employee’s dad called to see if we had “properly briefed him” on his travel

A reader writes:

I just had a very strange phone call. An employee’s father emailed me (I’m Business Ops/HR), asking me to call him. Since the employee (who I’ll call Fergus) is currently out of the country on business, I was worried that something had happened to him, so I called Dad back right away. He was very cagey, but finally came out that he wanted to talk to Fergus’s boss to find out if Fergus had been “properly briefed” about the dangers … of his travel? of his job in general? I think he was focused on the travel, but he refused to be specific about his concern. For the record, our work is in a somewhat defense-related field, but not directly dangerous, nor is the place the employee is visiting dangerous (western Europe).

I asked if Fergus knew he was calling and he said no, and that he didn’t want him to know. I told him that we are not in the habit of talking to employee’s family members without their consent, and that if he had a concern he should bring it up to his son himself. I am more than happy to talk to the employee if he is concerned, but I didn’t feel comfortable talking to his dad. I ended up telling Dad that I would pass his contact information along to Fergus’s boss but that he shouldn’t necessarily expect a call back.

Was that the right thing to say? I plan to talk to Fergus’s boss, and we’ll see what he wants to do, but I do not want to get into a conversation with Dad about what “briefing” his son has or has not had. Am I right to feel that way? If we don’t want to get into it, should we call or email him again to express that, or just forget it ever happened? Do I tell Fergus about the call?

You handled it perfectly! Sometimes the person on the receiving end of this kind of phone call is so flustered by the strangeness of the call that they end up entertaining the caller’s questions/demands. Explaining that you don’t speak to employees’ family members about work issues is exactly the right thing to say. (The same thing is true when parents call demanding to know why their kid was fired, or to check on their kid’s job application, or so forth.)

This is for a few reasons. One, your relationship is with the employee, and your professional obligations are to them, not their family. Two, you have no way of knowing if the employee has sanctioned the call and would be happy about you disclosing information to a relative (who for all we know could be estranged, or even not really a relative). And three, employee information is private — it’s not something you’d normally disclose to people without a need to know, and that doesn’t change just because the caller is a parent.

Oh, and four, it does your employees a disservice to assist their parents in undermining them as capable adults.

I don’t think you need to call Fergus’s dad back to explain any of this. You already explained it to him on the original call. I do think, though, that it would be kind to let Fergus know that his dad called, since he may not know that happened and is entitled to know that his dad is mucking around in his professional life. When you tell him, approach it with the assumption he doesn’t know, and just say something like, “Your father called me wanting to know if we’d briefed you about the dangers of your job and your travel. I want to let you know that I explained that we don’t talk to family members about employees unless it’s an emergency.”

And to the very small minority of parents who think it’s okay to do this kind of thing: Stop interfering with your adult children’s jobs! They are grown-ups now. It’s incredibly undermining to them. Talk to your kids, not their bosses.

{ 442 comments… read them below }

  1. Qnon*

    +1 to letting the employee know. I had this happen, but the relative in question was an abuser I had no contact with, who was trying to find out where I was :(

    1. Lily*

      +1. Haven’t spoken to abusive mother in a few years, but this is totally the kind of thing she would pull. Back when we were in limited contact, she would threaten to show up at my apartment or office, and would do things like send a “gift” of lacy underwear to me at my office so I unwittingly opened it in front of coworkers. All under the guise of “concern” or “just wanted to do something nice for you”. But really, it was a way to control and humiliate me.

      OP, most importantly, please don’t hold this against your employee unless you have other reasons to doubt his good judgment. He may be absolutely mortified by this, and you don’t know what his relationship with his parents are like.

      1. Triple Anon*

        I’ve been through similar things with my mother. It’s caused a lot of damage. It’s an awful thing to have to deal with. I hope things get better now that you’ve cut off contact.

        1. Lily*

          Yup, it totally sucks. But thanks, things are much better now that she is out of my life! And I am fortunate to have a few close friends and even coworkers who are from similar backgrounds and totally *get it* should the harassment start up again.

        2. Anon for this*

          Yes, same here. We should start a club and get t-shirts.
          What you did was perfect — and definitely let the employee know.

      2. EddieSherbert*

        That sucks. If it helps, I would just think your MOM was super weird or clueless for sending you underwear (who sends their adult children sexy underwear?! let alone sending it to your office!). I wouldn’t assume anything about you, except that you have a weird clueless mom.

        1. the gold digger*

          My husband’s brother, Ted, gave Primo a wedding gift of an item I never even knew existed and I think is something you find in a sex toys store. Ted then proceeded to discuss said item with Primo and their dad.

          I don’t think Primo was pleased – I only learned about this after we had been married for eight years.

          NB – I don’t care what consenting adults do. But it’s really not something I want my brother and father in law talking about and giving sex toys as a wedding present and then talking about them seems kind of off to me.

          1. Anonymous for this comment*

            Not really sure what your in-laws have to do with anything. Do you have any comment on the workplace issues and parents being inappropriate in the workplace issues for the LW?

            1. Ennuibiscuit*

              What a strange question. Do you feel that this particular person has a duty to provide you with a particular sort of comment?

            2. Penny Lane*

              The poster (gold digger) apparently runs some kind of blog in which she discusses her husband’s family, and might have assumed that everyone on here knew and/or cared about all the characters.

              1. Candi*

                Gold digger has mentioned her in-laws many a time on this site, so many long-time readers and archive diggers know of her extremely inappropriate and self-centered in-laws. Her husband is the black sheep of the bunch just by being a decent person.

                Stories related to the topic, but not strictly work-related, often come up in threads. They are very relevant in providing scenarios and tools with which to handle such situations, as well as telling the LWs they are not alone in this.

                1. EB*

                  Just to provide an opposite viewpoint, I’ve been reading this blog from the beginning when Alison announced it on evil hr lady’s blog (I don’t comment very much), and I don’t recognize gold digger (seriously, there are thousands of people who comment here) or have any contexts for the comment that was made by them. I also found the comment very jarring in the context of this thread, and put it down to either a wrong thread or posting to the wrong blog.

                  My point is that you can’t fault someone for not knowing a person’s posting history, and thinking the comment was inappropriate. I think you can fault them for not expressing themselves in a more polite manner in keeping with the way Alison has asked people to communicate in the comments.

                2. Anonymous for this one*

                  I’ll also provide an opposite viewpoint as a long time reader and commenter here. I know who Gold Digger is because she likes to spam her stories all over a number of different sites’ comment sections. Her in-laws’ supposed antics are of no relevance to most of the Ask A Manager letters where she posts them, so I just skip straight over any comment thread where they come up.

                  AAM comment threads increasingly go off on long, unrelated tangents and off-topic discussions that don’t add value. It’s unfair to the LWs and drives away readers.

                3. Ennuibiscuit*

                  With respect, Anonymous, your judgments about the value of the comments aren’t relevant here, because this is not your blog. Same with your speculation about blog traffic and analytics. Alison sets the comment policy here, and gets to decide what is and is not to be pruned or moderated. No one’s saying you have to like it or agree, but it’s pretty bad form to demand that someone run their personal blog to your personal standard. Only reading the letters, or not reading the blog anymore, are valid options. You might want to consider them.

              2. Mutt*

                WOW. Gold Digger has been a valued commenter on this site for years, and even if this particular comment didn’t specifically apply to the workplace, it does illustrate that sometimes family just has no clue about appropriate behavior.

                Her comment didn’t take anything away from the discussion, while yours is hostile and unnecessary, as was Anonymous’ to a lesser degree.

                If you look at the commenting rules, the first one is literally “Be kind to letter-writers and fellow commenters”.

                This is such a helpful blog, but unfortunately comments like these go against the safe, supportive community Alison has worked so hard to build. I hope you will consider the tone and content of your future comments more carefully in future.

                1. Bibliovore*

                  Random comment of support. I always find The Gold Digger’s comments supporting and on topic. The topic is boundary transgressing relatives. Her comment noted how transgressive they can be.

                2. The Rat-Catcher*

                  I’ve only been a reader here for a couple of years and I’m familiar with gold digger. I generally remember the commenters who I think post really great, insightful things (like PCBH, fposte, and back in the day, Jamie), or a couple who I think are weirdly curt and judgmental. I remember gold digger because I often like their comments.

            3. Elizabeth H.*

              Agree. I don’t really appreciate this type of comment on regular posts (as opposed to open threads).

            4. This Daydreamer*

              They have to do with the topic of toxic family members, a topic that the gold digger didn’t start.

              We go off on tangents here, some more helpful than others. I’ve seen long threads on Game of Thrones, the Oxford comma, weather, cats, and how to handle a snow day with kids. Alison reins it in if it goes too far – I still regret the loss of a beautifully geeky Oxford comma thread that she nuked. It was all so much damn fun.

              To;dr Relax and go with the flow and skip anything you feel like skipping. You won’t be tested on which GoT character is most analogous to the LW and her situation. It’s a good thing, to. I can’t afford premium channels. Ask me about comparisons to Harry Potter or Dragon Riders of Pern

              1. AKchic*

                Thread drift can be amazing. It can also be frustrating.

                And I will happily discuss Dragonriders of Pern until the cows come home. Or John DeChancie’s books. Or Redwall. Or so many other fun things.
                I’m at this username on the Hotmail place, which translates well to that whole facebook place.

          2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            I’m sorry this got derailed, goldie. I agree that in the context of the prior post and Primo’s experience, the gift (or conversation about it) seems designed to embarrass or humiliate.

            Sometimes I get push back from friends who say that “sex positive” families are more open-minded about this sort of thing. But, ime, I find the number of stories in which a family member gives an intimate (and often not publicly appropriate) gift for nefarious reasons are greater than the “sex positive” ones.

            1. This Daydreamer*

              Ugh. Sex positive really shouldn’t mean saddling your coworkers to an avalanche of TMI. I’m glad you have a successful and fulfilling intimate life, but I don’t need to know about the toys, the kitchen instruments, and the cosplay. Anything going further than “SO was home and we had a fun weekend” is getting into discomforting territory.

      3. Specialk9*

        Ugh. I’m so sorry you had to deal with that. Good for you for putting limits in your life to protect yourself. That should have been her job, so it’s extra impressive that you were so strong.

      4. banana&tanger*

        Yup. Mom would show up all kinds of random places and make inappropriate calls. She once had an old boyfriend of hers call me posing as a survey taker and then he asked me “why are you abusing your elderly mother?” The OP’s caller may be a helicopter dad who is out of bounds. Or he’s a creepy stalker parent upset that his kid is doing his own thing without seeking consent.

      5. Dee*

        My mother was the same and this is exactly the thought that popped into my head – that she would do this to find out where I was and pop up and disrupt my life while abroad while also using the call as an opportunity to undermine my authority as an adult and make me look bad to my employer.

        Now I debrief employers when I start a new job – I have a mentally ill parent and because they know how to use LinkedIn it is possible they may call. They aren’t dangerous to anyone at the company but for my own peace of mind please do not share my information with them. It’s an awkward convo to have, but my bosses have taken it well. I had to do it after my mother called an employer where I worked with children and told them I was a child molester and drug addict and then had the police sent to my house to look for drugs so… yeah.

        Parents sometimes be cray.

    2. Elizabeth the Ginger*

      If I were Fergus, I would also be concerned that my employers felt like this was my fault that my relative had overstepped, so I’d suggest adding on to Alison’s script something like, “We realize that you didn’t ask him to make this call” and maybe some more reassurance if Fergus seems embarrassed by it.

      1. Doodle*

        You didn’t mention this, but please try to go out of your way not to hold this against Fergus. It’s a lot more likely this was not with his consent — and if it is and he has strange workplace boundaries, you’ll figure that out soon enough.

        Kids of parents like this suffer and sometimes don’t even know why because they’ve never heard about the parental intervention.

        1. Stranger than fiction*

          Yes, I get the feeling the employee made an offhand comment to the parent about some logistical frustration he ran into while traveling and the overbearing parent took it too seriously or something like that.

      2. OP*

        Would definitely never hold it against him! It wasn’t really a big deal – Dad was very polite and the worst you could say was that he wasted a few minutes of my time.

        1. OP*

          I mean a big deal to me – it could very well be a big deal to Fergus. I meant to clarify that from my perspective there’s nothing to hold against Fergus.

          1. Candi*

            Here’s a couple posts on one end of the hovering spectrum of why it could be a really big deal to Fergus. Hopefully he’s more resistant to interference then this LW’s cousin. (Spoiler: the LW for these posts had to change jobs because of her uncle and aunt’s behavior.)



            1. Engineer Woman*

              Yes, I was thinking of these posts! Thanks for the links and glad OP isn’t reflecting this on Fergus. But OP should inform Fergus. I’d want to know if my parent overstepped their boundaries and frankly, makes me want to yell at him/her to knock it off.

    3. AKchic*

      I had my 1st ex-husband show up ALL the time to harass me at work when I worked on base. If he didn’t sneak onto base (they didn’t always guard near the railroad track, so he’d walk right over the railroad tracks), he’d have his friend drive him on (the friend *knew* I had a restraining order and that he wasn’t allowed on base, but my ex bought him liquor, so he ignored the restraining order).
      I ended up leaving my DoD job because of the harassment. I started working for the prison system. When you are divorcing and have a felon for a soon-to-be ex-husband – not a good idea. He’d tell people while he was in jail (for violating restraining orders) that he gets special treatment because “my wife works at the women’s prison”. I got a huge dressing down for that even though I had done nothing. Then he showed up after he got out of jail to leave notes on my car, and to talk to my boss about “our girl” (me) and to see how I was doing with my new job.

      I finished my 6 month obligation there and didn’t extend my contract. I found work elsewhere. Kept moving too. Had to.

      My grandpa always meant well when he’d call up the mechanic shop whenever my vehicle was in there getting worked on, but the overbearing “little lady can’t handle things on her own” routine gets old real quick. Either you trust your kids to be adults, or you are admitting that you didn’t raise your kid(s) right.

      1. Bea*

        It’s terrifying you had to go through a stalker situation and that you weren’t even safe on a guarded base…or that anyone running a prison would take a person who’s in jail for violating your order of projections words for anything. And a boss of a prison guard talking to this guy and he’s allowed to leave notes while you’re on prison property HOLY CRAP my mind is blown and angry at this horrible amount of trauma you have gone through

        1. AKchic*

          Parking lot wasn’t guarded. He caught my (female) boss out in the parking lot when she was coming back from lunch. We both worked in administration. There really wasn’t anything they could do since he had been watching for a while and learned to time the patrols. He didn’t have a vehicle and walked onto the property (the prison is right next to a state park – ah, Alaska).

          Our system up here really doesn’t do anything for women. They’ve “tried” to fix things, but really, they haven’t. Women are still dying. It’s bad when the underground/social media support networks work better than the state system does.

          1. AthenaC*

            I hear you. My abusive ex managed to wreck my life (we were in Alaska, too) because apparently, despite having a restraining order and ACTUAL EVIDENCE that he was violating it, such as a security videotape of him coming in to my work and coming up to talk to me, they wouldn’t arrest him. Also, according to my employer, it was my fault for “not taking care of it.”


            How am I supposed to “take care of it” when it’s his thing to throw his weight around and violate boundaries (for fun? power trip? dunno – he’s not my problem anymore)? I mean, I got the restraining order, I wasn’t living with him anymore, I obviously still had contact with him because he insisted on it and the police didn’t do anything. What else am I supposed to do?

            At the time, I chalked it up to him being in the military in a red state, which sucked. The silver lining was that when we finally got divorced, child support enforcement was as easy as providing DFAS with his SSN.

