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Ask Amy column: Surname is hers to keep or change

Q. I have been dating a wonderful woman for months now, and we have fallen deeply in love. We talk of spending our lives together, and although we are undecided if we would get legally married, we would at the appropriate time make a “commitment” to each other before actually living together as a couple.

My partner has been widowed for five years after a 20-year marriage and has two college-age children. She says she does not consider herself “married” anymore. The question is, when we begin living our lives together, is it appropriate for her to continue using her deceased husband’s surname or revert back to her maiden name? Although I would never ask her to take my name unless we were legally married, I am somewhat uncomfortable living together as a committed couple when she has another man’s name. Am I being silly, or do I have a valid reason for my feelings?

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FEELING SILLY

A. Your beloved is not a piece of property. Her identity is not dependent on the man she is with, nor is it completely dependent on her surname, whether it is the one she currently has or the one she grew up with. Her surname is not “another man’s name” — it is her name. It is the name she has held for 25 years and (I assume) the surname she shares with her children.

If she wants to change her name, she will. She alone gets to decide what is “appropriate.”

Your feelings are valid — because they are your feelings. But I suggest you work harder to keep your eye on the ball and give your loved one complete and total freedom to do what she wants to do.

Q. Our daughter shocked us recently. We have loved her for more than 40 years.

We recently baby-sat our only two grandchildren, ages 9 and 7.

When we left, we noticed a trampoline in the corner of the living/dining room. The angle protruding into the room is extremely sharp and dangerous.

Later we sent to the daughter the following e-mail: “Grandma and grandpa do NOT understand — you have a trampoline in your living room? Unguarded? Please talk to us.”

This is her surprising response: “We are fine with the risk. I ask that you don’t take that tone with me in the future.”

Well, Amy, we Lutherans believe in the biblical commandment to “honor thy parents.” She knows this part of the Bible.

I am her father, and I have not had contact with her for two months. Her mother does the baby-sitting. Am I too sensitive? She is a manager at a big company. She acts as though I am an underling or one of her children.

PROTECTIVE GRANDFATHER AND INSULTED FATHER

A. Let’s start with the commandment you cite. It’s about honoring parents. Your daughter is saying that you should honor her judgment (even if you don’t like it) because she is the parent.

Your e-mail to her does betray a certain “tone.” To me, it seems condescending. This does not mean that you shouldn’t mention an obvious safety risk in the house, but you asked a question, and she answered it. She snapped at you, and you have chosen to cut yourself off from her ever since.

If you are trying to model positive parenting to your daughter, you are doing a poor job of it. The idea is to communicate respectfully, to be consistent, mature, and forgiving. You can’t be this kind of father and grandfather if you aren’t speaking to your daughter or seeing your grandchildren.

Send questions via e-mail to askamy@tribune.com or by mail to Ask Amy, Chicago Tribune, TT500, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL 60611.

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