How Can I Stop My Usually Sensible Parents From Splurging on a Milestone?

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My father is celebrating his 60th birthday next month. He and my mother are teachers; they live modestly. But he came into a chunk of money unexpectedly, and they are turning his birthday — combined with their 30th wedding anniversary — into an irresponsible money pit. Rather than adding to their retirement account, they are chartering a private jet to take them, my brother and me to a tropical island for an over-the-top vacation. The problem: I am truly stressed about climate change and object to private jets. Using them is selfish and destructive to the environment! (Meanwhile, my brother and I have student debt.) I have shared my objections with my parents, but they are committed to this vacation. Can I refuse to go?


I respect your objection to private jets and supersize carbon footprints. But two lifelong public servants taking one blinged-out holiday to celebrate their milestones, and briefly emulating the daily life of Taylor Swift, is small potatoes (environmentally speaking). Let them see how the superrich live — once!

I assume your parents understand the ramifications of not funding their retirement now. They have supported themselves and their family for 30 years; I see no reason to question their fiscal responsibility. No, I prefer to be happy for their windfall (and a little disappointed that you linked it to your student debt, as if you and your brother should reap the benefits instead of them).

Is it possible for you to lean on rationalization here? (A slippery business, I know!) The private jet is taking off in any event; one more passenger will not increase its ill effects. Or perhaps you can join your family by traveling commercially. You may refuse to go, of course, but it seems a shame to skip your parents’ celebration because of one excess. Maybe they would agree to buy carbon offsets from a company that plants trees?

My husband and I trade dogsitting duties with another couple. They watch our dog while we’re away; we watch theirs. The last time we had their large dog, it bolted when a car engine backfired and broke away from me on its leash. We frantically searched for it and warned the owners to take all calls. (Their phone numbers are printed on the dog’s ID tag.) They were soon contacted by a veterinarian who was treating the dog; it had been hit by a car. They asked us to pick up the dog — which we did — and we paid the $1,500 vet bill. When they returned, we submitted the bill to our friends, but they refused to pay it, claiming that we were totally responsible for injuries while the dog was in our care. That’s not right, is it?


No, it is extremely not right. If your friends had paid a kennel to board their dog (or a bonded dogsitter), I would be more sympathetic to their claim — though they probably would have signed an agreement retaining liability for accidents in that case. You were doing them a favor. And stuff happens!

Presumably, your friends approved the scope and cost of treatment when they spoke to the vet. I assume, too, that you were being reasonably careful when the dog broke away from you. Here’s the problem: You already paid the bill. Revisit the issue in a few days. Your friends may soften after the shock wears off. If they continue to reject all responsibility, consult a lawyer, consider a small-claims action or rethink this friendship.

Our outdoor hot tub will be delivered soon. My husband and I intend to use it during daylight and without wearing swimsuits. Yes, nude! We have neighbors who live 40 feet away and will be able to see us, if they choose to, while we walk 20 feet from our patio to the hot tub. We do not intend to cover up. We have some non-neighbor friends who are appalled by this. You?


Why do I get the impression that you want me to be scandalized? (Never mind.) In the United States, it is generally illegal to be naked in public, including when you are on your own property and others, especially children, are likely to see you. Laws vary by town and state.

But why create potential awkwardness? You need to bring towels to the hot tub with you to dry off anyway. Wrap them around yourselves while you walk to the tub, and then let them fall dramatically to the ground as you slip into the steamy water. Decency (mostly) preserved!

When I was 16, my religious parents discovered I was having sex with my girlfriend. I was grounded for the entire summer, which brought a promising relationship to an end. Now, three years later, I have learned that my 16-year-old sister is having sex with her boyfriend. Should I tell my parents?


Why would you do that — so your sister will suffer just because you did? Unless you think there is something harmful to her in the relationship — and I urge you to discuss this question with her — don’t go to your parents. You know better than many of us the cruelty of rigidly administered discipline.

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