          2. Bea*

            This is absolutely gut turning and I’m sad that states still fail us with their garbage systems. I’m relieved that you have survived and I’m sorry that so many people have let you down in the process, you deserve better. We all deserve better.

      2. Nita*

        Wow. I’m sorry. I’m shocked at how many people were willing to enable him – the drunkard friend, whoever passed the word about his supposedly special treatment, the boss who chatted with him about “our girl” instead of showing him the door…

      3. LBG*

        I had an employee who was in the process of getting a restraining order on her mother in law (as was her husband, the son). She wanted me to know in case her MIL called the office with some random allegations, as the MIL had already called the kids’ schools and child protective services on them. I gave our base security a heads up, in case they got the incoming call. The head of security really hoped the MIL would call any of us at work so she could have NCIS pay the MIL a visit! They got their restraining orders, and things calmed down, so no NCIS visits were inflicted.

        1. AKchic*

          I had to deal with CPS on more than one occasion, and my kids were removed to temporary foster care thanks to one overzealous case worker (who no longer works there) for a week while we got everything straightened out. Alaska allows anonymous reporters, which is great in theory (we have a relatively small population, way too many weapons, way too much substance abuse and mental health issues and violence, and it all adds up), but terrible when dealing with an abuser.
          Here I am 15 years after the divorce and any anonymous calls that get reported (because he still calls when he gets that wild hair – namely, when he gets a reminder that he is supposed to be paying child support, or sees something that reminds him that I won things in the divorce, or worse – sees a picture or video online through the news), they all get flagged and have to be reviewed before getting investigated. They changed a few internal things due to many people arguing the issue, but there’s always a concern.

          1. Candi*

            I’m familiar with the retaliatory report.

            The principal at my kids’ elementary school years ago had instituted a bunch of new policies (just for that school) that severely restricted teachers’ and staff’s “areas of authority” and left a lot of grey areas where no one had clear responsibility on stopping bad student behavior. Just how bad her policies were was evinced by the school board, the next summer, handing down a list of new policies on bullying that read as a point-by-point counter to her stupidity.

            Kids wound up in ER and the hospital due to her policies. Including one for eight months after being attacked by a knife. Most of the violent attacks were traced to a gang of five boys, who the principal refused to touch.

            So after my son wound up in ER the first time (he wound up twice), we filed a police report.

            Within two days, there was a CPS report on me. CPS made it clear they knew it was a retaliatory report, and did the most basic of investigations.

            The awful teachers’ union protected the principal. Her (not on site) supervisor lost her job, two volunteers’ with about ten years between them lost theirs. The criminal case didn’t go forward. But she lost both civil suits brought against her, one by the family of the kid who was hospitalized for eight months. I never learned what happened to the gang. (The most amusing part for me was that, for the rest of her time there, a board member would drop by about once a month “just to see how things are, going after all that trouble and all”. Didn’t fool anyone, but it fell within appropriate boundaries, so all the union could do was unofficially complain. Which they did a lot.)

            1. Mike C.*

              How is it that the principal is part of the union? Aren’t they considered management?

              I don’t doubt your story obviously, but that seems really, really weird to me.

              1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                Yeah, that’s odd. IME, principals are usually part of a distinct union from the teachers’ union.

          2. AthenaC*

            Ouch, I’m sorry. Glad you got that initial situation straightened out.

            So what you’re saying is, when my abusive ex and I were in Alaska, I was right to freak out when he threatened to make something up and call CPS on me. Yeesh.

            1. AKchic*

              Depending on what year it was – yes. Early 00’s were a terrible time for being reported because they got hit by scandals. It’s been hit and miss the last few years due to scandals, but they are also extremely overworked, understaffed, and under scrutiny so… yeah. Add in new criteria, lack of qualified foster parents, a huge backlog, and our terrible laws allowing repeat offenders and changes in the laws reclassifying what a low-level offender is, and it has been chaos. Especially with drug offenders with children and a lack of treatment options.

              1. AthenaC*

                Yeah this was 2004 – 2005 for me. I got to know the nice ladies at the Fairbanks women’s shelter, figured out where the public assistance office was, figured out how to get a restraining order, and received my mail at “general delivery” at the post office near downtown. The only thing that kept me from being suicidal was that my beautiful 18-month-old daughter needed me.

                And of course I was the crazy one for reacting to the credible threat that he could have gotten her taken away from me!

      4. This Daydreamer*

        I’m so sorry your ex put you through all of that. You’d think a workplace would do a better job at protecting employees from abusers. Not to terrify you, but some abusers have the *charming* idea to show up with a gun and take out as many people as possible. This is something that workplaces really need to take seriously.

        Is he still refusing to leave you alone? If so, I very strongly recommend that you seek help through the domestic violence hotline or your local DV shelter. A lot of shelters offer outreach assistance with things like safety advice and helping you deal with law enforcement and the legal system. If nothing else, it can be very helpful to join an abuse survivor support group. Good luck.

        If you want to contact me, I’m thisdaydreamer in the Gmail system.

        1. AKchic*

          At this point, we live in different cities. I’ve moved enough times that he doesn’t know exactly where I live, I’ve blocked every social media account he gets as soon as I know they pop up. My kids are required to block all of them when they get social media accounts as well (including our 15 year old, which is his youngest). All of the mothers of his kids keep in contact with each other. Since I still work in government and volunteer with law enforcement/rehab programs, I keep an eye on prison rosters to see when he’s in and out of prison. He refuses to work so he doesn’t have to pay child support. He did use his oldest son’s information for a bit to try to get around child support but child support was aware of that (since I’d already reported him for PFD and tax fraud on that child’s information) (they are a junior/senior same name). He doesn’t have custody of any of his children.
          Being a relatively small population, we tend to hear a lot. I know that his last three “wifeys” (as he terms them) have died. One out of state of a drug overdose, the other two supposedly due to complications of alcoholism and homelessness, but I would expect that chronic physical/emotional abuse would have also played a huge factor. He was barred from the last one’s funeral a few months ago by the adult children (a friend made sure to get screenshots of the facebook drama for me). He made sure to throw a pity party for himself and started whining about how if he just had his children around him, his life would be so much better, and my house started getting random blocked calls and hang-ups (up here you have to pay extra to have your number unlisted, but even then the internet will still list it, so I don’t bother. My real name is so generic that I don’t bother. We just screen all calls and let the answering machine pick up and we have the robotic voice greeting).

        2. Turtle Candle*

          This whole thread makes me really appreciate my employer, who takes domestic violence very seriously–up to and including security guards when necessary. It shouldn’t be an uncommon thing. :(

    4. OP*

      I definitely got more of a helicopter parent vibe than an abusive or estranged relative vibe, but that is an excellent point. He knew where Fergus was and said he had spoken to him recently (though I can’t say for certain that was the truth). I will let Fergus know, just in case.

      I had enough of an instinct to not tell a stranger where an employee is – all the comments here make it clear that this is even more necessary than I realized.

      1. valc2323*

        Good job, OP! You’re absolutely right about “stranger” – you also can’t guarantee that this person is actually Fergus’s dad, he just told you he was.

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        OP, can I just say that you sound like you handled this like a champ? Seriously, even with AAM “training,” I’m not sure I would have been so composed in the moment.

        1. Turtle Candle*

          Same here! Even knowing what I ought to do, it’s so easy to freeze or get flustered in the moment, as Alison said–I’m super impressed that you kept your head so very well.

    5. Only commenting to add*

      I haven’t seen it mentioned elsewhere, but another reason that it would be a kindness to mention it to Fergus is that paranoia can be an early sign of dementia, so he should be aware of his father’s behavior one way or another. This may be me making wild leaps due to family history, and I hope it’s not the case, but it is something to keep in mind.

        1. JB (not in Houston)*

          They are diagnosing Fergus’s father, though, I don’t think, just saying it as something to keep in mind. It’s not any different from telling the OP this could be a sign of an abusive parents tracking down an estranged child.

    6. CorporateQueer*

      +1, I’m low-contact with my abusive family, and if they call my office, it’s not with good intentions.

  2. Archie Goodwin*

    I agree, it would be kind to let Fergus know about his father’s call. I know I’d want to know about it if my parents were making calls like that to my office.

    Not that they would, thank the Lord.

      1. The Cosmic Avenger*

        I would probably have a few choice words, and then a resounding lack of them for an extended period.

        1. Archie Goodwin*

          Yes, agreed with both.

          With the further understanding that another, similar action would result in A Lot More Words, Many of Which You Did Not Teach Me and Many of Which Will Set Your Hairs On End.

    1. Amber T*

      Agreed! And it doesn’t sound like it is, OP, but please don’t let this taint your opinion of Fergus at all. People can have out of control helicopter parents and still be functioning, responsible employees who don’t need hand holding.

  3. Wannabe Disney Princess*

    Yeeshk. The being cagey at the outset would be enough to set my Spidey senses a’ tingling. Good for you for keeping your wits about you. Definitely let Fergus know someone called. At best Dad is just worried and misguided. At worst it’s someone he doesn’t want to hear from. Either way, it’s good knowledge for him to have.

      1. GreyjoyGardens*

        You’re right – the caller might not be Fergus’ dad at all – he could be an estranged relative, neighbor, or former friend who is stalking him or just making mischief.

        And if that was Fergus’ dad, jeez, knock off the helicoptering, buster! Trust your grown son to know how to make travel plans!

    1. No names, please*

      Yeah, for an “at worst,” my father sent long, detailed letters to my therapists and prescribing psychiatrists (I switched providers, hence the repetition). They were full of “helpful context”, i.e. half-truths and wild accusations, and suggestions that I wasn’t fit to take care of myself.

      Fortunately all but one* saw this as the gross boundary violation that it was and immediately told me he had sent them, but of course these are people trained to recognize and deal with aberrant behavior. I can’t imagine if he had tried to interfere in my work life in the same way-I would have been at the mercy of whoever took the call/opened the letter, and their willingness to trust me over an accusing stranger. So, yes, OP, you handled it really well, and please let Fergus know what happened!

      *”All but one”, you say? The story of that one is that even if people are sending strange letters to local healthcare providers about you, you can sometimes avoid a 5150 involuntary hold if you can remain completely, totally calm for several hours while explaining to strangers, over and over, that you are not now, nor have you ever been, a danger to yourself or anyone else. You just came for a routine appointment, and you’d like to go home now, please, if they’d be so kind, and thanks so much for listening.

      1. knitcrazybooknut*

        Oh honey (meant in a good way only). Thank you for the advice I hope I’ll never need. So sorry for the experience that I’m sure you never wanted. Wow and holy crow. Have a bunch of chocolate today. Take care.

  4. Snarkus Aurelius*

    Dad was clearly trying to get more information on where his kid was either because his son didn’t tell him everything or because he thinks his son is ignorant and needs help.

    It reminds me of when my mom used to call my elementary school teachers at home to see if there was more information to my homework assignments than I gave her or to change my book report or project topics. She always did it under the guise of “confusion” or telling the teacher I wasn’t paying attention or something.

      1. Anon-The-Moose*

        My mom was horrified that I planned a trip to New Mexico because I “didn’t renew my passport!” I did not renew my passport, however New Mexico is still America.

        1. MsChanandlerBong*

          When I moved to NM, it amazed me how many people thought I was moving to a different country.

            1. Faintlymacabre*

              Grew up in NM. Every once in a while, I get compliments on how well I speak English. Maybe I should start sarcastically complimenting them on their grasp of geography.

              1. Engineer Woman*

                Or you can return the compliment (if they are also from the US):
                “Why, thank you. And I must say, you also speak English so well…”

        2. nonegiven*

          I had to overnight something to New Mexico and when I called FedEx they transferred me to ‘international.’

        3. Candi*

          You know what really bugs me about those stories? You never hear them about New York, New Jersey, or New Hampshire.

          1. Eve*

            I was visiting my father in AZ when I was about 12. He introduced me to a colleague as his daughter from Maine. The guy asked if that was near Utah and my father was so stunned he muttered “yes it’s up north” and we walked away.

        4. HQetc*

          Late to the party, but I grew up in NM. My absolute favorite story:
          I was flying home from college in the northeast, and got to chatting with a woman in the boarding gate area of our delayed flight. She asked where I was going, and I told her home to New Mexico.
          She said, sympathetically, “Oh so you’re still going to have to go through customs and everything when you land!”
          Ok, I’m used to that, so got my standard response all ready. “Oh, no, *New* Mexico. The state, not the country.”
          She responds, “Oh, it’s still a state?”
          Well, this is new. I give a non-plussed, “Sorry?”
          And then she says, “Well, since there can only be 50 states, I thought they kicked New Mexico out when Puerto Rico got in.”
          I died dead. My brain, she exploded.

        5. SavannahMiranda*

          I worked in New Mexico for a number of summers. The people who thought I was leaving the country to go to work never ended. It horrified me at first, amused me next, and finally dismayed me toward the end.

          Yes. There are US citizens who think New Mexico is a foreign place. Perfectly capable, normal, everyday people who drive cars, buy groceries, work jobs, and love their spouses and kids.

          It’s…I didn’t have words for it then and I still don’t now.

      2. Snarkus Aurelius*

        This is exactly what my mother said verbatim when I said I was going there.

        This is why I tell her as little as possible about my life.

  5. Curious Cat*

    Wow I currently have secondhand embarrassment on behalf of Fergus! Poor guy. I would cringe so hard if I knew a parent had called my place of employment to check up on my work and whether or not I had been properly ‘briefed’ before an assignment!!

  6. Defense Contractor*

    On the employee and/or boss’s discretion/consultation, contact your counterintelligence officer. You should bring up the option to them, as it might not occur to them, but follow their lead on whether it’s necessary.

    Some of us have crappy parents. If my parents did this, I’d want counterintelligence to know – to keep ME cleared of any of THEIR underhanded shenanigans. I’m estranged from my parents. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if they tried to sell info on my defense job to make a quick buck (and I do not tell them anything at all about my job as a result).

    1. Snark*

      Seconded. And I personally know people who’ve had probable representatives of foreign intelligence agencies make contact with them, so there’s shadier possibilities at play here.

    2. AKchic*

      Agreed. As far as anyone knows – I have always done boring data entry in every job I have ever worked in. I am the ultimate paper pusher. That’s the way I describe each and every job. Bland, boring, and not at all remotely interesting.

    3. Jo*

      Yup, one of my siblings has this type of job. You know what I know about their job? Not a darn thing. Their response to every single question asked by anyone in our family? “I can’t talk about it.” Eventually, we learned to stop asking.

  7. anon as always*

    Who are these parents that do this? Answering my own question, I recall in a conversation with my extended family how horrified I was that parents these days were actually accompanying their adult children to interviews. My lovely, dear aunt responded that she’d accompanies both her children to their interviews; had she done something wrong?
    I guess I know then WHO these people are, but despite having some/one in my own family I still can’t wrap my mind around the fact that none of them recognized the complete inappropriateness of this AND that it could cost the adult child the position (and in one instance, it did cost one of my cousins the position).

    1. Greengirl*

      I don’t really understand it either because well, their parents most likely did not accompany them on job interviews. Why would it be ok now?

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        Back then there were no job interviews. You just walked in off the street and asked for a job, and they hired you because gumption!

          1. Nic*

            I’m slightly embarrassed to say I *have* actually gotten a job based on my handshake and willingness to look my future boss in the eyes. Apparently none of the other “little ladies” applying for this high school teaching job would meet his eyes or gave a firm handshake.

            Credentials? meh. Masters degree? Bah! This person knows how to squeeze a hand!

