ladies Wear. Or he’s deep in thought on a traffic island.

But we can’t tell him what to do. It’s all we can do to keep him from swallowing Drano and stuffing kittens in his pockets. There are limits, even with 24-hour surveillance.

So knowing what it is like to try to control the actions of an aging parent, I would advise you not to tell your father he shouldn’t vote. First, it’s not your decision. Second, as Jeeves might say, success in such an endeavor is far from assured, sir. And third, even if he writes in Hitler and Mussolini, the empire’s fate does not rest on the divinations of one confused octogenarian — unless he’s a federal judge.

Nor is the right to vote contingent on demonstrable competency — with good reason, as in the past “competency” has been pegged to attributes that have nothing to do with competence, such as gender and skin color.

So here is a better idea: Let your father do as he chooses, and meanwhile work to get out the vote for your side. If you turn out five voters, their votes will either add to or counteract the effect of your father’s vote, depending on what he decides once in the booth. Either way, you come out ahead.

There is one issue here that you cannot come out ahead on: Your father is getting old. His faculties are declining. There is no cure for this. It is not easy to watch and accept. It is not easy to stand back. You may find yourself trying to control things that you really cannot control. That will only bring you pain. It will draw you into conflicts that are really not about what they purport to be about. So I suggest that you simply treat your father with loving kindness and accept his gradual and inevitable decline.

His voting is the least of your worries. Pick your battles. You may have to take his car keys away. But he’s not going to run anybody down in the voting booth.

Cary Tennis Newsletter Sign Up

 

Of demented parents and my brother’s pants

 

My father died. My mom has Alzheimer’s. My brother wears his trousers too high.

 

Cary’s archival column from MAY 1, 2011

 

Dear Cary,

I love my brother dearly. We’re 13 months apart, but I feel like he’s my twin. We survived our parents’ horrible marriage. We’ve both been very successful and have accumulated quite a bit of wealth, so we live comfy lives.

I left my birth state to get away from our parents, especially my mother. For 25 years my brother stayed near them and took care of them — tuned up their cars, cleaned out rain gutters, replaced hot water heaters and dishwashers, while I only dropped by for a rare lunch or dinner.

When our parents could no longer live independently, they suddenly moved 1,000 miles away from their home of 50 years. This was an irrational move, and they failed miserably.

My brother and I intervened, and I offered to move them to my state, where assisted living is quite affordable. After they had gotten the medical and dental care that they truly needed, my father was diagnosed with vascular dementia and mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

Their irrational behaviors grew worse. I petitioned the court for conservatorship and guardianship of both of them. Mother blew through a $70,000 checking account, spending the money on pure junk. Her hoarding was overwhelming.

And their relationship grew more contentious. While we waited for the legal wheels to move in our favor so that I could have the means to fully protect these two people, my mother severely harmed my father and he died.

Mother became more irrational than ever, and she fought back, hiring her own attorney. Both of them tried their best to discredit me by accusing me of stealing all of my mother’s assets. Mother insisted that only my brother could be her conservator. I dropped my petition for guardianship, as a conservatorship would offer more protection. With my brother controlling mother’s every cent, she could not hire moving companies to help her run away to Australia or Florida or Idaho, wherever her extreme paranoia directed her.

My brother wholeheartedly agreed to step into the role as our mother’s court-appointed conservator, not for her, but as a huge favor to me so I could end this legal nightmare. And after waiting for over a year for this legal mess to settle out, we were finally granted the legal means to protect her from herself — and from a potentially predatory world, should she succeed in her attempts to live independently.

She is now in a memory-loss care facility that is near my house so I can oversee her care. With my brother’s help our mother is well cared for.

I owe my brother quite a bit but feel like I’m failing him. He’s now 66, never been married, no children and no live-together lovers. He’s retired from a very successful career, owns a huge house that he built, is an excellent athlete and has the energy to be out there in the world still possessing the joy and wonder of life.

He would like to find a lady friend, but most women give him one look, smile and turn away. For some strange reason he wears his pants up close to his armpits, making him look like a little old man. And from hiking his trousers so high, his private parts are quite visible. My daughters have asked me to say something to him. After all, they don’t want to see their uncle’s junk, and they feel that the ladies who smile at him are quietly making fun of him.

How do I have this conversation with him, not make him feel like a fool, and encourage him to go shopping? He’s quite sensitive. And we can talk about private subjects, but I just never want him to feel like he’s been smirked at by the ladies he would like to get to know.

