updates: the father’s sexist career advice, the silent admin, and more

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past. Here are four updates from past letter-writers.

1. My dad is giving me weird and sexist career advice

I know this isn’t typically the type of update that you usually post about, but considering how much your advice and that of the commenters helped me change my life, I wanted to write in to thank you and all the commenters.

About a year ago, I wrote in that my dad was giving me weird and sexist career advice and I didn’t know how to handle the situation. I’ll spare you the details (which involve a lot of individual and family therapy as well as even more self-reflection…) but since that time, my relationship with my parents has completely changed. Essentially what it all boiled down to is what you and the commenters seemed to focus on, which I had never realized before that moment. If my dad was unwilling to adjust his thinking for how his daughter should behave, I needed to seriously adjust my relationship with him.

I realized that it wasn’t just with respect to work that my dad has outdated thinking, but with most aspects of how I choose to live. Unfortunately, this realization meant cutting him out of my life. For the commenters who might think this was harsh, there are multiple steps I’m leaving out, and this isn’t a decision I made lightly. As much heartbreak as this decision brought me, I know it is what needed to be done. Also at the advice of many of the commenters, I started following Captain Awkward’s blog. Doing so has only reinforced the knowledge that I am doing what is best for myself, and that is what is most important.

A happier update from me is that I left that job where my boss had unrealistic expectations of me (the ones in which my dad insisted I was the one being a difficult employee) for a job that I love. One where I am both respected and valued as a member of the team. I feel like without the nudge from you and your following, I likely would have “toughed it out” in that toxic environment.

Again, thank you, everyone, so much for your support. It has made a world of difference and I am eternally grateful.

2. How to tell your boss “that’s not my job”

I had a conversation with NewDepartmentHead very similar to what you suggested. It went over well in the moment, but I soon learned there were a lot of other issues with him that made what I wrote in about the least of my problems. It turned out that NewDepartmentHead was a goldfish. If I raised an issue with him or presented recommendations for a process improvement, he’d listen, agree, and ask for time to implement. If someone else raised the same issue, presented recommendations for doing the opposite, he’d listen, agree and ask for time to implement. Basically, whoever talked to him last before he finally decided to DO something, that’s the plan he’d do. No mention of the other suggestions, no “so and so raised X, which changed my thinking on your proposed Y,” no “priority changed to Z,” nothing. If I went back to him after, he’d STILL agree with me, but say it came from over his head (which would’ve been uncharacteristic of the CEO). After talking with others on my team, they’d raised similar concerns as I had, and had the same experience.

The worst part was, I don’t think he was intentionally talking out of both sides of his mouth. He really meant everything he said in the moment he said it. He repeatedly said he wanted to make efficiency changes and to give him time, but he also regularly made it sound like things that were very much in his hands were out of his hands.

Well, a year into this he’d implemented changes that made just about everything in our department less efficient. I also by chance learned from a few different people in my network that at NewDepartmentHead’s previous three jobs, his team had 100% turnover very shortly after he arrived. I’d been thinking of leaving this company already before NewDepartmentHead came on, but because of all his promised improvements, I was willing to give it a chance – by which I mean I didn’t immediately start looking as soon as he started. I should have. Luckily, someone I knew at a much better organized company happened to have an opening right around when I decided I definitely needed to get out. I was invited to apply, and had the most reasonable hiring experience of my life. They gave me the job description with salary range up front to confirm it was acceptable to me and made sense for us to move forward with interviews; they gave me all benefits info without my needing to ask; they kept me in the loop on their timeline and it was exactly what they said it’d be. I had three interviews and in short order got an offer was that was the top of their range. I accepted the new job, making 20% more than before, and 401k matching, and bonus potential. When I gave my notice, NewDepartmentHead said “ok, what’ll it take to get you to stay” and seemed perplexed when I told him there was nothing he could do to get me to stay. I’d made my decision to move in this new direction. He thought I was bluffing. I was not bluffing.

My new job has been great. I work exactly 40 hours a week. I’m not expected to do otherwise, ever. I’m on a much larger team that are all high achievers and knowledge sharers and great to work with. The company weathered the pandemic well. This wasn’t the crux of my letter, but I was so so so so so stressed and tired at my old job. Now I’m just… not. It’s kind of weird. But great.

3. The office admin refuses to speak to me

Thanks to you and your readers for the great advice. Things are much better…largely because Jane left our office with 2 months after a few other conversations around her refusal to do professional development or respond to coaching. Our manager encouraged her to apply for an opening in another department, where she received several write-ups within the 2 months she was there for things like leaving people off of emails and not following instructions. She transferred again and seems to be in a better place, largely because her responsibilities have shrunk to answering phones and transferring calls which seems to be her preference. We have a new-to-us admin who has been with the organization for years and it has been a dream. She works hard to keep us all on the same page and is very competent and professional. The atmosphere in the office is so much lighter and enjoyable, and we really are so much more productive.

4. Form letter rejections for internal applications (#4 at the link)

I wrote to you just over a year ago when my application for an internal transfer was rejected in a form email. In retrospect, that experience was basically the canary in the coal mine. My supervisor at the time had been very understanding about me applying for transfers because of my long commute, so I felt comfortable telling her what happened and that I was upset. She sympathized and promised to ask her own supervisor about it. According to her supervisor, it was policy that any applicant that was not selected for an interview would receive a form rejection and management had decided not to make any changes to the policy for internal applicants. In your response to me last September, you said it was “the kind of thing that makes people feel bitter and like their company doesn’t really care about them,” and you were right. I started thinking more about the way staff were treated, and I realized that our organization was lacking in a lot of ways. We didn’t have adequate training or consistent procedures, most of our offices were catastrophically understaffed, and a lot of requests made by my coworkers that would have improved staff morale were rejected out of hand.