            1. Janice in Accounting*

              That’s funny! I was once offered a job at a bank because when I happened to meet the bank president during the interview, he felt I was comfortable and not intimidated by him. (It did not occur to me to be intimidated.)

        1. Lana Kane*

          Then they’d take the Help Wanted sign off the door. That’s when you knew you were off to the races.

        2. Tealparadise*

          I wonder if that’s really the reason though. Before the internet allowed everyone to apply for every job everywhere, people probably got most of their initial jobs through parents’ social/family connections. In that specific situation “We’ll go down and talk to aunt Sally and see if she can put you to work this summer!” it would make sense for the parent to go.

      2. Vanilla Teapot Company*

        And there is always the possibility the company may decide to hire your parent, rather than you.

        At least that’s the answer I like to give to applicants.

      3. Busibee*

        I can only imagine it’s because these parents think they’re doing parenting better than their parents did. “My parents didn’t pay enough attention to me, so I’m going to make sure that doesn’t happen with my kids, so I’m going to be there for them in every aspect of their life.”

    2. stitchinthyme*

      I’ve heard a lot about modern helicopter parenting. You know, my mother was pretty neglectful when I was growing up — she never intervened on my behalf when I was underage, let alone when I was grown up! — but hearing about the way today’s kids have every move supervised, I think I’d rather the neglect. At least I learned to take care of myself.

        1. stitchinthyme*

          Back in the ’70s and ’80s when I grew up, there wasn’t any such term as “free-range kids” — we ALL were! During the warmer months, my mother would basically tell me to go outside and play, and didn’t monitor where I was or what I was doing. I was also a “latch-key kid” (that term DID exist then) and stayed at home by myself after school until my mother got home from work, starting when I was about 9. My mother would have been reported to CPS if she were raising me that way now.

          Of course, “free-range” has its drawbacks — Dear Prudence just ran a letter from a woman whose next-door neighbor’s free-range kids have broken into her shed, pulled up her flowers, and wrecked her yard, and the mother won’t do anything about it. (I was taught not to trespass on other people’s property from a pretty young age. You can be “free-range” but still respect boundaries!)

          1. Seal*

            Same here. I realize times have changed since then, but I still feel like today’s kids are missing out.

          2. Busibee*

            I was much the same way. I was an only child, so I was just out wandering in the woods or walking to the creek when I was a kid. We also had chickens and a sign in our yard – “Fresh eggs – 75 cents a dozen” and people would just pull up our driveway and knock on the back door to buy them. During the summer when I was home by myself, that was my responsibility from about the ages of 10-16. Random strangers had complete access to me and our house. Luckily nothing bad ever happened.

            I definitely wouldn’t allow my own children to do something like that now. Playing in the woods and the river are also iffy. My parents just trusted that I’d come out of everything alive but I don’t feel like I’d have the same level of trust.

            1. MsChanandlerBong*

              When I think back to my childhood/teen years, it’s funny how our parents allowed things that just aren’t done these days. Every time we went to district/regional band, we were assigned to host families…we literally lived with total strangers for three days at a time, and it never occurred to our parents not to allow it. Now the kids who make districts/regionals stay in a cheap hotel.

              1. Specialk9*

                Well yeah but kids die a LOT less, nowadays.

                Even excluding infant mortality (which is also way down).

                Between 1980 and 2014, rates of death for children ages 1 to 4 dropped from 64 to 24 per 100,000. (That’s down to 1/3!!!)

                Rates for children ages five to 14 dropped from 31 to 13 per 100,000. (60% drop!)

                1. Fleeeah*

                  Thank you for bringing this up. As a public health research junkie, I want to point out a few things here though.

                  The leading cause of death among children is unintentional injury – basically accidents. The vast majority of these are car accidents. Others include drowning, fire, falls, or poisoning. (https://www.cdc.gov/safechild/child_injury_data.html)

                  These deaths are not kids who are running around the neighborhood for hours on end. Kids aren’t out there drowning in a creek in the woods with no adults around, or drinking anti-freeze from abandoned cars. They’re drowning in pools in the backyard while someone’s inside real quick for just a minute, or trying that sweet-smelling neon liquid that’s in the garage.

                  I’m not saying accidents don’t happen while kids are unsupervised – obviously they do – but it’s a bit much to suggest that an increase in helicopter parenting has led to a decrease in child mortality.

                  It’s probably far more likely that this improvement is from major advances in auto safety, car seat design, and aggressive public safety campaigns and law enforcement action around seat belts and age- and size- appropriate restraints.

                2. Observer*

                  That doesn’t support the idea that kids can’t be left unsupervised safelky. For one thing the time lines don’t really fit.

                  What the time lines DO fit is a few important changes, most notably better care safety (care seats, safer cars – especially making shoulder harnesses in the back seat standard), better safety gear in general (eg helmets for biking), broader use of detectors (smoke alarms and carbon monoxide, primarily) and changes in infant care.

          3. Ingray*

            You wouldn’t necessarily get CPS called on you for behavior like that. I’m a mandated reporter and I’ve had cases where kids as young as 9 were left alone after school and I didn’t make a report. At least in my state, there isn’t a law about how old kids have to be to be left alone, so it’s a judgement call. If a kid seems reasonably safe and competent, knows what to do in an emergency and how to contact the parents of needed, things are generally OK. I also take into account why the kid is home alone (parent at work/out running errands vs. parent at the local bar/doing drugs/etc.)

          4. Bea*

            Meeeh we weren’t all free range. My mom was a stay at home mom and wanted to know where we were. However it was only so she knew where to start looking if we didn’t come home for dinner or what have you. She was nothing like a helicopter parent but we were not latchkey kids, she was just a PTA mom who spent a lot of time taking me to the library and girl scout events.

          5. SusanIvanova*

            The term I’ve seen used for those children by the responsible free-range parents is “feral”.

          6. Jennifer Thneed*

            That’s not “free-range”. That’s neglectful terrible parenting. Does that parent actually use the phrase “free-range” about her kids? And did Prudence?

            Think of it like with chickens. Free-range chickens don’t actually get to go *anywhere* they want. They get to walk freely in a designated area (which ideally is outdoors and decently big), rather than being shut into a cage. Likewise, free-range kids are allowed to be on their own in the world. Like when I took the bus by myself to get to a dentist appointment after school. Back in the 70’s.

          7. Specialk9*

            I was also free range. It was great! Except I was sexually assaulted and stalked by strangers, and didn’t have adults near to get help. That part wasn’t great. I don’t necessarily know how to put the two in balance.

        2. TrainerGirl*

          I think compared to kids nowadays, those of us over a certain age would all be considered free-range kids.

      1. Teapot Tester*

        Please don’t assume all parents are like this. My kids are very much free range – “come home when the streetlight comes on” and “call me from whoever’s house you end up at” are the way I roll. They have boundaries within our neighborhood that are extended as they get older.

        So I would never call an employer. I even make them handle their own issues with teachers, unless there’s a specific reason I need to step in.

        1. GRA*

          Right there with you!! My kids used to ask why I wouldn’t call the school/their coaches/friends’ parents when the didn’t like something because “all the other parents call when THEIR kids are unhappy with something!”. I always responded that we could talk about the situation and come up with a script for them to deal with what was making them unhappy, but they needed to learn to fight their own battles (unless, like you said it is a serious specific issue where stepping in is the right call). I have gotten many compliments from teachers/coaches/friends’ parents about how they seem to be able to handle their own problems, which makes me very proud!

      2. Natalie*

        the way today’s kids have every move supervised

        I wouldn’t extrapolate too much from stories you hear on the internet. Kind of by definition, the stories that circulate are exaggerations, outliers, or plain made up. It’s not much a commentary on “today’s kids” anymore than the chastity belt was a commentary on Renaissance women. (For context, chastity belts were never widely used historically but captured modern imagination.)

        1. stitchinthyme*

          I’m thinking mostly of the stories about parents getting arrested for letting their kids play in the park or walk home alone. I know at least a few parents who say they’d like to give their kids more freedom, but are afraid of getting reported by well-meaning busybodies if they do.

          1. Candi*

            One of the ones that ticked me off was a couple years back.

            A mother needed to be home to let in her 10-11 year old after school. (One of those had to be a typo in the story.) She left plenty of time to get home from her errand, including traffic. But the unpredictable happened and she was late. Nearly half an hour late, because the unpredictable was very bad.

            One of the neighbors called the cops. (I would have brought over snacks and water, and offered the use of my bathroom and porch/home for shelter, but whatever.) The officer responding either lacked training or didn’t really care; he put the kid in the backseat and left him there, all windows up, on a pretty warm day, and basically sat/walked around on the property until the mother showed up. Other neighbors (multiple, mind you) reported seeing the officer pee at/on the shrubbery at the side of the house, important because one of the problems the officer claimed was the kid didn’t have access to a bathroom. (Side note: there was an exterior faucet with a house attached, so water was available, if not the best-tasting.)

            The officer then proceeded to lecture the mother for several minutes -while the kid was still in the car without water or a bathroom- before releasing the kid to her.

            Frankly, whatever the local/state laws on child safety and the neighbor’s concern, misplaced or otherwise, I think that specific officer bungled the call rather badly. I wonder what his superior had to say about him hanging around for nearly half an hour, instead of handing the kid over to whatever authority would be appropriate and getting back on patrol. Didn’t sound like he was doing paperwork, either, which would provide a reasonable excuse. (There’s ALWAYS paperwork in law enforcement.)

            1. Gadget Hackwrench*

              WTF Neighbor. Maybe this is why people Helicopter so much. In my day (and I’m a goddamn Millennial) if a latchkey got locked out, you had them in to your house to use your phone (remember land lines?) and chill on your couch till their parents got there. Offer them some water. Ask how their day was at school. I mean… I could have walked up to any goddamn neigbor’s door (except the creepy neighbor, everyone has that one creepy neighbor) rang the doorbell and said “I’m locked out. Can I come in?” No freaking problem. Now they call CPS on you!

              1. Kay*

                Agreed. It sounds like we’re about the same age (fellow millenial), and when I was growing up I would just go to my lovely elderly neighbors if my mom was unexpectedly super late getting home. And my lovely elderly neighbors would have invited me in for a snack or something if they saw me waiting.

        1. Zoe Karvounopsina*

          My father once described his parenting style as ‘apathy, tempered by neglect’.

          He also regrets the time my aunt was being Terribly Concerned at him about us being unsupervised near a pool, and he didn’t point out he had an extra one at home. (We were perfectly safe: we were surrounded by adults keeping an eye on us, and also we were chasing that aunt’s daughter, who would have been first into the pool.)

    3. LCH*

      but, like, accompanying them to do what?? what function are they providing? just sitting in the lobby?

    4. AMT*

      By “accompanies,” does she mean “waits in the car,” “waits in the waiting room,” or “sits in on the interview itself”? The first one isn’t too crazy, the second one is a serious misstep, and the third is beyond the pale.

      1. nonymous*

        I moonlighted in retail for a few years, so pretty common to get first-time job seekers and people without cars. We were told if someone turned in their paper application with a kid/spouse/friend in tow to stick the forms automatically in the reject pile.

        1. Delphine*

          Hmm, maybe it’s because I haven’t done hiring for any businesses where it’d be typical to drop off an application in person, but that seems…unnecessarily harsh?

          1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

            Yeah, I’d agree. It’s a big problem if they bring anyone to an interview, but just dropping it off?? I would have considered that to be more of an errand rather than an interview. It seems especially hard to penalize someone for having a child. I take my toddler on all kinds of errands, from the grocery store to the mechanic to the dry cleaner’s. Nowhere that I need to sit and talk with someone (so, not to, say, the insurance office to renegotiate my car insurance) and definitely not to work, but everywhere else. To suggest that someone who might currently have no income has to get a sitter just to *drop off a paper* is rough.

            1. Evan Þ*

              Even then, when I was as young as four, I remember sitting in a lot of bankers’ and insurance agents’ waiting rooms while my parents were negotiating stuff. I was a quiet kid.

              1. TrainerGirl*

                This. One of my first memories is my dad taking me with him when he went to pick up the loan check from his credit union when he was buying a new car. I was shy so I definitely didn’t talk to strangers. People commented on how good I was. They didn’t that he’d promised me a ride on the carousel in the park if I behaved. Even at 4, I knew not to mess that up.

                1. Candi*

                  I’ve had to bring my kids soooo many places due to lack of sitter. I had DSHS subsidies when they were small, but those only covered looking for work, working and set transportation times.

                  There’s a charity in this county that helps low-income residents pay their electric bills. The kids went with me to the meeting. They’ve been with me to DSHS appointments, each others’ doctors appointments, once my daughter went with me to a dental appointment (no kindergarten that day) that dealt with a very bad tooth, and on all kinds of errands.

                  Never underestimate the power of a few good books, some crayons and paper, and a love of apple and banana chips.

        2. a-no*

          As a former retail manager, I 100% agree. It would be one thing if the person was obviously shopping and they kid/spouse/friend took the ride to apply, but for the most part, the extra person shouldn’t be a shadow. The exception we always applied was to a person with a small child in tow, if the child was young enough to be questionable at being left alone or younger, we’d not hold it against them.
          It’s the exact same as an office, you expect the person to have some ability to function without hand holding and by them not being able to even drop off a piece of paper without a person holding their hand (literally at times!) – it makes you question if they can do the job.

          1. Candi*

            Yours sounds more like making a judgement call based on observation, though. Nonymous’ comes across as “full stop” rejection -just for dropping off apps in attendance with another.

            Unless the manager can take interviews as soon as the app is dropped off, and it’s known they do that, that seems unnecessarily restrictive to me -and possibly biased against certain types of people, such as single mothers.

        3. DivineMissL*

          When I worked in specialty retail management, sometimes I’d get into a conversation with a customer and she would express a fondness for the store, I’d talk up the employee discount policy, and it might result in the customer filling out an application for a part-time job on the spot. Sometimes this would be a mother and teen daughter shopping together, or maybe two friends. If it was spontaneous like that, I didn’t hold it against them if they weren’t alone or were dressed in jeans, etc. Or maybe a teen wanted to hand in the application and mom was going to the mall anyway; I would never reject someone simply because they weren’t alone. It was just important that the applicant be the one to do the talking and behave professionally.

        4. palomar*

          Wow, that’s pretty terrible. Thank god when I applied for my very first job, in food service, I had the evidently very good luck to apply at a place where management didn’t immediately write off applicants for spurious reasons like “they walked in with another person, so I assumed they didn’t have a car,” or “they’ve never had a job before so I’m certainly not going to help them get a job now”. Ugh. What an awful way to treat people. No wonder we have this constantly widening income inequality gulf — some people get the tiniest bit of power and immediately use it to keep other people down.

    5. Brandy*

      OMG on the Chrisley’s reality show, Todd accompanied Chase on an interview. Sat in the room during and interacted with the boss.

          1. Candi*

            It’s hard enough to have the ‘don’t do that’ conversation without it being freaking televised.

            >.< Poor kids.

    6. Amber T*

      To be fair, my grandmother accompanied my uncle on his job interviews in the 70s. The trend has been gaining popularity in the past decade or so, but crazy has always been in the world.

    7. Fake old Converse shoes (not in the US)*

      Mine did. Well, tried to. The previous week a girl my age was kidnapped and later found dead after she went to a job interview in the same area. We negotiated and one of them waited for me at a nearby café. The paranoia is strong with them.

