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Bother Figure

The only thing keeping me from proposing to my girlfriend is her ex, who's Mr. Control. They have a 6-year-old son together. The dad has ample visitation rights, lives in town, and babysits often. Still, every night, the son has to call and check in with him. It's not like he wants to. Yesterday, he hardly said two words. The dad knows my reputation. In fact, people have told him he should be glad his ex is dating me because I'm so good with kids. I'm a firefighter, never married. The boy told his dad I was making him a bow and arrow, so the dad went out and bought him one. I made it anyhow. I suspect he still has a thing for my girlfriend. Am I wrong to think this is an invasion of my space?--Crowded

Ask a 6-year-old what he wants to be when he grows up, and odds are, he'll blurt out "a fireman!" -- not "I'm looking for something in midlevel management with a good 401(k)!" or "Someday, I'll deliver dry cleaning!" Unless this kid's dad happens to be an astronaut, a rock star or Batman, you've vastly out-cooled him on the job front -- down to the "company car." Do you really think there's a 6-year-old boy in the universe who'd turn down an offer to go screaming around town on a shiny red firetruck for a lift in Pop's sensible brown sedan?

You got the girl, you're time-sharing his kid, and still you're obsessed with giving the guy a virtual wedgie. Come on ... does that one nightly phone call really hack a chunk out of your thick firefighter hide? You probably wouldn't think twice about running into a burning building to rescue somebody's houseplant, but you just can't bear a 6-year-old talking to Daddy once a day. In your defense, you did mention something about Daddy's "ample" visitation rights. Of course, a father who finds himself checking out and returning his child like a library book or the class hamster probably sees "ample" a bit differently. And so what if the kid doesn't have much to say on the phone? Most kids, at 6, aren't exactly the second coming of Gore Vidal.

Yes, but you're great, and the other guy is dirt under a bum's fingernail! Anything he can dad you can dad better. (Everybody says so.) You'll take over from here, thank you very much, if he'll just do his part and shrivel up and blow away. Great. And how will you be paying for the kid's lifetime in therapy ... with Bolivia's annual GNP or truck fleets of gold bullion? According to extensive research by sociologist Constance Ahrons, author of The Good Divorce, kids who've weathered breakups best are those whose parents' desire to raise happy children took precedence over their personal grievances.

In other words, it's time you stopped casting the kid as the rope in your adult tug-of-war, and instead encouraged him to have a close relationship with his dad. This requires a full attitude-ectomy, because if there's so much as an eye-roll from you at telephone time, the kid will pick up on it. On the bright side, once the dad senses you've called off the deathmatch for the kid's affection, he might just ease up. Ultimately, if you want this woman, you'll recognize that there are divorced daddies worth getting worked up about -- but they aren't the ones waiting by the phone to hear (for the 327th time) how Timmy stuffed Miss Arnaud's chalkboard eraser up his nose.

Spellbinding Arbitration

I'm attracted to this guy at work, but I've never been able to pluck up the courage to ask him out. A friend suggested casting a love spell on him. What do you think?--Charm-Wrestling

I think there's no limit to the dumb stuff people will swallow if they think it's their ticket out of making an effort. Believing in spells is like believing in psychics. If psychics knew anything, they wouldn't be stuck in dingy storefronts answering the question "Is there a man in my future?"; they'd be lounging on the Spanish Riviera, responding to "More caviar, Madam?"

You'd actually be interested in having a boyfriend who only loves you because you replaced his powdered coffee creamer with ground bat toenail? How romantic! In lieu of trying to poison the guy into wanting you, duck your head into his office and say the magic words: "Hey, wanna grab a drink after work?" If he agrees, set a time. If he declines, try again. If he keeps turning you down, give up and go off in search of guys who find you charming, as is. Even if you suspect they're few and far between, they can't be anywhere near as scarce as a bat willing to lie back and let you give it a pedicure.

Copyright 2004, Amy Alkon, all rights reserved. Got a problem? Write Amy Alkon, 171 Pier Ave, #280, Santa Monica, CA 90405, or e-mail (

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