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Why Is My Daughter’s Debt Forgiveness So Upsetting to My Brother?

My daughter always wanted to be a teacher. She also knew it wasn’t a lucrative field by a long shot, so before she enrolled in college, she got smart about loan-forgiveness programs for teachers. Now her education is almost paid off. The problem: My brother is angry about this. His son incurred a lot of debt to pay for an expensive private college, but he dropped out after two years and hasn’t landed on his feet yet. That’s not my daughter’s fault! But my brother complains constantly about the “government handout” she’s taking for her education. It really bothers me. Why is he doing this?


It’s probably a cocktail of jealousy and disappointment. (And if we’re honest, many of us know that flavor.) Your daughter did nothing wrong in seeking out the loan-forgiveness programs that are available to teachers and other public servants. It sounds as if she handled her education wisely.

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But I can sympathize with your nephew, too. For ages, we’ve told young people that the surest way to make something of themselves is with a college degree, even if they have no idea what they want to do with it. The problem now is that floating through college can be wildly expensive. It may be smarter for some students to defer college until they have a clearer (or affordable) plan. Still, I feel compassion for young people saddled with egregious student debt; we can do better by them.

Now, let’s see if we can help your brother manage his feelings without dragging your daughter into it. Try this: “I feel for your son. Most kids don’t know what they want to do at 18, and college costs a fortune now. But that’s no reason to swipe at my daughter. She knew what she wanted and financed it sensibly. Lay off her, OK?”

My ex-wife and I divorced a year ago. I have custody of our 2-year-old son. When I take him to play groups or the children’s library, I see the same crowd of parents and kids, including one mother who seems not to like me. The last time I saw her, in a parking lot, she told me I was using my car seat wrong. But when I asked her to show me what the problem was, she said she was too busy. Should I talk to her?


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Too busy to keep a toddler safe? That’s cold! Still, it rarely pays to chase after relative strangers to try to endear ourselves to them. Not everyone is going to like us. Just be polite to this woman when you see her and forget about her.

My larger concern here is for the safety of your son. In an accident, improper use of a car seat can lead to serious injury or death. Ask a friendlier parent if she or he can check your setup, or watch an instructional video on YouTube. Don’t be too hard on yourself about this, though: Every parent I know has struggled at some point to get those belts and anchors right.

My son is marrying his girlfriend next year. The wedding planner wants us to buy out a restaurant and have a rehearsal dinner for 150 people that will cost more than $20,000! I come from a poor background, but I’ve done well in life. I paid for my children’s education. We own our home, and we live debt-free. Spending so much on one dinner does not sit well with me. I asked for more information, but my son told me not to worry about it — just to have my checkbook ready. I would prefer a smaller, less formal affair. Am I wrong?


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I am not an expert in the wedding-industrial complex, but I have never heard of such a large rehearsal dinner. Traditionally, invitees include the immediate families of the bride and groom, members of the bridal party (with a guest) and, occasionally, those who have traveled a great distance to the wedding. Can that number possibly equal 150?

It is also traditional for the groom’s family to pay for the rehearsal dinner, but that doesn’t mean writing a blank check to the wedding planner! Speak to your son now about the size and cost of the dinner you are willing to underwrite. If the couple prefers something larger or grander, they can pay for it themselves.

A colleague from three jobs ago is visiting my town next month. She wants to get together. I don’t. There’s nothing wrong with her; I just don’t care about her. I’m tempted to ignore her email, but I know she’ll follow up. I don’t want to be rude, but I also don’t want to travel for an hour after work to meet her, chitchat for two hours, spend $40 on dinner, then travel home again. What would you do?


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Try not to make a federal case of this. It was just a friendly invitation! Respond: “I hope you have a great trip. But your travel dates don’t work for me.” The end.

For help with your awkward situation, send a question to [email protected], to Philip Galanes on Facebook or @SocialQPhilip on Twitter.

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