  8. Triple Anon*

    Good response. I have a relative who has a history of doing this kind of thing. It has caused problems in past jobs. Thank you for doing the right thing and sticking up for your employee while also being patient with the caller. In my case, it’s a person who looks for attention and seeks to undermine my credibility and employability. There is a very troubled past there and I’m still trying to get some legal help and get into a more stable situation after all the damage that it’s caused. In other words, like Alison said, you have no way of knowing if this is harmless or serious. So you did the right thing.

  9. accidental manager*

    Completely in agreement with the OP and Alison about the response to the father.

    But it made me think about making sure disaster policies are in place and publicized. If Fergus’s dad sees on the news that there’s a tsunami in a teapot harvesting area, he’s going to be calling the office again. There should be a policy that covers stuff like the obligation of employees to check in while overseas, the expectation that a travelling employee would designate an emergency contact and give the employer permission to contact that person, and the restriction on who can talk to the media in case of tempests, tsunamis, or other incidents.

    1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

      My workplace has an emergency contact form that we fill out annually. I’ve listed my spouse, parents and sister. So even if I have an emergency without traveling (I trip on a kindergartner and get knocked unconscious, perhaps?) my employer has my pre-approved permission to call those people and let them know.

      1. Midge*

        I’m assuming you’re a teacher, otherwise that’s a very odd and specific travel injury scenario. :)

        1. Seal*

          I don’t know – I’ve almost tripped over kids that looked to be kindergarten age at the airport while I was traveling for business.

        2. Elizabeth the Ginger*

          Yeah, it’s mostly not a very physically-risky job so I was hard-pressed to think of something that might happen to me!

          1. Candi*

            Judging by some stories on other posts, nasty parents or a relative of another teacher or a student. (Domestic abuse cases featured a couple times.)

            Hopefully you never encounter such.

      2. Stormy*

        You must work in a really nice area. Several of my family and friends in education have been assaulted by students. Add in gangs and constant bomb threats, and I worry more about the teachers in my life than anyone else.

    2. OP*

      This is a good point. After he called, I realized that I hadn’t checked the State Department website before Fergus left. It is such a safe country that I didn’t even think about it (and predictably, there was no warning), but as a rule we should do that before employees travel.

      We do have an emergency contact form that everyone fills out when they join. It’s a good idea to have a policy of having traveling employees check in periodically so we know they are okay.

      1. Evan Þ*

        Also, it might be a good idea to send out periodic reminders to update your emergency contacts just in case anything’s changed?

  10. Spelliste*

    It’s worth considering that it might not have been his father. Anyone could make that sort of claim to attempt to get information.

    1. Middle School Teacher*

      Oh my, that never even occurred to me! (Now I’m picturing OP writing back with an update: “I spoke to Fergus when he was back in the office. He looked upset. ‘My dad passed away five years ago…’ he said!”)

    2. Defense Contractor*

      … and if this is the case, you have a very strong obligation to tell the employee, the boss, your own boss, and especially your counterintelligence office.

  11. Temperance*

    I’m on a few forums for adult children of difficult parents, and I think you handled this perfectly! I have an inappropriate mother, and she’s not above calling past bosses to get involved in my work (which is why she doesn’t know where I work), or to get me in trouble or something, or to snoop.

    1. Triple Anon*

      Mine has a history of calling past employers and telling them that she needs my phone number and current place of employment because there’s an emergency. People give her the info. Then the emergency turns out to be, “I need to know where you are so I can sabotage your job.” I’m looking into legal steps I can take to stop this from happening.

      1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

        Do you mean she’s calling past employers who are already past employers (but have your contact info for professional reasons)? That sounds tricky to deal with since it’s not just a question of alerting your current boss/admin/etc. not to answer questions from your mother. :-(

        1. Triple Anon*

          Exactly. She calls the last place she where she knows I worked. They usually don’t have my current phone number, but they often know where I went afterwards because someone was a reference or I told them or they heard through the grapevine. She’ll go through the chain until she gets to my current employer. :-( So I’m off of LinkedIn and doing odd jobs. I may have to get a restraining order or something similar. Unfortunately, a lot of people aren’t informed about family abuse. They just hear an upset woman claiming to be a mother facing an emergency and they’re understandably sympathetic. It’s a tricky thing to have to deal with. When she gets to the current employer, she thanks them for taking care of her troubled kid and tells them I have a bunch of issues that I don’t have. The goal is to cause me to lose my job so that I’ll have to turn to her for money and won’t be able to report the more serious abuse that she inflicted when I was growing up.

          1. Anon for this*

            This should not mean you have to work “odd jobs,” which is only accomplishing your mother’s goal of depriving you for money. It *should* mean that you discuss the situation with your new employers proactively.

            1. Lora*

              Generally the reaction when you say “my parent was abusive” is not “oh gosh that’s unfortunate” but “I’m sure they weren’t THAT bad!” and then the person you’re trying to explain to starts rationalizing why it was totally OK that Mommie Dearest beat you with a metal hanger and how you are just overreacting.

              People know that OTHER parents are objectively terrible and have some sort of awareness about child abuse and neglect, but when it’s right in front of them they can’t quite fit it into their heads. It’s similar to how people react to folks like Dylan Farrow talking about how her father abused her – a very few will believe you, but most rationalize a thousand excuses about why it’s all lies or hallucinations or whatever.

              My mother was simply neglectful, and she admits it (I spent a lot of time with neighbors, other relatives and friends as a kid), but even that is hard for people to hear – that if I wanted to eat, I made sure to stay over at a friend’s or cousin’s house. She had money, but she is to this day a ridiculous spendthrift who runs out of money for food and rent because she spent it on a designer thing that she just had to have, every kind of perfume you can buy at Sephora and a brand new car even though there’s nothing wrong with the old one.

              1. Specialk9*

                Yes. This makes me see red so hard (and I had amazing parents who weren’t abusive, so it’s not even personal)… But so many people want to argue down abuse victim when the abusers were parents. So many want to convince those estranged from parents that they don’t have that right, and that the person with decades of knowledge shouldn’t be allowed to make that decision. It’s bizarre and awful. It’s why when I hear someone is estranged from parents, I assume they are strong and capable and awesome. Because so many undermine them, despite no skin in the game.

                1. Jessen*

                  I think it’s worse because most people think of child abuse primarily as neglectful types – the person who only cares that the child isn’t a “bother” to them. So to them, the fact that a parent wants to remain involved in the child’s life is proof that they aren’t really abusive, because an abusive parent would be glad to be rid of the child. They’re not familiar with the overcontrolling type where the parent wants to be super involved in everything ever. (I’ve been dealing with a lot of my mother wants to be my Best Friend and have me Solve All Her Problem lately, and it is insanely frustrating because I know what other people get is “I’m a bad ungrateful daughter who doesn’t care about her mother.” I could totally see her calling my work, although in her case it would more likely be her having some sort of emergency.)

                2. Jessen*

                  One thing I’ve noticed is that many people think of abusive parents primarily as the neglectful sort who doesn’t care about the kid except that they aren’t a “bother”. They aren’t as familiar with the overcontrolling type, so the fact that the parent is worried about the child and wants to be involved in their life means they can’t possibly be abusive.

                  I could totally see my mother pulling something like this, although in her case it would be more likely to be yet another “crisis” that I need to drop everything to help her out with.

                3. Candi*

                  I think it was the “I supervise someone who was horribly abused by my family” post (or something like that)…

                  Anyway, I think it was on that post that someone said the wise words “Family goes both ways,” in response to the number of stories of people who are pressured to reunite with abusive and neglectful parents in the name of “FAAAAAAAAMMMMILLLLYYYYYY!!!” The family members owe and owed the posting commentators as much, or more, consideration as the people pressuring insist the family members are owed.

                4. Jessen*

                  Oh there my posts are. Sorry about the duplication, not sure if I got caught in moderation or if things were just borking out.

            2. Triple Anon*

              That’s what I’m working on. I’m looking for an employer who will get this kind of thing.

              I think people are more understanding than they used to be. I used to get a lot of, “You ungrateful brat. I had to walk 10 miles up hill both ways to get to and from school,” from people. They always point to a way in which you had it easier than they did, which of course will exist somewhere, and turn it into the whole story. But I think there is starting to be more widespread knowledge about abusive family dynamics. And I’m getting better at figuring out who I can confide in and who to keep more at arms length with regard to this stuff.

              I probably made it sound worse than it is. It is one of the bigger problems I face it life, and it’s a huge source of stress. But there are also ways in which I have it pretty good so I can’t complain too much. I just need to improve my strategies for managing this family thing.

              1. Candi*

                Triple Anon, there’s language right here on Alison’s site for explaining these kinds of dynamics to employers. You could also write in or post on the Friday open threads for ideas.

                Captain Awarkward and the Raised by Narcissists reddit threads are often recommended when cases like yours come up here.

                Most important, remember -you are not alone. You have support.

              2. Jessen*

                My pet peeve is any form of “work it out like adults.” Um, that takes two people who are willing to act like adults and treat the other person like an adult.

          2. Eye of Sauron*

            Oh crap…that’s terrible. I’m sure you’ve already thought of this, but have you preemptively told employers that there’s a high liklihood of a phone call from her eventually? Sometime in that sweet spot when you’ve been there long enough to prove you are a good employee and short enough before the calls start.

            It may do double duty, because then once you’ve left they would know about the ‘procedure’ she goes through to find your employers.

            Yuck… sorry

          3. SusanIvanova*

            After reading all the people wondering if the “concerned dad” is really the dad at all or just trying social engineering, I might try saying “a person claiming to be my mom may call” – they might not get abusive parents but they should get stalkers and social engineering hacks.

            I had an RA in college chew me out because my dad was trying to make himself look good for the divorce judge by “showing some concern” and happened to pick a weekend that I was off with friends to do so. “He was so worried because you weren’t answering the phone and he didn’t know where you were!” No he wasn’t, or at least he wasn’t worried about *me*.

      2. Natalie*

        This won’t be of help for places you’ve already left, but the next time you change jobs could you just not say where you’re going? Both times I’ve recently switched jobs I just described the type of work the new place did, but I’m in a big city where it’s unlikely Company A knows or cares what Company B is. I guess that doesn’t help if you’re connected to people on LinkedIn and such…

        1. stitchinthyme*

          I wondered this, too. None of my past employers had any info about my subsequent job(s). If I want to leave them contact info in case questions come up about my work after I leave, they get my personal cell number.

          1. Triple Anon*

            It was an issue a long time ago when I lived in a small town. Everyone knew where everyone worked. If they didn’t know, they’d just ask around. Later on, it had to do with professional norms. Now you can get most people’s employment info from search engines. So I’m working on a strategy that involves proactively letting people know about the situation, and maintaining a solid reputation so it will be harder to slander me. But it’s rough. I’m still digging myself out of a financial hole and hoping there will be some steps I can take legally to protect myself.

      3. Rusty Shackelford*

        Yeah, I’m confused as to how this works. Why do your past employers have this information in the first place? And could they be asked to either destroy those files, or at the very least add a note that says this information is not to be provided to anyone?

      4. Case of the Mondays*

        Just curious, why does your mom want to sabotage your job?

        I had an Aunt I had to go no contact with. Her beef with me was that I removed her drunk alcoholic son from my grandmother’s 100th birthday party. Apparently, we will all supposed to just pretend he wasn’t causing a scene. Luckily, she refrained from contacting my work but I suspect she tried to set me up to do something unethical so she could make a complaint about me. Luckily, I didn’t take the bait.

        1. Temperance*

          Can’t answer for OP, but as someone with a very mentally ill parent, they are operating from a place of ownership and a different reality. It sucks.

          1. Triple Anon*

            Exactly. This isn’t normal reasoning. It’s more like jealousy (that there is anyone in my life besides her), fear that I’ll talk about the abuse I suffered as a child, attention seeking, stuff like that. She has had multiple mental health diagnoses but disagrees with them all and refuses to get any kind of treatment. I used to be more forgiving, but then I realized that she does understand the consequences of her actions and has some control over her behavior. So I’m a little less forgiving now. She talks about abusing me, how it made me “turn out shy and stupid,” and laughs about it. :-/ No good. This is not a normal parent doing the normal parenting thing.

            Ugh, and I hope this isn’t too heavy and personal for this blog. This one letter happened to remind me of some upsetting stuff, obviously.

        2. Anon for this*

          My abusive father is upset that I went no contact with him when I turned 18, so he tries to insert himself into my life in inappropriate ways. Including figuring out where I work and leaving my boss a rambling voicemail about how I’m a pathological liar and thief who is probably embezzling money from the company (I have done nothing close to anything like that). His reasoning for doing this kinda stuff only makes sense in his own head.

        3. NaoNao*

          I think the commentor mentioned it was so that they would have to turn to her (mom) for money and then be unable to report past abuse. But I just want to say that even if you took money from an abuser, it’s still okay to turn them in!

      5. nonegiven*

        This kind of thing is why I wondered if OP should refuse to confirm or deny that Fergus even works there or was out of the country and his home empty.

    2. Anon for this today*

      I’ve had a parent with mental health issues stalk me into jobs.
      First the parent called me at my desk. I immediately hung up, had my extension number changed, and told the front desk not connect to me. Too late – this time round a family friend quoting an emergency was connected to me to reproach me for neglecting said parent…
      hang up, instruct front desk, change extension…
      … rinse and repeat until the harassment stopped.

      1. pope suburban*

        Crap like this is why I lightly grill people before putting them through, and if the answers don’t pass the smell test, I take a message to give to whichever coworker. So far in my working life it’s just cold-calling sales people who do it, and the end result is nothing more than my coworker throwing my post-it message in the trash. But I’ve known enough people with bad exes or saboteurs in their family to keep in the habit. Worse case scenario, someone gets a call back thirty seconds later than they might have otherwise. Best case scenario, someone underhanded has been stopped from interfering with my workplace.

        1. Triple Anon*

          I think that’s a good practice. Treat all callers equally and just take a message to give to the person; don’t give out any info without the person agreeing to it first.

    3. International businessperson*

      I once worked at a very well-known professional services firm. My mother (who has a history of mental illness) e-mailed a random managing director in my practice area complaining that:

      (1) “we” (presuming to speak for my enabling father, whose view of these things was “don’t rock the boat” are elderly,
      (2) the firm was assigning me so much work that “our child never has time for us,” and
      (3) the firm was sending me on too many trips a long way away from home, including to emerging market countries she dislikes.

      Needless to say, this impacted our relationship irreparably, and she no longer knows where I work or when I go on business trips. New employers proactively get warned about the possibility of her shenanigans.

    4. Advice Welcome*

      Temperance, would you be willing to share the link to one of these forums? My husband has an abusive father whom we’ve cut out of our lives, and would love to see ongoing advice from others in a similar situation.

      1. Temperance*

        Yes! I frequent /r/RaisedByNarcissists and /r/RaisedByBorderlines. Reddit has some great support groups.

  12. Kay*

    When I read this I was reminded of the letter and 2 updates from the OP whose aunt and uncle were major helicopter parents to her cousin. So much that he was fired from his job. Dad sounds a lot like the uncle in that letter. Though, considering that they wouldn’t letter their son ride the bus to his college campus I doubt they would allow him to travel to another country alone.

    1. Higher Ed Database Dork*

      I’ve gotten so many calls from parents during the course of my career in academia, it’s crazy. I worked IT support for most of it, and was always thankful for FERPA! At my last school, I remember getting at least a few calls a month of parents wanting to know if their children were attending their classes, turning in assignments, etc. I remember one dad who was trying to troubleshoot a computer issue for his daughter – she would NOT get on the phone with me, so he was relaying her questions to me and I could hear her in the background.

