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    Miss Conduct

    Digging up family dirt

    Plus, a friend more into a new guy than your shared project, and whether one can drink from a bowl in a restaurant.

    Lucy Truman

    My father learned when he was a child that the man he thought was his father wasn’t. After his biological father won a prestigious horse racing event in the 1950s, everyone in my father’s small Ohio town was talking, and eventually an older boy told my father that this man was his “real” father. I have researched my biological grandfather and sometimes thought I’d like to contact his family — especially now, because I think my father might be in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, which no one else in my family has. However, I don’t want to cause people any hurt or confusion. What do you think?

    S.B. / Somerville

    A prestigious horse race! A small Ohio town! I hope you have gathered all this information in one place, including your research methods and musings about the whole strange tale. Share it with those in your family who are interested and already in the know.

    And leave it at that. If you don’t want to cause hurt, don’t go presenting yourself to distant relatives. At worst, you’ll reopen old wounds or inflict some new ones; at best, they’ll feel uncomfortably obligated to do something about you with no idea of what that might be.


    You’re entering a frightening time with your father, but his biological family doesn’t have the answers that you want. Finding the family history of Alzheimer’s would tell you nothing about what you and your father are facing. Instead, look around your community or online for caregiver support groups. People caring for loved ones here and now are the people you need to be reaching out to.

    I am in my mid-20s and recently visited a good friend a few states away to shoot a short film project. Not long before the trip, she mentioned that she might get invited to a party by the guy she likes during a time when we were planning to work. She was, and spent most of the weekend with other people, leaving our project uncompleted and me alone. We got into a big fight, and I don’t know how to resolve it or prevent it in the future.

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    B.L. / Cohasset

    You and Ms. Goodfriend are two points of a jealous triangle. The third point, however, is not Mr. Newhottie.

    It’s the film, which is clearly much more your baby than it is hers. So much more so that I’m envisioning you in one of those old temperance dramas, standing outside the saloon in the snow, stoically clutching your Steadicam to your chest while Goodfriend and Newhottie cavort in the bright interior. Slow dissolve.

    Cancel the project, agree to call the weekend a botched episode, and move on. The project isn’t worth damaging your relationship over, and you can damage it. I was in the performing arts in my mid-20s; I’ve seen your story a hundred times. Trying to turn even the most solid friendship into an artistic collaboration — an unfunded, long-distance artistic collaboration —  requires the kind of psychic alchemy that takes decades to learn. At this point in your artistic development you should make friends of your collaborators, not the other way around.

    Is it ever appropriate in a restaurant to drink from a bowl?


    K.M. / Waltham

    Only if one is staging a dinner-theater production of Oliver!

    Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.

    WONDERING WHETHER TO DREDGE UP SOMETHING FROM THE PAST? Write to Miss Conduct at And get advice live during a chat with Robin Abrahams on Wednesday, August 21, from noon to 1 p.m.