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Ask Alan Johnson

20 July 2022

The former Home Secretary uses his wisdom, wit and experience to tackle the problems troubling you.

Portrait of Alan Johnson
Photography by Mark Harrison

Q Since retiring I’ve signed up for an art class and a choir. My wife and grown-up daughters snigger and sneer at my efforts, though they say they are just teasing. I feel they’ve always ganged up on me a little (I have no sons) and eroded my confidence. Now I find myself not wanting to share my interests with them. How can I address this without appearing overly sensitive?

A Are they ‘sneering’ and ‘sniggering’ or are they simply subjecting you to a bit of good-natured banter? Your terminology suggests there’s something malicious in their behaviour but I find that hard to believe.

Neither do I think that having a son would protect you. Dad taking up singing and painting in retirement is excellent material for a bit of leg-pulling. It’s age rather than gender-based and if you had a son I suspect he’d be joining in. But you don’t need defending. You’re doing exactly what you want to do in your well-earned retirement – good for you. Don’t spoil it by taking offence at comments that probably weren’t meant to be offensive.

Ganging up on you ‘a little’ is only to be expected in a household where one gender outnumbers the other. I’m not sure how it’s eroded your confidence although I accept it may occasionally have punctured your pride. If you raise this as an issue, your wife and daughters would think you were being overly sensitive, and in my view they’d be right. Carry on painting and singing but stop taking things so seriously.

Q My son has been with his Australian girlfriend for two years. They get on really well, but every day I pray they will split up, as she’s mentioned feeling homesick and I fear she will persuade him to move nearer her family. I would miss my son dreadfully and also feel he’d be happier in his home country. I can’t stop feeling angry towards this woman, and find it hard to be friendly towards her. How can I make my son see sense? My husband thinks I risk driving him away.

A Your husband is right – trying to force your son to ‘see sense’ is likely to end badly. It may even make the situation you dread more likely to happen. It’s not as if there’s any immediacy about the dilemma you predict. You’re worrying yourself silly about a hypothetical problem that may or may not occur.

Your son must make his own decisions and whilst his closeness to you may be one aspect it’s unlikely to be the major one. You’d be better advised to build a relationship with the woman who seems likely to become your daughter-in-law. If she more clearly understands how upset you’d be if they went to live in Australia (although my advice is not to push this too hard with her), it may make a difference. At the very least, nurturing such a relationship will encourage visits back to the UK.

And it’s not as if moving to Australia means that you’ll never clap eyes on him again. If you’re retired, it could be that you’ll see a good deal of your son when you and your husband travel to visit him. Building a relationship with your son’s girlfriend is likely to be a positive factor here as well. With direct flights to Sydney from 2025 (they already operate to Perth), both coasts of that fabulous country will seem a little bit closer.

Surely what really matters is that your son feels happy and fulfilled. I understand your concern about someone you love moving far away but expecting him to live his life in accordance with your wishes is unrealistic and ultimately futile.

Email Alan can’t reply individually, but will respond to questions in Saga Magazine

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.

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