    2. chocolate lover*

      Many of our students have waived FERPA for their parents (or maybe not so much waived FERPA, as consented to parental disclosure.) There’s a notation in their student accounts. However I’m suspicious by nature, like many others on this thread, and always get permission from the student in writing, to make sure the parent is who they actually say they are and the student is ok with me talking to them. Thankfully in my role, parental contact doesn’t come up often.

      1. ThisIsNotWhoYouThinkItIs*

        Former RA here (been about 10 years)–we used to do “wellness checks” if parents/roommates reported being unable to reach the resident for a certain period of time, but we didn’t necessarily communicate back to that person regarding your status. We treated it more as a “making sure the person is alive and not suicidal” sort of process–had someone seen you, were you OK, that sort of thing.

        I thought your RA above seemed a little too invested. I would have mentioned he called and that would have been it.

    3. Ophelia Bumblesmoop*

      I’m going the opposite way here – I just started a new position in secondary school after ten+ years at University. FERPA has been one of the most difficult defense mechanisms to let go of!

  13. NCKat*

    How do you know it’s Fergus’ dad and not someone else trying to get information on where Fergus is at the moment? You don’t. I think you handled it perfectly.

    1. Anna*

      Either way, it was handled well and it’s okay for the OP to assume that what she was told was the actual situation. She doesn’t actually have to worry about whether or not this is really Dad or Random Someone Pretending To Be Dad To Get Information.

      1. Penny Lane*

        Right – it doesn’t matter, because the OP expertly said – we don’t discuss our employees and their whereabouts / information with other people. Nicely done, OP.

  14. Andy*

    You guys, once I had a friend’s mother call me to let me know she was about to call friend’s boss to let boss know about some ongoing mental health treatment that friend was receiving. Friend was a practice manager at a psychiatric office and friend’s mother thought that since the boss was in the field of mental health that it would be good for friend.

    It was not easy convincing mother of friend to look beyond boss’ profession and see that boss was BOSS and not treating physician and that friend would most likely be MORTIFIED to have her boss know her personal treatment history.

    I am unsure of what purpose mother of friend was trying to serve. It was something to do with friend’s well being, but totally off base in planned execution.

    1. LadyMountaineer*

      I once confessed that I was taking Friday mornings off to go to therapy for an anxiety disorder and my supervisor literally used that as an excuse to quit supervising. “Oh this isn’t a real problem, it is just your anxiety.” “Nobody else is complaining about this but you it’s just your anxiety” whilst my coworkers were given carte blanche to dump the undesirable parts of their jobs on me. It was awesome. I will never say anything ever again.

  15. Sketchee*

    I had an ex who’s mother was like this. It was very scary how she’d attempt to control every aspect of his life. Reading the letter, I was supremely impressed with how you handled every minute of it. Perfect way to do it, very honest, and professionally done.

    1. Sylvan*

      I was impressed, too. I’ve had friends with parents like this.

      …I also just finished reading Mother, Mother by Koren Zailckas and was reminded of the mother, Josephine, trying to dig up dirt on one of her daughters. Creepy.

    2. EddieSherbert*

      Oh my goodness, that totally reminds me of an Ex of mine… their mom legitimately would call me to “work it out” on Ex’s behalf whenever we had a fight. Ex’s mom also gave them flowers to give to me (Ex would announce “my Mom told me to give these to you!”) and filled out cards for them to give to me (do you really think I won’t recognize your Mom’s handwriting on my birthday card?!).

      Ex was 22, btw.

  16. Nichelle*

    This reminded me of the helicopter parent letter and both of the updates. Dad sounds like the one in the letter.

  17. Anonymosity*


    Great job handling this bullshit, OP. I would definitely mention it to Fergus–if I were him, I’d want to know. You have no idea what weird shit could be going on in the family, so this was the correct response.

    This brings to mind the time a relative kindly purchased a vehicle for me but then called the insurance company to make a change in my coverage. I was still with the office in my hometown because I really liked the agent, but he retired and this happened under the new one. The car title was in my name; the insurance was in my name; it was 100% my car. But because they knew him and knew we were related, the office staff did as he asked.

    I did not know about it until I called them to ask a question about the coverage, and when I found out what they did, I blew my stack. I immediately moved my account to a local agent away from that office (same company; I had no beef with them overall) and I told my new agent exactly why. I didn’t report them, although I could have. Instead, I just told them they had better never do that to any other customer ever again. Haven’t had a lick of trouble with the new agent and I did NOT tell the relative who they are.

  18. snarkarina*

    My roommate once had an employees parent call wanting to discuss a less-than-glowing performance evaluation and demanding to know why her little prince hadn’t received a promotion after 6 months.

      1. pope suburban*

        Maybe that was the coworker who called one of our letter writers names, and made “your mom” jokes all the time. :’D

  19. Hypothetical situations are my jam*

    LW, you couldn’t have handled this better!

    But I’m curious…how would this change if the situation was that it was an intern who was a minor? Perhaps in that case, the company wouldn’t have the intern travel, but what if you had an intern/minor working at your company and their parent called? Is there anything legal at play that would change how you should respond to the parent?

    1. Drew*

      This came up when I was a TA. One of my students was still 17 and Dad called to discuss his grades. Fortunately, my training was thorough and I was able to tell him, “I’m sorry, but university policy prohibits me from discussing a student’s grades or attendance with anyone but that student.” Dad was pissed and threatened to report me to the dean, to which my reply was, “Well, he’s the one who told me this policy, but go ahead.”

      Never heard anything else about it. And the funny thing was, the kid was doing fine – one of the few A students in a remedial class.

      1. Specialk9*

        “Oh sure, do you have the dean’s phone number, or would you like me to get it for you?” Evil chuckle.

    2. selina kyle*

      I would guess most places that have interns who are minors would have procedures in place either at the time of hire or at the time of travel.

    3. Lily*

      I think if your intern is a minor, that’s all the MORE reason to be skeptical of the caller and stand firm in not sharing employee information. There is no way to verify that the person on the other end is their parent/legal guardian, and the safest thing is still to let the intern know and let them take it from there.

  20. Why Oh Why Does this keep happening?*

    Does Fergus’s boss really need to know? I’d be mortified if my boss knew my parent had done such a thing.

      1. International businessperson*

        But someone who does this once may well do it again, and escalate the issue to grandboss. I completely agree with the “get our in front of the problem” strategy.

        1. Artemesia*

          This. Any time a complainer or a freak like this mentions the boss, you have to get out in front so they don’t get their first with their framing. No boss likes a surprise.

          1. Turk*

            We were about to hire someone as a financial analyst. Her ex-boyfriend called the office out of the blue to inform us that the hire “was formerly in a mental hospital.” When my boss asked her about this, she explained that she was indeed in a “sanatorium” “to have a rest.” My own mother has as history of pulling shenanigans like this, so when grandboss began debating whether he should rescind the offer, I quite forcefully came out against it.

    1. k.k*

      Because the dad had been asking for Fergus’s boss, I think he should be told just as a heads up in case the dad finds a way to get a hold of him.

    2. Snark*

      Well, given that there’s a small but nonzero possibility that this represents an operational security problem, I think Fergus’ mortification might have to be second priority.

    3. Gingerblue*

      I’d be mortified too, but I’d also rather get out in front of it and warn my boss that this might happen and was absolutely not happening with my permission.

    4. Queen of Pents*

      Yeah, since this could be a security issue, I would let both Fergus and Fergus’s boss know.

    5. OP*

      That’s an interesting perspective. I did end up telling Fergus’s boss, to keep him informed – plus I’m not sure how Dad got my email, and it is entirely possible that he could get the boss’s email somehow. I’ve worked in HR before (and read Ask A Manager) so I think I was more confident with my refusal to tell Dad what he wanted to hear than someone else might be.

      I know Fergus’s boss well, and knew he would shrug it off as a weird parent thing rather than any reflection on Fergus.

      1. Candi*

        I think you did the right thing. There’s a bunch of stories on here (and Not Always Working) about the grapevine getting to the boss first, and damage control is always much harder.

        Plus, besides looking out for emails, the boss can tell whoever answers the phones to keep an eye out in case Dad -or “Dad”- tries phishing that way.

  21. MuseumChick*

    You did this perfectly! A few years ago I was working at an outdoor living history site (like where people dress up in old-timey clothing and demonstrate blacksmith techniques). We had volunteers come in to help with the animal care (watering the horses etc.). The Animal Care Manager got a call from a woman who was VERY concerned that her daughter was volunteering in the evening hours because we did not have outdoor lighting. The ACM asked the woman who/how old her daughter was….the daughter was 37 and been volunteering with us for several months.

    ACM basically told mom that if the her daughter had any concerns about safety she should have to bring them up to him.

    1. Higher Ed Database Dork*

      I’m 34 and my dad still wants me to call or text him when I get home after visiting them. I don’t.

      1. Rachel*

        44, and same. Because there’s a highway and a bridge and it might be dark by then. And if I DON’T, I get a call or text soon after returning home to see if I had forgotten, or if I was in fact dead on the side of the road.

        1. LPUK*

          Yup. My parents too and I’m in my fifties and live about an hour away. The weird thing is that they only ask me to do this on the way home from their house. My jobs have involved extensive road and air travel , and even living abroad, and if they don’t hear from me at all for a week’s worth of travel that’s fine – it’s only when I am on their radar they bother, so I treat it as an endearing tick. Reaching for my hand when we cross the road together though….

          1. Nana*

            “Reaching for my hand when we cross the road together…” brought up a sweet memory. My grandfather lived with us during my childhood (until I went to college). At 25, I went to see him and take him out to dinner…and he reached for my hand…and I realized that now he needed to hold my hand for his own safety, not mine…bitter-sweet memory.

      2. Drew*

        I’m 47 and a dude, and same. Except that I usually do call, because I know at least one of my parents will be waiting up and worrying if they don’t hear from me, and while my parents are a bit smothering sometimes, they care and I don’t want them worrying themselves into ill health.

      3. 2horseygirls*

        My mother did this until the day my grandparents died (and they had been living 10 houses down the block for several years by this point). Prior to them moving, they lived about 40 minutes away, a very pleasant, safe, easy drive.

        My father looked me straight in the eye one time as my mother did it, and said, “I will disown you on the spot if you ever do this.” I was allowed to call when I got back to college in a neighboring state ;) but that was the only exception.

      4. Positive Reframer*

        That’s more “common courtesy” than helicopter parenting. Its even recommended in some dating guides to send a “just got home, have a good night” type text. Requiring GPS access to your car would be too much but a simple text that you got home ok? that doesn’t seem like too much to ask.

        Note: I didn’t always take my own advice as a college student

        1. EddieSherbert*

          I think of it as a courtesy thing too. And I do ask friends/family – including my parents! – to text me when they get home after visiting me.

          But I also live in an extremely rural area, so basically everyone visiting me is driving over 30 minutes, mostly on backroads.

        2. Marillenbaum*

          I do this with my folks, too–I live across the country, and haven’t lived at home in nearly a decade, but it’s just how we roll. Admittedly, I’m also quite close with my mom–we call each other every week–but I don’t think “Hey, got home safe. Love you!” is incompatible with having solid boundaries.

          1. Eye of Sauron*

            Agreed. I have friends that I do this with too. It’s more of habit probably than anything else at this point, but eh… a text or a quick ‘yep made it home, had a great time’ call is pretty standard.

        3. AMPG*

          Right – my mom often texts me when she gets home after leaving my house late at night. So why would I mind doing the same?

      5. Dana*

        This made me smile, because I am 56 and my parents are in their late 70s, and I ask THEM to text ME when they get to their vacation home, or when they get back home from their vacation home. (A 4-5 hour car trip).

        So when I was a teenager I would call THEM, there were several decades in there where we didn’t do this at all, and now the tables have turned.


        1. Nita*

          That’s actually a good idea! Regular phone check-ins are the reason my 95-year-old aunt is alive and healthy today. Her son had a habit of checking on her by phone every evening, and one day he called and called for maybe half an hour, and she wouldn’t pick up. He drove over to her place, found her unconscious on the floor, and called an ambulance right away. She had a stroke, and every minute counts with this sort of thing. She’s made a very good recovery.

          I honestly don’t know where the line is between “don’t freak out when your family member won’t pick up, because they’re probably in the shower” and being able to save someone from an emergency because you couldn’t contact them and *didn’t* assume they’re fine.

      6. Ramona Flowers*

        Isn’t that a bit more normal though? I mean I don’t have parents in my life but friends and I will text that we got home okay.

        1. Becky*

          Yeah–if I’m going to be getting home outside my normal arrival time I will let my roommate know, she does the same. I let my parents know when I get back home after flying somewhere. They don’t know my day to day schedule, but they appreciate the courtesy of a quick–“just got home–long flight–sleeping the rest of the day” or whatever.

      7. Not a Morning Person*

        We do that, but we are a 7 hour drive away from the kids and a 6 hour drive away from the MIL.

      8. Bea*

        My friends as well as assorted family all do this. It’s so they know they don’t need to come get you if you break down on a trip and also so they aren’t freaked out when they hear a crash reported on the news while your on the road…it’s really not smothering at all.

        1. Been Here Before*

          Ditto to all of this. especially w/my children who are between 24 & 30. Not every time, but long trips, bad weather, late nights, holidays/big party weekends (Superbowl, for ex.), flights, and b/c I usually drive a crap car . . . My children ask me to text them, too, and when I don’t ,they call. This is most likely because I hadn’t heard from my mom in three days and went to check on her…Literally the “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” commercial. I know many people laugh/make fun of that ad, but not me. :-(

      9. Jadelyn*

        I’m 32 and my mom does the same – but I’m fine with sending a quick text, it’s literally 4 letters and hit send (“home”) and she texts back “thx” and that’s all there is to it. She and I are both worriers, so I understand and don’t mind taking 10 seconds to accommodate her so she can get that peace of mind. I think there’s a big difference between “please text to let me know you got home safe” and calling your child’s employer to complain about purported safety issues at the workplace.

      10. OtterB*

        I think this is one of those things that’s fine when it works for your relationship but can also be part of a pattern of overinvolvement. (Which then can make people who have an issue wih it feel dismissed when other people say, my parents do that and it’s not a problem.)

        But then I like my 25-year-old daughter to text me when she gets home from a visit to us or back from a long road trip. She lives several states away. If she was local and going home from dinner with us or something, I wouldn’t do it, unless road conditions were bad.

      11. zora*

        My mom still asks me to text her when I get home/to my destination when traveling, but she is asking ME to text her directly, not asking my BOSS or some other adult to check on my whereabouts!!!

        She asks me to do that because she worries (I think she is where I got my anxiety issues from but hers aren’t diagnosed) and if she doesn’t hear from me she will be having visions of planes crashing. That doesn’t feel like helicoptering at all, she loves me and wants to be sure I am safe, and car crashes and other accidents do happen.

        This is ENTIRELY different from talking to completely different adults ABOUT me, or trying to actually prevent me from doing something or going somewhere.

      12. Candi*

        My dad, my kids, and I usually save the ‘are you home safe?’ type texts for bad weather and after dark. Oh, and when there’s a bear alert. That’s usually around October.

    2. Zahra*

      My brother came to visit me and I specifically asked him to text me when he was leaving home and when he got there. But then, there was enough snow on the road to warrant more cautious driving and I wanted to be sure he made it. He sent me a “I’m leaving in 30 minutes” and a “Just got home” and that was enough. I told him that if I didn’t get any news within 3 hours of his departure (usual travel time is just under 2 hours), I’d start worrying.

