A son’s tat­toos, and a mother’s blind spot

The Washington Post Sunday - - ADVICE & PUZZLES -

Dear Carolyn: I have a 21-year-old son, im­pul­sive by na­ture, who un­ex­pect­edly joined the mil­i­tary and is serv­ing in Afghanistan. He has placed many tat­toos on his body, which I find so unattrac­tive. He knows how I feel but states it is his body.

Re­cently, I went to his Face­book page to cor­re­spond with him and no­ticed he got an­other large tat­too. I amdev­as­tated and feel he is turn­ing into a car­toon. My soul is torn apart.

I amhav­ing a hard time writ­ing to him now and send­ing care pack­ages. I feel as if he has never hon­ored or cared formy feel­ings an­damsearch­ing for some in­sight to get be­yond this. Howdo I ac­cept thatmy son has be­come ev­ery­thing I do not re­spect?— Anony­mous

How­didwe get from tat­toos to “ev­ery­thing I do not re­spect”? To “never hon­ored or cared formy feel­ings”?

The im­por­tance (to you) of keep­ing ink out of his skin can’t be the only value you tried to in­still in him. Pre­sum­ably you also stressed the im­por­tance of ser­vice, of pulling his weight, of be­ing his own man, of stay­ing close to the peo­ple he loves? Of not judg­ing books by cov­ers?

He’s serv­ing his coun­try, sup­port­ing him­self, own­ing his choices big and small, and stay­ing in touch with­Mommy from a war zone.

And you’re dis­tanc­ing your­self be­cause of what’s on his skin.

Per­haps his im­pul­sive streak is re­bel­lion against your rigid be­liefs. I hope for both of your sakes— but mostly for yours— that you stop dwelling on what his ap­pear­ance says about you, and start think­ing about what his heart says about him.

Hi, Carolyn: I’mgay. Con­grat­u­la­tions, you’re the first per­son I’ve told. I’ve had a num­ber of mis­er­able het­ero re­la­tion­ships that ob­vi­ously couldn’t go any­where, but I’mstart­ing to go crazy. I live in a part of the coun­try where there is no real “gay com­mu­nity,” andmy fam­ily isn’t ex­actly gay-friendly. If I were to start over some­place else, I’d be do­ing it com­pletely alone. Not to men­tion that I amin a doomed re­la­tion­ship with some­one whose heart I don’t want to break. I have no idea where to turn. — Huntsville, Ala.

This isn’t about be­ing clos­eted in Huntsville. Any­time you feel stuck, sort the rea­sons into two piles: con­stants and choices. Then re­mind your­self as of­ten as nec­es­sary that ev­ery choice can be changed.

I can ar­gue that you’re “com­pletely alone” right where you are. And, as long as you’re choos­ing not to live openly where you are, and not to move away, then you’ll never fore­see­ably be any­thing but alone. Nor will your part­ner in re­la­tion­ship doom; that breakup needs to come now.

Maybe it feels un­safe to come out; that’s some­thing only you can as­sess.

And maybe you feel too in­se­cure/un­sta­ble to start over alone— or you just take com­fort in fam­ily, de­spite your se­cret. Fair enough. But: “com­pletely alone” is the way count­less peo­ple ar­rive in newlo­ca­tions to launch newlives, es­pe­cially when the old lives aren’t work­ing. Start­ing from scratch is both a byprod­uct of our mo­bile so­ci­ety and a cat­a­lyst for it; Amer­i­cans treat a fresh start as their birthright.

Cer­tainly some moves that are con­ceived as fresh starts can spi­ral into alien­ation and fi­nan­cial dis­tress. The more vul­ner­a­ble you are emo­tion­ally, phys­i­cally, so­cially, fi­nan­cially and pro­fes­sion­ally, the more safe­guards you need to build into your re­lo­ca­tion.

For you, that might just mean you shop for your new­com­mu­nity care­fully, hold­ing out for both pro­fes­sional op­por­tu­nity and so­ci­etal open-mind­ed­ness— and also scout ahead for gay-friendly vol­un­teer or com­mu­nity groups, so you can es­tab­lish quick prox­im­ity to po­ten­tial friends when you get there. Also, avoid strict leases and keep es­cape funds in sav­ings. Your needs might be emo­tional, but be re­lent­lessly prac­ti­cal in your plans.

Dear Carolyn: This has both­ered me since Christ­mas! Inmy boyfriend’s fam­ily, they draw­names so that ev­ery­one gives a gift to one per­son. Their agreed-on price is twice as ex­pen­sive as inmy fam­ily (we also have a lot­tery sys­tem). So I spent twice as much on some­one inmy boyfriend’s fam­ily as onmy own sis­ter, who is very dear to me. I feel that I was un­just.

Should I have given her a more ex­pen­sive gift? My fam­ily could not have af­forded more, al­though I per­son­ally could have.— Anony­mous

Spend­ing over lim­its of­ten an­noys peo­ple who ob­serve them— and can be a slap in the face to those who couldn’t af­ford to spend more.

Heed the limit on your one gift, then sat­isfy your sense of jus­tice by giv­ing your whole fam­ily an ex­tra some­thing they all can en­joy. Good food or wine would do it.

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