Dear Mary

Dear Mary: how can I stop my dad treating my mum like a slave?

9 November 2019

9:00 AM

9 November 2019

9:00 AM

Q. Dad takes an old-fashioned approach to marriage: I have never seen him clear his plate and he does not know what’s in the kitchen cupboards. He also enjoys the benefits of a modern wife: my mother has worked (much) harder than him in their business for a long time and takes a lot of responsibility off him, although his name is on everything. There is no question of their love for each other but today, in the middle of discussing an important and stressful matter, he cut her off with ‘I’ll have my lunch when you’re ready’. Anything he doesn’t want to discuss is curtailed with ‘Can I have a cup of tea, please?’ in a tone one might use to remind a junior of her place. How should she respond? Mum is no Germaine Greer but she wants this to stop.
— Name and address withheld

A. The cultural norms were different when your parents began their marriage. However, your father’s ingrained habits don’t necessarily signal sexism. It could be that, suspecting his wife exceeds him in competence, he just wants to reassure himself she still loves him, and what better proof than by seeing her willingly nurture him? Rather than cutting him down to size, she might do better to calculate the likely payout were an employee to take him to court under the Equality Act 2010 for workplace bullying and sexism. By asking their company lawyer to bypass the courts and simply top up her salary with a self-awarded sexism penalty, she could continue to humour your father while sweetening the pill of doing so.

Q. A friend has invited me to the theatre. The play starts at 8 p.m. and ends at 10. I suggested we meet before for something to eat but my friend says it is ‘common’ to eat so early and we must eat afterwards. What do you say?
— C.P., London SW1

A. Proper aesthetes do not eat before a performance, not because it’s common, but because the satiated state will dull responses. Posh people eat late but when forced to eat early once, they long for other excuses to do so, finding that they have slept better and not wasted three hours being hungry. Indeed eating early is becoming more fashionable, a trend led by health obsessives, the vain (and Americans). But how will you hold the post-mortem about the play if not around a table? Suggest a compromise by having a main course before the play, and a pudding and more alcohol later (perhaps at your house)?

Q. My son is at UCL, and often when he gets to the library in the morning all the seats have been taken by more competitive students, so he has to work in his bedsit. He can’t afford to heat this during the day, but I bought him from Lakeland a foldaway electric clothes horse (£99) which costs 4p an hour to run and takes the edge off the chill in his room.
— J.F., Richmond, Yorkshire

A. Thank you for sharing this tip.

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