  22. AnotherAlison*

    My son’s college (student, not employee) will shut you down so fast if you want any info about your kid. (Specifically, a billing issue that you are responsible for.) I don’t know why any parent would think they can but into their adult kid’s professional life. I mean, I do know why because I have those types of parents myself, but anyone who actually does call won’t be shocked when you tell them nothing.

    1. k.k*

      I had the exact opposite experience in college…my school would not only give parents information, but would actively send things to them without student’s consent. I’m still pissed about that.

      1. AnotherAlison*

        Well, his mail from the school does come to our house (addressed to him only, though), so I could open his grades and invoices if I wanted to. I’m trying to think of things that it would make sense to send me. . .so far I only come up with donation requests and state-of-the-school type reports.

        1. k.k*

          My school sent a copy of anything disciplinary related addressed to the parents. As if the parents really needed to be notified about every dorm-room hotplate infraction. I honestly don’t know how they got away with this. I was too naive at the time to realize this was weird or to push back. I wonder if there was some release in the admission paperwork I unknowingly.

          1. AnotherAlison*

            Ah, yeah. Kind of makes sense. My son got fined for bedbugs, but he told me personally. He says he didn’t have bedbugs, and as the person who washed all his crap when he got home for summer last year, I tend to agree with him. Didn’t find any evidence myself. I think they fined everyone in that student housing building, but that is just my guess based on how poorly run student housing is there (to the point that they may shut it down in a couple years) and the fact that they wouldn’t otherwise have money to treat the building. Where I have a problem is that I have to pay the fine, but I don’t get to dispute the charge, and since he doesn’t pay the bill, he has no incentive to dispute. (And by the time we got that info, the housing people were out for the summer.) Not all students are financially dependent on parents, of course, but mine happens to be, so I get cranky about this.

      2. Goya de la Mancha*

        Or to the hometown newspaper >:(

        I had to stop taking courses my last year of college due to health and finance issues. Always made my mom sad that I didn’t get to finish my degree. When I was able, I re-enrolled to finish my classes and kept it all a secret while I was working on them. Upon completion, the University notified my hometown newspaper ( I guess that’s normal? I wasn’t aware), and promptly ruined the surprise for my mother that I had been working on for a year and a freaking half….GRRRR.

        I know I take the extreme side on this, but NOTHING should be given to public or even immediate family unless the employee/student/patient has deemed it OK for that specific situation.

        1. Still at the ref desk*

          I know that some colleges that pull most of their students from a local area send in lists of graduates to local newspapers. I always thought of it as similar to the high schools who send their honor rolls. It never occurred to me that it would cause problems! I’m so sorry your surprise was ruined!

        2. Goya de la Mancha*

          Ok, glad to hear that it wasn’t just me who thought it was weird! Definitely not a local school as I attended an out of state one. Anywho…what’s done is done, just another reason as to why I am so strict in my feelings that information about employees/students/patients/customers should never be shared without consent of said person at that specific time/purpose. Of course exceptions for emergency contact situations.

        3. Stormy*

          My graduate class got an e-mail stating that X, Y, and Z local papers would list graduate names, and to contact Public Relations Guy by Certain Date if you wanted to be excluded. I was impressed with how organized they were.

      3. Specialk9*

        Yeah, my brother’s college sent his STI test results to our parents instead of him. He did not ask them to do that. He was a grad student, at a teeeeechnically Catholic school. This wasn’t that long ago.

    2. DMLT*

      Interesting. My kids’ college allows me access to financial info only. And even then only because my kids have gone in and signed a form. So I can see all the charges, explanations for them, and (most importantly) I can PAY them. But I don’t have access to any grades, scholarship info, even class schedule. And I am fine with that. The only time it’s been an issue was when my daughter told me not to pay until the class she’d dropped was no longer there and I couldn’t see her schedule to tell. So I had to text her every day and ask her to check it until it was done.

  23. Rusty Shackelford*

    I met someone while waiting for a flight whose mother had called and cancelled her ticket because she didn’t think she should be going on the trip. Fergus should consider himself lucky. (She was eventually able to get on the plane, but there were strings pulled and tears shed, and no one should have to go through that.)

    1. Drew*

      Wow. If my mother did that to me (but she wouldn’t), it would be an extinction-level relationship event.

      1. Jadelyn*

        A-freaking-men. You do NOT cancel someone’s ticket on another person’s say-so!

        That’s the thing that always gets me – there’s a level of credibility given to anyone who claims the title of “parent” that drives me up a wall. My abusive father is my parent, yes – but I haven’t spoken to him in several years, for very good reason, and just the fact that he can say he’s my father doesn’t mean he should be entitled to any information about or control over my life! Not all parents are good parents. Stop assuming that someone’s parents are always inherently working for the best interests of their child.

      2. Eye of Sauron*

        Strangely I’ve rearranged my mom’s travel (with her knowledge and consent) without the airline batting an eye.

        I had to cancel airfare and rearrange a car drop off and everyone let me do it. Nobody asked me if I had permission to do it or tell me that they would need to speak to her. I was totally upfront with who I was, so it’s not like they thought they were talking to her. I was rescheduling everything due to a death in the family and she was already traveling and my dad was supposed to fly and meet her for vacation.

        I remember commenting to her (my mom) at the time that I was surprised they let me do all that.

        1. zora*

          I arrange my boss’s travel, and I have totally had instances where I contacted carriers directly to ask them to make changes. I even acknowledged I wasn’t my boss, and they let me do it anyway. Sometimes it suprises me that they let me, but it makes my life easier so ::shrug:::

      3. a different Vicki*

        If they knew that they weren’t talking to the passenger, yes. (If the airline allows you to cancel a ticket by phone, the issue is with the airline, not the individual agent.) Parents are likely to know most if not all of the standard identifying information: date of birth, address, mother’s maiden name, social security number, phone number, and a bunch of stuff like your first pet’s name and “what city does your closest sibling live in?”

        If the passenger in question had sent her flight information to her mother, it might well have included the six-character “record locator,” because forwarding the confirmation email could seem simpler than writing a separate note giving the information so her mother wouldn’t worry. With that, a call to the airline to say “hello, this is A Different Vicki, I’m supposed to be on flight 47 out of DTW at 4:00 this afternoon, but I won’t be able to make it because I have to deal with a plumbing emergency… The code is Q4NY3L” might be enough to make them think you were me. (I have no flights out of DTW planned, needless to say.)

        1. Candi*

          There’s a reason I lie on security questions. My “first pet” isn’t my actual first pet, either by name or species, the city I would most like to live is fictional, and I NEVER use my mother’s maiden name if there’s any other option -my grandmother was a heavy user of FB before she died, and I have three uncles on that side. (Plus aunts.)

          Now, someone who knows me personally and really well could figure it out -but those are exactly the people I trust not to, and who have proven they deserve that trust. (And they trust me.)

    2. Alli525*

      I saw a similar story on Reddit recently–it’s completely insane that people pull shit like this.

  24. Knitting Cat Lady*

    I wouldn’t rule out a really inept attempt at corporate espionage.

    My job has nothing to do with defence but has similar concerns.

    We get drilled regularly about information security.

    1. AnotherAlison*

      Or possibly an attempt to do a covert internal audit of security? Like a how-loose-are-our-HR-team’s-lips secret shopper. . .

  25. Banonymous*

    If he is in defense industry and doing foreign travel, there is a decent chance that DoD requires travel briefings and contact reports. There is also travel.state.gov that is pretty much the same thing for the public.

    But the onus is not on the father to ensure those were done to the required standard for the traveller’s circumstance.

    1. Candi*

      If the employee doesn’t do them right, that would be a manager’s issue to handle, I think. Part of required duties and all that.

  26. LadyKelvin*

    While I am glad that parents would never call my boss, they did show up on a work trip as a “surprise” to see me. It was a week long meeting in a city I used to live in, and they flew down and called me as I was leaving for dinner with my colleagues like “hey we are here, want to get dinner?” Thankfully they were only there for the first two days of the meeting, but I was still missing out on valuable networking time. The worst part about it was that they had bought the tickets, etc 2 months earlier when I first said I might be going and the day I arrived I ate dinner alone so I could have hung out with them and they didn’t even tell me they were in town until the next day. They are no longer allowed to know the details of my work travel plans. When asked by other family if I enjoyed the surprise, they said “it doesn’t matter if she enjoyed it, we did!” And that is exactly the problem.

    1. AnotherAlison*

      Hey, sister from another crazy mother! I bet it doesn’t matter if you like your Christmas gifts, either, as long as your parents enjoyed buying them. I’m semi-relocating in a month & haven’t told them. I think it will be more of a “bye, and by the way I’m going to be gone for a year. . .” conversation. My dad once told me I would be an embarrassment to him personally when I was thinking of leaving engineering for medical school. This was when I was 30, and I had “too much” invested in my career.

      1. Galatea*

        ohhhh man, solidarity.

        My sister and I both got “if you do $career decision, it means your dead father wasted his life getting you an education and you’re throwing it all away”, and then a side order of complete denial if we ever tell her that using our father’s extremely upsetting death as a cudgel is not an acceptable way to behave. And then she wonders why I never call her and have locked her out of all my social media and only see her at big family events…

      2. Candi*

        That shows a very self-centered view. And an ignorant one. I can’t remember where I saw it, but I read there’s some subfields where a cross-understanding of medicine and engineering would get you snapped right up. Specifics depend on what medical field and what subset of engineering.

    2. Jadelyn*

      My jaw literally dropped at that line. Like…the whole point…of doing things *for* people is that *the recipient* should benefit from the thing you’re doing??? Not that you enjoy doing it??? WHAT?

      1. nonegiven*

        If they had been doing it *for* LadyKelvin, that would be true. They were doing it for themselves.

  27. Enginerd*

    I’d wait until Fergus returns to let him know, no point in building anxiety about a situation he can’t address immediately.

  28. Snark*

    It’s quite likely that this was really just a delusional helicopter dad. I don’t want to come off paranoid. But.

    A younger employee of a defense contractor is traveling to western Europe and someone calls asking, vaguely, if they’ve been “properly briefed” about their trip – which could be a deniable sort of tactic to start a conversation about the time and duration of the trip, the level of information the young person has been made privy to, and what sort of business they’ll be on.

    In the best case scenario, Fergus needs to mention, as part of the “you are not allowed to ever call my work and undermine me like this ever again” conversation, that, oh, by the way, that’s the kind of thing that makes people wonder if it’s the damn SVR the other end of the line SO MAYBE DON’T DAD. In the worst case scenario….it was.

    1. Lynca*

      No more paranoid than the rest of us. The minute the vagueness was mentioned I was questioning whether that might really be his dad or not.

      Most helicopter parents I deal with haven’t been cagey about why they’re calling. Obnoxious, overbearing, and weird but not evasive.

      1. Snark*

        Exactly. The caginess/vagueness is weird. The phrasing is weird; it’s seemingly inviting OP to blab about what was briefed. And asking if he was briefed on the dangers? I mean, maybe helidad, but that also seems to get at “how savvy is this guy.”

        I hold a clearance. I’ve had to attend super-serious operational security trainings, held by counterintelligence officers. This is EXACLY the kind of thing they tell us to be wary of.

        1. LCL*

          Yes. I have seen the helicopter parent up close and personal because of my involvement in a sport. There is no doubt or vagueness in their behavior. Their motives and intentions are clear. Misguided, but not subtle.

          I, too, have taken a few courses regarding information security.

      2. Candi*

        One thing I know about intel is it’s very rare to be given a nice, clean document all ready to go. That situation is mostly a movie plot device to keep the story moving.

        Most intel is piecing together a puzzle with a million pieces and no picture of what it’s supposed to look like. And that’s if you have all the pieces, without some being lost or deliberately withheld because of some asinine policy. (Happens all over too often.)

        So it could just be helicopter parent thinking they were being subtle, or it could be some social engineering going on. Best to err on the side of caution, and “We do not discuss employee business” covers all the bases.

    2. Queen of Pents*

      I would assume, if the person had a clearance or security was thought to be an issue, figuring who exactly called and why would of been top priority. I would think OP would of had specific training if something like this came up. You never can be too careful though and it is a good idea for OP to notify someone above them, if there is even a remote chance this is a possibility.

      1. Defense Contractor*

        You’d be wrong. HR/Business Ops has no business knowing any of that about the traveling employee – it’s called need-to-know. Employee knows. Employee’s boss probably – but not necessarily – knows. HR shouldn’t know unless there are exceptionally bizarre circumstances.

        At most, HR might be able to find out whether a given employee at their company has a security clearance – but it’s not necessarily the case (probably isn’t the case) that such information is easily available to them. Readily-available lists of cleared employees are a security incident waiting to happen.

        HR isn’t supposed to handle security concerns for things like that. They may have no training at all on the matter, or minimal training. There is usually a specific contact person or department or even federal contact who handles that kind of thing. Counterintelligence is usually what I’ve seen it called.

    3. Stormy*

      In my head, where the world is a television show, the dad would get a stern visit from suited, sunglass-wearing large men who asked him Very Important Questions for several hours about why he made that call. Dad pulls a code brown and promises to never interfere with son’s job again.

  29. Tangerina Warbleworth*

    Here’s the conversation I see happening:

    OP: “Fergus, just so you know, your dad called while you were overseas.”

    Fergus: “What?! Well, that’s interesting. My dad died two years ago, and I hadn’t spoken to him for ten years before that anyway.”

    1. Snark*


      Fergus: “Dad, why the hell did you call my work asking if I’d been briefed? That was so wei-”

      Dad: “Whut? I didn’t…….?”

  30. Trudy Scrumptious*

    I used to manage a retail location in a college town. I had a smart, enthusiastic employee who was in her freshman year, a couple of hours from home. She was on an warning for attendance and was MIA for her shift, but her parents called to let me know that the young woman’s uncle had died tragically and she was home with them. That was fine-but then they started to say “If you ever want to talk to us about Jane-” at which point I cut them off and said, “I appreciate that, but I CAN’T talk to you about Jane about her employment here.” They were a bit stunned and I appreciate what they were trying to do, but I wasn’t her college advisor or RA, I was her manager. Adulting can be hard, especially for parents.

  31. Guy Incognito*

    That wasn’t Fergus’s father.
    That was a scammer trying to set up a virtual kidnapping. He was testing you to see if Fergus was easily contactable, and to get as much information as possible to scam his parents into paying for his “release.”
    I promise you.

    1. Natalie*

      There’s an old saying, “when you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras”.

      I’m not saying it’s impossible, but given that plenty of people operate “distressed traveler” scams without resorting to corporate espionage, it doesn’t seem the most likely.

      1. President Porpoise*

        So, I’m actually with Guy on this. Maybe not virtual kidnapping, but I personally know many people who have been survielled, or propositioned to engage in espionage. Sometimes it’s subtle and crafty, sometimes it’s bright red flashing lights (or a series of prostitutes sent to a Moscow hotel room in a variety of hair colors and genders, trying to get the target’s ‘type’ right). This has the flavor of something off to me as well.

        1. Ramona Flowers*

          And I know plenty of people whose parents have done this kind of thing so nobody is in a position to promise anybody that this wasn’t it.

          1. President Porpoise*

            But given that we’re talking about a defense contractor, the fact that this is a suspicious contact means that this needs to be reported to OP’s security department – even if you guys are right and it’s just a parent/bill collector/prankster.

            1. President Porpoise*

              And actually, if this is an abusive parent situation security might need to be notified anyway if Fergus is cleared – this is a potential piece of adverse information relevant to Fergus’s clearance status.

    2. Oracle at Delphi*

      “I promise you.”

