Dear Abby: I manage a small professional firm. It's a family-operated business, and one of my relatives, "Suzy," helps out by ordering our office supplies.

Suzy and I haven't had the best relationship in the past, but things have been good for the last few years.

For reasons unknown to me, Suzy began ordering microwave popcorn as an "office supply." Of course, the employees think this is wonderful. However, I am a little bothered — not only by the fact that she has unilaterally decided that food products are "office supplies" (we're a law firm) but because I feel popcorn is very unprofessional food. The minute anyone walks into the office, the smell of popcorn wafts by. To me, this does not project a professional image to clients.

I feel I need to do something about this, but I know for certain that coming from me, this will offend Suzy given our history. She doesn't actually work in the office and has no understanding of office etiquette. Am I overreacting to the popcorn smell? Or is this truly unprofessional? I need a second opinion before I create any conflict. (By the way, I'm willing to offer some other treat in lieu of popcorn.) —Believes In Decorum, Eugene, Ore.

Dear Believes In Decorum: If you would be willing to substitute some other treat and call it an "office supply," your problem isn't the category the popcorn was placed in. It's with Suzy, for not having asked you first if it was permissible.

Many larger law firms than yours allow employees to snack on microwave popcorn, and it does not offend their clientele. (It may offend the neighbors if it's left in the microwave too long and the smoke alarms go off, however.) I doubt the clientele think twice about it — as long as they're offered a share.

Unless you want to be the most unpopular person in the office, my advice is to let this go. Only if your bosses complain should you make an issue of it.

Dear Abby: I am the single mother of a wonderful 13- year-old son. His father and I were divorced when he was 1. Aside from some help and love from my parents when he was young, I have raised my son practically by myself. Nana and Dad looked after "Todd" while I was at work, which allowed them a lot of time together when he was young.

I have taught Todd to be honest and thoughtful, to have empathy, to care about others and respect their feelings. I tell him to think before he speaks so he won't hurt or offend other people. I ask him most of all to respect himself, to set goals and try his best at whatever he does. Friends and neighbors say I'm raising a terrific young man.

The problem is my dad. When my siblings and I were young, Dad was verbally abusive. When he greets Todd he says, "Hey, you little jerk," or, "Hey, you fink!" I have asked Dad several times not to call Todd such names, to the point of tears. It reminds me of being called "good-for-nothing," "worthless," etc., when I was a kid.

Dad is 72 and not in the greatest health, and I don't want to distance my son from him. The love between them is enormous. But each time Dad calls Todd one of those names, it opens the wounds of my childhood and reminds me of how little I thought of myself when I was his age.

How can I keep Dad from calling my son these names? —Got No Respect In Defiance, Ohio

Dear Got No Respect: May I be frank? The chances of you persuading your father to change at his age are virtually nil. Because your son was raised by a loving and emotionally nurturing mother, his sense of self-esteem is far stronger than yours was at his age. He knows he is not a "little jerk" or a "fink." He regards those names as terms of endearment —which is probably how your father means for them to be taken. I don't know how your father was raised, but I'll bet the farm that the environment was such that he never learned how to properly express his emotions.

Some sessions with a licensed psychotherapist could help you to put your childhood into perspective. Obviously, you're still hurting from the treatment you received as a child. This would be the logical way to work it through so you can finally put it behind you.


Dear Abby is written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Write Dear Abby at www.DearAbby.com or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069.


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