Want the Best for My Bro

Cary's Writing Retreat in Chester, CT

Dear Want the Best,

You have been through a horrendous ordeal. You and your brother have worked together to bring stability to a situation that is among the most terrifying and difficult for adults to endure. I, too, have worked with a brother and other family members to manage the unpredictable and often tragic behavior of parents with dementia. So my heart goes out to you.

Your letter resonates with a nearly surreal combination of the tragic and the absurd.

Here is how your story comes across to the unconscious mind: Your mother murdered your father, and your brother wears his pants too high. That’s the gist of it. That’s how it comes across. Not maybe to the rational mind. But to the body, the kid, the psyche.

Your careful language is spooky. You say, “My mother severely harmed my father and he died.” It may be that in the world of law and evidence she did not murder him. But when we deal with our own parents, we are often dealing with them in an emotional way, with our dreaming mind, the child’s mind. To that mind, it does sound like your mother killed your father.

Even if that were not the case, the mere sight of parents acting crazy alarms the dreaming mind and sets us off on a panicked mission to solve what cannot be solved. After such an ordeal, you may feel off balance, and you may find yourself focusing on items that are superficially trivial but have deeper significance. For instance, it now seems important that your brother find a mate and wear his pants the right way. Why would that be? Is there some kind of emotional repair going on? Have you perhaps transferred your lifelong hopes for a peaceful and happy family life to your brother? I’m not saying you have, but I am saying it’s time, after such a wrenching emotional experience, to watch for the ways that our psyches seek to repair and find balance.

Having lost your father, you may feel some emptiness. You may be wishing that you could re-create something. Or your brother may be standing in for your dad: Since you could not save your dad, you may be motivated in some way to save your brother, by finding a wife for him.

Who wears the pants in the family? Pants are about power and also about sexuality. Maybe your brother is signaling that he does not want a mate. Or maybe he is conflicted; maybe he wants a mate but wants to be accepted as someone who wears his pants up around his armpits. He could be signaling many things by this behavior. But we don’t need to get inside your brother’s head to do him some good. We can just take him shopping.

The humor of the pants situation also says something about the family. You and he have both done well. You’ve weathered the storm. You survived the most terrifying thing for a child, which is to see the parents go mad. So maybe also you now deserve some harmless fun.

My suggestion would be to go shopping with your brother. Since you’ve both done well financially, you could frame this shopping trip as a well-deserved reward and splurge. The reason I say to splurge is that what you will be spending money on in a high-end place is the sensitivity and expertise of the sales staff. Your brother needs to be fitted with pants that make him look good. That’s what expert clothing salespeople know how to do. If gentle criticism about his current style comes from a salesperson, he may be able to hear it. The salesperson will know how to guide him to the right pants.

You might even call and explain to a salesperson in advance that you are bringing in your brother and you want to find him some pants that fit right, and that it’s a delicate situation.

Also, this shopping trip can be a good bonding experience. Go shopping, get him some excellent-looking outfits, and then go have a good lunch or dinner. Thank him for everything he’s done. Go boating. Jump out of airplanes. Book a hunting trip. Hang out. Breathe a sigh of relief. Things are stable for now.

I keep coming back to that paragraph where you say that your mother severely harmed your father and he died. I can’t quite get over that. It contains such intensity of feeling and strange distance! “Severely harmed him and he died.”

If the severe harm she did to him caused his death, then she killed him. And if that is the case, then you are walking around with a heavy psychic burden and I suggest that you seek to unpack this awful truth with the help of a professional. In fact, even if your mother did not kill your father, what you have been through is likely to be the kind of thing from which the sensitive psyche tries to hide in one way or another, and when the psyche tries to hide, we find ourselves doing strange things for reasons that are hidden from us. We have hidden those reasons. Our psyches are trying to restore balance. So maybe we do very nourishing things, like start gardens or spend time in nature. And maybe we find important emotional support in helping others or working in groups to bring good things into the world. But we may also find ourselves turning to strange or destructive behavior, and the connection between our behavior and what we have survived may be hidden from us.

So either way, and especially since you can afford it, I would do yourself a favor and find a really great psychotherapist. Not that you sound crazy. That’s not it at all, and I wish that seeking therapy in such situations were more broadly supported as just a normal thing to do. To have someone just compassionately witness what you have been through can be a great help.

And then get your brother some good pants.

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