      You have no way of knowing that whatsoever, so lay off the omniscience, m’kay? It *could* have been something nefarious (“virtual kidnapping,” foreign intelligence, etc.), but we have plenty of examples of Outrageous Things Parent Do on this blog.

    3. MissDissplaced*

      It’s possible… but it could also be an elderly parent, bill collector or any number of things! The only thing you csn do is not give out information and let the employee know about the call so they can reasonably check in if need be.

    4. Kathleen_A*

      Yeah, we are all informed by our experiences, but the thing is, people really have experienced Parents Who Are (for various reasons) Just Like This while other people have experienced Bad Guys Who Are Just Like This.

      So nobody can promise *anything*, except the dad or Fergus, and they aren’t talking to us.

      1. Lissa*

        Yup, we’re all coming to this from our own life, so nobody really can know for sure. TBH my first thought was unhinged ex.

  32. Joielle*

    Oh my mom would totally do this. I don’t travel much for work, but once when I was in college and involved in nonprofit work, I was at a training retreat in the middle of the woods in upstate New York and hadn’t called her in a day (because MIDDLE OF THE WOODS, NO CELL RECEPTION, which she knew). So she called one of the program coordinators, who thought there was an emergency and called the landline on site, had to call back several times, talked to the onsite lead, had me call her back in a panic, etc. Caused a big embarrassing disruption for no reason. I was so mad.

    These days, my brother travels to a manufacturing plant in Mexico regularly for work and she calls me all the time to ask if I’ve heard from him, do I think he’s ok, do I think she should check in with his boss, she hasn’t heard from him in six hours and what if he’s been kidnapped by the cartels… it’s exhausting. Once, he lost his cell phone in an airport on his way down there and I honestly thought she’d need to be committed. I’ve told her in the strongest possible language that she should NOT EVER contact his boss, but I can’t stop a grown woman from doing whatever she’s going to do. She’s not… abusive, exactly… but she clearly doesn’t trust either of us to take care of ourselves despite decades of evidence to the contrary (mostly, she needs therapy and probably meds for her undiagnosed anxiety, BUT anyways).

    I feel bad for the employee. If he’s anything like my brother and I, he’ll be mortified when he finds out and will never tell his dad about upcoming trips again.

    1. SheLooksFamiliar*

      Both of my parents were abusive, toxic people. On a good day they were just domineering and controlling, and seemed to expect us kids to fail miserably at whatever we did. And they loved to talk about it with us, too. Their fallback position – even when we were adults, mind you! – was that we didn’t know what the hell we were doing, so we’d better listen to them. Or else.

      After one too many lectures I finally said something I was never brave enough to say before: ‘It sounds like you wonder if you failed to raise me right, that you aren’t sure you taught me to handle things like a grownup. It sounds like you’re apologizing for letting me go out in the world unprepared because you failed as parents.’ And then I looked at them expectantly. I never got an apology, but I’m not too proud to admit that I enjoyed the look on their faces.

      1. Tabby Baltimore*

        This is probably the most brilliant comeback for that kind of situation I have ever read in my life. It may not have stopped them, but I sure hope it at least slowed them up some.

        1. SheLooksFamiliar*

          Thank you – I wish it had been off the cuff, but I crafted my response in my head, over and over, for a long time and finally let fly. You’re right, they didn’t stop the lectures but things were different. Or maybe I was.

          1. Specialk9*

            That’s brilliant. Awful that you had to have that corrosive family life, but awesome on your end.

      2. Candi*

        ‘It sounds like you wonder if you failed to raise me right, that you aren’t sure you taught me to handle things like a grownup. It sounds like you’re apologizing for letting me go out in the world unprepared because you failed as parents.’

        This reply is a thing of beauty.

    1. Turtlewings*

      This may be nuts, but considering the hemming and hawing, I wondered if he was worried about his son contracting an STD over there with all them foreigners. XD It’s the kind of thing that WWII soldiers, for instance, actually WERE briefed about, and given careful instructions on how to be safe!

      1. Morning Glory*

        It’s possible, but also likely he was scared of the terrorism attacks in Europe over the past few years that got a lot of media coverage.

        My grandparents are always terrified when I travel because the only things they know about other countries are what they see on the news – and that’s the mainstream media. If the father reads/watches news on hyper-partisan scare sites, he could believe a trip to Western Europe is legitimately very dangerous.

        1. Artemesia*

          One of the most common questions on trip advisor is about ‘safety’ in places like Paris — is a single woman safe, can I take a cab, what parts of the city are dangerous, can we be out after dark. It is very weird as it so often comes from people form say Paducah where random gunmen shoot up the schools from time to time or Texas where sitting in church is hazardous to your health. I always feel totally safe in France; there is almost no violent crime and terrorism is fairly rare and certainly not something you can feel secure about anywhere. On the other hand, all of us in the US know that there are dangerous armed loons all around us and that gunfire is a low level but continuous possible threat. I am so amazed at how perpetually frightened so many of my fellow citizens seem to be and how little they know of the world. There was a woman the other day concerned about her 22 year old daughter going with a child from Paris to Disneyland for the day on the train because ‘white slavery’ and the real possibility of them being ‘taken’. I’d to live in their world.

          1. INSEAD alum*

            “One of the most common questions on trip advisor is about ‘safety’ in places like Paris — is a single woman safe, can I take a cab, what parts of the city are dangerous, can we be out after dark. It is very weird as it so often comes from people form say Paducah where random gunmen shoot up the schools from time to time or Texas where sitting in church is hazardous to your health. ”

            With due respect, there are banlieues of Paris that are more or less “no-go” zones. “What parts of the city are dangerous” is an entirely legitimate question.

            And one terrible incident at a church in Texas does not mean that “sitting in church is hazardous to your health.” You’re inflating the risks every bit as much as some of these first-time travelers.

            1. Reba*

              Just as a point of clarification — it’s true that there are suburban communities with *slightly* higher rates of crime than the city center, I’ve spent quite a bit of time in these places, my friends had their car burned, but they’re mostly boring though with lots of diversity….

              But the “no go zones” thing started as a right-wing media exaggeration.

              debunking https://www.snopes.com/politics/religion/nogozones.asp

              Crime rates in 2016 in France http://www.lefigaro.fr/actualite-france/2017/01/02/01016-20170102ARTFIG00290-decouvrez-la-carte-des-crimes-et-delits-en-france-et-dans-le-grand-paris.php

            2. Lissa*

              Can someone explain no-go zones to me? I’ve heard of them but what are they? Places with high crime rates? I mean…clearly people live there, right? And don’t experience lots of crime? Or is this like….industrial districts where gangs operate . . ? Are these no-go zones for everyone so nobody but criminals go there?

              Sorry if I sound ignorant, I just don’t really understand if we’re talking something similar to certain areas of North America where like, bad things happen at a higher rate but people still live there normally, or is something else happening?

              1. Elle*

                I have always understood it to be a euphemism favoured by certain sectors of the right-wing American press for ‘has a lot of brown people, who i assume are Muslims’.

            3. Traveling Teacher*

              As a long-time resident of several big cities in France, I find it to be really discouraging when I see comments about “no-go zones.” Because that is not a real thing!

              Are there some sketchy neighborhoods in the capital? Yes. In other big cities in France? Of course. Just like there are in every other major city in the world.

              I’ve also lived and taught school in a lot of “sketchy” French neighborhoods, especially when I was younger, because I was paying off my US student loans and needed to save every penny. You know what? Most of the time, those neighborhoods are as peaceful as can be. There might be a slight uptick in crime compared to other areas, but that’s about it. On the other hand, there are a lot of international families and a lot of love.

          2. LouiseM*

            Although this comment is amazingly irrelevant and I hate to contribute to the derailing, I just have to point out that I doubt the record number (thousands) of Jews who emigrated from France in the past two years alone, nor any of the French Jews and Muslims who were victims of a rising number of hate crimes, would agree with your characterization of France as “totally safe.” I’m glad you feel so much more enlightened than all those Texas bumpkins, though!

            1. zora*

              There are just as many, if not more, Muslims being targeted with hate crimes in the US as there are in France. That is the point Artemesia is making, the US isn’t “100% safe, all the times” and Western Europe isn’t a war zone. The people worrying about safety in Paris are completely unaware of actual crime statistics in the two countries.

          3. Lora*

            I get many questions like this. “Isn’t [wherever] dangerous? You don’t want to go alone!” Um, in terms of violent crime it’s a LOT safer than Baltimore, Chicago, Philadelphia and NYC, where I have been in sketchy neighborhoods at night by myself, and nobody worried about it. It’s really depressing that here in the wealthiest country in the world, people can go through life never feeling 100% safe. That kind of stress takes a toll.

      2. starsaphire*

        No, this is literally the first place my brain went too. I heard “properly briefed” and I immediately thought of those educational short films about STDs!

      3. Falling Diphthong*

        It’s a better story if dad believes that Fergus is a spy. “Actualizing visibility isn’t a real job, clearly it’s a cover for squirrel suiting into nuclear plants.”

      4. Kathleen_A*

        And not just WWII soldiers. My husband got out of the Marine Corps in 1985, and such “briefings” were still common then.

        I don’t think this is the most likely scenario, though. However, I’m having a hard time figuring out what, exactly, Dad wanted to know…and why.

  33. Keener*

    While working overseas (prior to smart phones with easy internet access) I went on a vacation (with 7 other friends) travelling through various small towns and camping. My parents didn’t remember what date I was going to be back from my vacation and thought I’d be home and back in email contact about 5 days earlier than I was. They became increasingly panicked when I didn’t get in touch or return their emails.

    They jumped to the conclusion some tragedy must have happened to me and none of my 7 travelling companions would would figure out how to get in touch with them. They never thought to call my cell phone or tell my brother they were concerned and ask him me a text.

    After days of panic they were about to file an international missing person report when they somehow found my manager’s cell phone number and called him at 6:30am to ask about me since they assumed I must not be turning up to work. I was so embarrassed when my manager called me (while I was on my booked off vacation time) to check if I was okay since my parents had just called him. I’ve since learned to provide my parents with a very clear and written summary if I anticipate being out of touch for an extended period.

    1. anon this time*

      I mean, your parents *may* have overreacted here (and I say “may” because you *were* 5 days overdue, even if they don’t get cell phones), but this isn’t the same thing as parents that deliberately sabotage careers or act inappropriately in the workplace?

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        I got very worried on an overseas trip when my elderly parents were supposed to email when they got back from a several days’ drive, and didn’t. When I finally got in touch with them by phone it turned out they had a computer problem, and using the library computers or calling my husband’s cell etc didn’t occur to them.

        I would not have been worried except that they had explicitly said several times they would email me once they were home.

      2. tigerlily*

        Except Keener *wasn’t* 5 days overdue. Their parents screwed up the return date and got panicky. It may have been accidental, but it’s still a story about parents contacting someone’s workplace when they shouldn’t have had to.

        1. Neerja*

          I disagree, in this case. Here we had a set of parents whose adult child was thought to be missing for 5 days. (Yes, it turns out that thought was erroneous, but at the time, the parents didn’t know that.) There’s no evidence that the parents did this because they were “helicoptering” or deliberately pushing boundaries. This was an emergency situation.

          1. AerynSun*

            If you are going to call out an international manhunt to track down an adult then I think you really need to have gone through the basics first so:
            1) be absolutely sure you have the date right (I’m a bit scatty but I know that so if something doesn’t happen when I expect one of my first thoughts is “Did I get the date wrong?” and if it’s really important I write it down)
            2) Go through at least a few more expected routes i.e. call Keener’s own cell phone or call his brother for help rather than calling his/her manager’s cell phone at 6:30 am.

            Understandable that they called the manager in an emergency situation but not really understandable how they came to the conclusion that it was an emergency situation in the first place.

            1. tigerlily*

              Agreed. And really, my only point was that is was a sufficiently relevant story to be part of the conversation.

      3. Lissa*

        Why does it have to be the same thing as parents who deliberately sabotage careers or act inappropriately in the workplace? I know a lot of people are writing here about their toxic parents who do those things, but we actually *don’t* know that Fergus’ father (if it was him) is toxic, abusive or anything like that. He may well just be an overeager helicopter parent with good intentions, which is actually pretty similar similar to the story Keener told?

        I don’t get why you’re chastising her for telling a story that may be just as relevant as anybody else’s story about their own parents, just because it isn’t as dramatic.

    2. Magenta Sky*

      The US State Department has a (no charge) program (that you can do online on their web site – it’s called the Smart Traveler Enrollment Plan, or STEP) for filing your travel plans, with contact details at each stop. Makes it easier to find you if something goes wrong for you, but also easier to find you if something goes wrong at home.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        I left a detailed itinerary (and info in case I croaked) with my brother before my 2014 UK trip, since I was also traveling to two other countries and did not have a phone that worked abroad. The second time, I had a phone that worked overseas and I stayed in one place, so it was basically unnecessary since it was much easier to find me.

    3. Ingray*

      Once I went on a road trip with some friends to a place about 6 hours away. My dad freaked out the day I was supposed to be back because for some reason he thought I’d be back by noon even though that would have meant we left for home at 5-6am, which is not exactly my style. (What I’d told him is that I’d be back in time for my class which was in the evening, like all my classes were.) I wasn’t answering my phone because the battey was dead. He went through my stuff until he found my cell phone bill and started calling every number on my bill until he reached one of the friends I was with. I was in my late 20s at the time.

      I love my parents but I was happy when I finally moved out.

    4. Nita*

      I once had the coordinator of a youth program calling and calling me because she somehow decided that I was flying in for the program three hours earlier than I really was. There were 15 of us coming in and she must have gotten confused. I was on a plane, with the phone off, so the more she called, the more she freaked out. Her last message was particularly great: “If you know where you are, please let me know.” At least she didn’t have my parents’ contact info… a midnight call telling them she can’t find their kid would not have gone over well.

    5. Eye of Sauron*

      This is funny, I went on a 2 week HS to France, pre-cell phone era. I think I talked to my mom once on that trip and that was a week in we got to our host family. In college I spent a semester in Scotland, again pre-cell era. I went traipsing through Europe with no cell phone and talking to my parents about once every 3-4 weeks.

      I can’t imagine having my parents call my employer even if I was on a work trip. Half the time my husband doesn’t remember where I’m going on a weekly basis.

      1. Bon voyage*

        Yeah, on my want to spending a semester in France pre-cell phone (and email also not common), I missed my connecting flight in London. I called them from a pay phone at the airport and left a message on their answering machine(!) with the new arrival details but there was no way for them to call me back. I had given my parents the phone number to the school office in France, along with phonetic spelling of how to ask if I was there. They called the school late that night (France time) and upon asking about me in broken French, were answered in French that they – obviously – did not understand. heh. I arrived at the school about 14 hours later than planned (in the middle of the night) and wasn’t able to contact my parents until the next day. I think they were probably mildly concerned but not completely panicked. If I wasn’t traveling, we would try to speak by phone on Sundays but other than that, I was on my own and they had no idea what I was up to! Even now I go weeks without speaking to them. I would be mortified if they called a co-worker or boss unless it was a dire emergency and they couldn’t reach me directly. They do always like me to text or call to let them know I make it home from a flight (vacation or visit to them) – I guess just to make sure I made it on the plane, there were no safety issues, etc.

        1. Little Twelvetoes*

          I was just in Las Vegas and the only reason my parents even knew about the trip is because my 75-year-old mom has actually learned how to use facebook.

  34. Traveling Teacher*

    Wow. Just wow. I think you kept your cool really well through all of this, OP!

    Also, Allison, an interesting topic for a future open thread could be: Parents, Best (aka Worst!) stories of Parents and Family getting involved in work life. I just cannot fathom everything people are already saying here about what parents have done (except I can because I used to be a teacher!)

    1. Candi*

      For a fix until then, you can check the “gumption” thread from a few months back. Awful, awful parental behavior.

  35. Goya de la Mancha*

    Oiy! We deal with parents like this daily, but that’s because a lot of our employees are teenagers! We can tell almost immediately who’s parents are just not going to be worth the hassle of hiring a child & we’ve also not hired based on parents trying to “pull strings” (ie: name dropping).

    I would let Fergus know, just in case, as some had mentioned possible sketch family relations, but otherwise I think you handled it perfectly!

  36. Stormy*

    As the relative of multiple teachers who are tired of helicopter parents never seeing any consequences for their BS, I encourage you to (carefully) dress down parents like this, when professionally feasible. They need to learn that this is not normal and not okay.

    1. Artemesia*

      I couldn’t be rude, but I had my ‘honor his adulthood’ speech well honed as well as a firm grasp of ferpa.

  37. Falling Diphthong*

    I was in Africa with the Peace Corps, decades ago, and one thing they warned us about was that any news from “Africa” might be interpreted by family at home as right next door to us–even if we were thousands of miles away. At the mildest, dad has probably been consuming some media that portrays all of Europe as burning and believes that his son must be wading through thousands of angry rioters whenever he leaves the hotel.

    Which still keeps the advice: don’t give the person on the phone info, and do tell the employee that he called and why.

    1. Political risk analyst*

      OTOH, it is fair to note that emerging markets have a greater risk of “contagion” than developed markets. What happens in one country can spill over into the next. The Arab Spring is a case in point. I am not saying that every crisis in Congo necessarily means a crisis in Botswana, but I think it is fair to say there are some risks that African countries share.

    2. Femme d'Afrique*

      About your first sentence: tell me about it. This is something we could discuss for days!

    3. Candi*

      I remember that with the Ebola scare. Africa is freaking HUGE!

      And no, people didn’t get infected in the US “because Africa”. They got infected because staff weren’t alerted to use appropriate isolation protocols. (That one still gets my goat. Both the racism/xenophobia and the lack of warning.)

      1. Femme d'Afrique*

        Yup. Many people don’t seem to know that North America can fit inside Africa with lots of room to spare. We’re seen as one small mass of dysfunctional “villages” that all infect each other with weird and exotic diseases on a regular basis. It’s really tiresome.

  38. Delphine*

    The caginess, combined with the fact that he emailed you asking you to call him (is your email publicly accessible, by any chance, like on the company website?), makes me suspicious. Good job handling it the way you did!

  39. Kelly*

    On a related note, I once had a Crazy Boss call my mom to tell her I refused my DTAP vaccine. Um. I was over 40 at the time, and my mom called laughing at the bizarre-ness of the call to her. Crazy Boss just being crazy I guess.

    1. Middle School Teacher*

      Oh god yes. A colleague once called my mom (they knew each other, I guess) to complain that I was mean to her etc etc. I saw my mom later on, and she told me about it. It was so bizarre. Mom didn’t engage her, thank goodness.

  40. Glomarization, Esq.*

    Sadly, this situation raised a red flag for me. I’m reminded of when my mentally ill parent would call my school to check up on myself and my sibling, because of unrealistic, literally delusional concerns about our safety that grew out of their mental illness. I think telling Fergus was 100% the right thing to do. If I were to hear something similar now from my manager, it would alert me that my parent’s health needed some attention.

    1. Anon for this*

      My abusive father would call my school ALL. THE. TIME. and make the administration pull me out of class so he could berate me about a non-issue or something he made up. By junior year I had learned not to go to the office when I was called because I’d rather stay in class and not miss important material.

  41. Not Australian*

    My husband once – and only once – made the mistake of mentioning to my boss’s boss a small concern about my work that I’d voiced to him at home. (For context, we worked in different branches of a large city-wide organisation and he actually saw much more of the higher-ups than I did since I worked at a distant location.) She very sensibly told him that if I was concerned I should speak to her. *I*, on the other hand, tore him a new one; I’d only been venting, and if I had been concerned enough to speak to anyone about it I’m quite capable of doing so myself. He thought he was helping, but I was terrified my boss’s boss would think I was trying to exert some kind of influence of her through him. It took him a very long time to live that down.

  42. Magenta Sky*

    And Five: There’s no realistic way to verify that the caller even *is* his father. With the company being in the defense industry, it isn’t hard to imagine something especially nefarious and industrial espionage oriented.

    Or maybe Dad’s experience was in the Army overseas, and he wants to make sure Junior got the talk about local girls and “protection.”

  43. Lady Blerd*

    I used to work at a recruiting agency an once in a while a parent would call asking for information and our standard was as you did OP. In one case, the applicant disclosed having taken drugs and was rejected for that reason. I told the father to talk to his offspring the info.

  44. Ramona Flowers*

    Speaking as someone who has had to get a restraining order against an abusive parent, the way you handled this was perfect and just how I would want someone to handle this. Really impressed you thought so well on your feet.

  45. MissDissplaced*

    I would definitely leave Fergus a message that his father called, and soon. I mean, his dad could be elderly or something that Fergus might have caretaker concerns about.
    My mom is 78 and has begun to act up/create nonexistent drama before I go on trips, and she experiences a lot of stress over my travel even though I don’t even live with her! She’s never called my work though.

  46. Decima Dewey*

    Or you could be evil: “Right now, Fergus is in Aleppo. You know, in Syria? Don’t worry too much: we gave him a cap pistol and a plastic light saber.”

  47. Beth*

    I came home after Christmas vacation visit with my parents (a couple states away) and forgot to charge my phone. My mom called work early that morning and I then had to deal with a serious chewing out by our office receptionist because I didn’t call my mother after I got home and she was worried. It was possibly the most benign and ridiculous parent calling work situation ever.

    1. anon24*

      When I was a teenager my overprotective parents made me take a drivers ed course. It was about 20 minutes from home. I got off the class an hour before my work shift started, and it was 3/4 mile away, mostly on walking paths or sidewalks, in a very safe neighborhood. The most dangerous part was crossing the busy road in front of my job, but I’d crossed it before and knew how to time the traffic lights to get across safely. I told her not to bother driving all the way out to get me, I’d just walk. My route had me walk past a grocery store, and I told my mom ahead of time I was stopping to get lunch. My mom was not happy about me walking and made me promise to call her when I got to work.

      My mom gave me 15 minutes after the class was scheduled to end before she started calling me. My phone was in my backpack and my ringer was off from being in class, so after a few unanswered phone calls she called my boss in a panic. Great person that he was, he looked out, saw me waiting to cross the street and replied “yeah she’s out here playing in traffic and dodging MAC trucks so I guess she’s fine”

      I was MORTIFIED when I arrived and he gleefully told me to call my mom. She never ever tried to do that again. I chewed her out so badly for that.

  48. Anon to me*

    Well done OP!

    My mother used to randomly show up at my place of employment when I was in my 20’s. She wanted to see where I worked. She wanted to get to know my co-workers and my boss. It was all a way to try and control me and my life. She asked inappropriate questions and shared information about me that was private. It was humiliating. The straw that ended up breaking the camel’s back for me was when I was working in a hospital, and she showed up in the emergency room and had them call me so that I would go down and meet her.

    My next job was in a private building with no public access, she knows who I work for (because if you google me I show up on my company’s staff listing), but early on I explained to our receptionist I wouldn’t take her calls. That receptionist at the time was awesome about letting me know she called, but never putting through a call. After a few years my mother stopped calling.

  49. Angela Z*

    Not trying to justify the dad’s behavior (talk about an invasion of privacy) but there are certain DoD-related fields that have certain restrictions and requirements in place when traveling anywhere outside of the country, even to fairly safe places like western Europe.

    But those things are explained to the employee directly, usually from official rules and requirements for employees. Not sure how the son would’ve been clueless about it, if this was the case.

    1. Observer*

      Any parent who knows about this, would also have to know that the traveler gets briefed, and that calling the office is NOT an appropriate idea.

  50. Marie*

    Assuming the Dad is well meaning but misguided helicopter parent and that the OP is in the US I wonder if the Dad was worried about terrorism given the recent publicity of attacks in Western Europe over the last year and a bit. This is the only perceived danger I can think the Dad could possibly be concerned about as Western Europe is one of the safest places in the world.

    If this is the case he is misguided as the son (assuming they are in the US) is far more likely to die from a gunshot in the US than from terrorism in Europe (can people who reply not get caught up in a debate about terrorism or gun control please it is largely irrelevant in this case).

    But being a London based western European student myself in my experience Americans in Europe tend to overreact to the threat of terrorism I know several American students and at least two of them have parents who go over the top with safety concerns, one of them had their mother go berserk when they wanted to take a short trip over to Germany because the mother was worried about terrorism.

    Whether I am right about the motives or not I think Fergus needs a heads up his father has done this. The father could be unintentionally doing more things to undermine his son’s professional image out of misguided concern. I know the OP said they wouldn’t hold it against Fergus but some other manager in the future might not be so understanding. As the father doesn’t work for the company the OP doesn’t owe him any confidentiality. Assuming Fergus is a sane functioning adult he will be mortified if this happened and want to stop it. It may be possible the Dad got the message from how OP handled but if he keeps doing it, depending on how the office is set up someone else who is less discreet or understanding than the OP might get one of these calls. And the reputation of having to have you Daddy to ring up to see if you will be safe on your trip to a safe region of the world will be hard to shake even if it is in no way Fergus’ fault.

    1. Candi*

      I go with “prepare for the worst, hope for the best.” And it usually falls somewhere in the middle.

      But like Gavin de Becker says in The Gift of Fear, you can’t live your life afraid.

      It stresses you out and takes up bandwith you could be using for other things. Same for stressing out over things that don’t really need to be stressed out over.

      This is, of course, in the absence of mental health conditions where the brain’s chemicals and/or wiring are mixed up and causing illogical reactions and behavior that are, nonetheless, very real to the person experiencing them. Which is where therapy and medication come in, individual to the person.

    2. Mockingjay*

      Agree about Americans overreacting to perceived European / world threats. Most have never traveled outside the U.S. (and never will).

      My parents nearly had heart attacks when we moved to Germany (and took our very small children!). They are small-town people and do not like to travel. They consider states outside the mid-Atlantic region as foreign. While living in Germany, my husband’s work required frequent travel to war zones. My parents couldn’t believe I was fine staying in Germany with the kids while husband was away.

      We finally flew them over to visit us (took a lot of convincing and prepaid airline tickets). We traveled to Italy, which they didn’t really enjoy (we visited Florence, but did not go to see Michelangelo’s David because my mother refused to view a naked statue). Back in Germany, we toured a lot of local attractions (castles, Black Forest etc.) Dad came to realize just how nice Germany is: clean, well-ordered, great driving conditions! One day I took Dad to a biergarten for a few hours, where he told me that he finally understood why I liked living there so much. Only took him 6 years to realize that Europe is ‘civilized.’

      We tested their limits when we told them we were vacationing in – *gasp* – Africa. (Wonderful, exciting, vast continent! So much history and varied cultures. We only got to see a little bit. I want to go back for more.)

  51. M*

    Although it’s extremely unlikely, this employer — which sounds like it’s perhaps a private contractor to a government? — could become the target of phishing schemes. Not saying that happened here, but all the more reason to be very strict about how to handle calls like this.

  52. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

    I would leave Fergus’ boss out of it, but definitely contact Fergus. People seem to be jumping to “helicopter parent” but we don’t know much about Fergus, how long he’s been employed, how old he is, how old the father is, etc.

    Maybe this is my middle-aged concerns getting the better of me without all of the background, but …if this is out of character for the dad, it could be signs of mental decline. My parents have never been helicopter types — I grew up free-range in the 70s when all I had to do was be home before the streetlights came on — but as my parents have aged, they are getting more and more anxious about normal things and losing some of their inhibitions. Thank goodness my dad is comfortable texting and emailing so I can keep conversations discrete; now if only I can convince my mother to even get an email account or cell phone so she isn’t completely dependent on my dad for communication.

  53. C.*

    My first thought wasn’t helicopter parenting or being over-involved, but that Fergus’s dad has an anxiety problem. This sounds exactly like the sort of thing my mom did before she saw someone and started treatment (thankfully, this was when I was in school/before I started working, so instead of calling my boss, it was making me call her when I got to school and when I was leaving). OP, in case that’s what this is, just tell Fergus what happened, you didn’t tell him anything, but don’t elaborate/try to joke about it/etc. You reacted to the call perfectly, but (at least in my experience) trying to engage him on the issue will be uncomfortable – he doesn’t need his boss reinforcing that his dad’s strange.

  54. Anne (with an "e")*

    When I was in grad school I won a scholarship to study in Europe for a year. When I called my mom to tell her my good news she said, “I’m not sure I’m going to allow you to do that.”

    To which I replied, “Mom, I’m not calling to ask your permission. I’m calling to inform you of where I’ll be living next year.”

    Sheesh, I was 22 years old and I had just won a very prestigious scholarship. And my mom’s very first reaction was that she might not let me go. Whenever I think about that conversation, I always think, “Wow!”

    Now that I think about it, I wonder if she called my university. I don’t think she did, but if she had…. just, I cannot even imagine how embarrassing that would have been.

    1. Helicopteree no more*

      “When I was in grad school I won a scholarship to study in Europe for a year. When I called my mom to tell her my good news she said, “I’m not sure I’m going to allow you to do that.” To which I replied, “Mom, I’m not calling to ask your permission. I’m calling to inform you of where I’ll be living next year.””


    2. Observer*

      You handled that very well, I must say.

      I sympathize with your mother. But part of being an adult is biting your tongue. And another part is know when to do it!

      If your kid is old enough and competent enough to tell you”I’m not asking you, I’m telling you”, you need to SHUT UP. Oh, and complimenting your kid on winning the equivalent of a prestigious award wouldn’t hurt, either!

  55. Jo*

    Weird as this situation is, I was expecting an even more bizarre scenario after I misread the headline as ’employee’s dad called to see if we had properly BURIED him on his travel’ .

  56. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

    This situation is simpler than it seems. An unknown external person called the OP, *claimed* to be a family member, and asked for information about an employee’s work activities. So… The answer is a polite “I’m sorry, we cannot discuss this information with external parties. I suggest you contact Fergus directly.” Then immediately inform Fergus about the call, because the person claimed to be a family member. I’m very curious about Fergus’s age.

  57. Laura*

    I would have been very tempted to ask the dad:
    (1) Is your son under 18? (Obviously not, or he wouldn’t be working for us, let alone being sent to Europe without a chaperone.)
    (2) Does your son have a mental handicap that precludes his understanding of the usual briefing or the ability to ask questions if there’s something he doesn’t understand? (Something like procedures for bombings and shootings these days, which might not be covered if the standard briefings haven’t been updated).
    (3) Do you have a Power of Attorney authorizing you to ask about your son’s work while he is gone? (Probably not, since Son doesn’t know about the phone call and Dad doesn’t seem to want Son to know).
    If the answers to the above are “No,” which I’m sure they all are, or Son wouldn’t be on this trip to Europe in the first place, then explain to Dad that you can’t discuss Son’s work with him (Dad) and that if the answer to any of the above is “Yes” (like the Son is Doogie Howser reincarnated and is really only 16), then Son needs to be brought back from Europe immediately and his employment probably terminated.

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