But the straw that broke the camel’s back was the covid reopening plan. I worked for a government department that deals directly with the public, and for the beginning of the pandemic we shifted most of our services to digital. But when management decided we should reopen, they pushed it through too fast and refused all of staff’s safety requests like plexiglass barriers and mask requirements. Most of my team (and a lot of the people I knew in other offices) told them that we felt really frightened and unsafe, but management plowed ahead anyway. It felt clear to me that this was not an organization that valued its staff, and I knew that if I wanted to feel respected in my workplace, I would have to leave. I started applying and was eventually offered a job in a different level of government (think switching from state to city). The change was like night and day. We have the necessary covid protections, our training program is comprehensive enough that I feel more confident than I ever did before, and to get back to the topic of my original letter, all openings are offered to current staff for potential transfers before they’re opened to public applicants. The new job isn’t perfect because no job is, but I’m so much happier and I actually feel wanted here.

{ 108 comments… read them below }

  1. Falling Diphthong*

    OP1, good on you for making changes. I always appreciate updates that boil down to “I realized this thing was keeping me stuck, and I figured out how to change, and then I followed through.” Just the first step can be hard–and where Alison and commenters can help with “Nope, bees, not an apiary, run.” The second and third don’t just fall into place because you completed the first–it takes real effort, and not sliding back into old patterns, or letting a bad environment inure you to things that should bother you.

    1. earl grey aficionado*

      And it’s amazing how much staying in contact with certain people can keep you stuck. I’m a year out from the last time I spoke with my mother before cutting her off, and while it’s painful to be estranged, my life has improved in so many ways that I didn’t even realize were being affected by our difficult (abusive) relationship. I’m more creative and productive in my work, happier and more present in my relationships with everyone else in my life, and just generally at peace in ways I didn’t realize it was possible to be. Solidarity, OP. I hope things continue to look up for you.

      1. Marco Diaz's Red Hoodie*

        Just chiming in on the solidarity front. A few months ago I had to cut a person out of my life whom I’d been friends with for 6+ years. There’s definitely a hole there, but I don’t really miss her — I just miss the *idea* of her. After you let someone go, you realize how much that person was eating up a ton of time and energy that you could have been spending on the truly important people and things in your life. Like you said, Earl Grey — being able to be more present in your relationships etc. So yeah. Good on you, OP1, and good luck to anyone else facing a similar situation!

      2. Ally McBeal*

        I cut my mom off for 5 years in my late 20s, and I can’t tell you how much better my life became when I learned to ignore her critical voice in my head. We’re finally working on reconciliation, but the time off also helped me realize that our relationship cannot and will not be the same as it was and I’m much more comfortable enforcing boundaries and shutting her down when she falls back into bad habits.

        1. A Feast of Fools*

          I cut my mom off for 6-7 years in my 30’s. Like you, my life improved immensely.

          The most valuable part of going NC for that long was finding out who I am when I’m not tethered to a toxic, enmeshed, dysfunctional relationship. With that came boundaries that were (and still are) effortless to enforce, because they’re based on what I need to stay mentally and emotionally healthy. And I now cherish that over any relationship, not just with my mom.

          My mom and I reconciled, and she now lives with me. She pushed every button that Old Feast would have reacted to but — tada! — New Feast merely found amusing. She eventually learned that the only way to get anything out of me that she wanted (conversation, shared experiences, advice, help, etc.) was to ask (not demand) and to be OK with “No,” as an answer.

      3. Chauncy Gardener*

        That is so true, earl grey aficionado. When I went NC with my whole family, it was to protect my kids from being treated the way I had been treated my whole life. After a year of intense grief, mourning for what I wished my family had been, I felt intense relief! It was like my soul broke open and let in all sorts of light and other good things that I had been too beaten down to see or accept before.
        So good for you, OP1, and earl grey!

      4. Bucky Barnes*

        A bit late here but I cut my father out in my late 30s and it was both a difficult decision and not. My life ended up better for it though.

    2. anonymous73*

      Agreed. It’s 100% okay to remove toxic people from your life, even if they’re family. I ended a 40+ year friendship over the summer. I realized she isn’t the kind of person I would have chosen as a friend (we were thrown together from birth because of a family connection), we had nothing in common, and I didn’t enjoy spending time with her. She’s selfish and made me miserable 95% of the time. All we did was fight. And when I tried to talk to her, she just got defensive and wouldn’t listen. I tried – many times – and just realized nothing was going to change and I was done. I have zero regrets.

  2. CommanderBanana*

    Hah, OP1, do we work together? My director is really good at nodding and looking serious when he’s told there’s an issue and then doing…nothing.

  3. Falling Diphthong*

    OP2, thank you for the descriptor “My boss was a goldfish.” When I’ve seen this play out it usually does seem to be completely sincere–they aren’t placating, they’re quite sold on whatever plan was just presented.

    1. Not Australian*

      I’ve heard it described as being a ‘cushion’, i.e. the manager takes the shape of the last person who ‘sat on him’.

      1. AGD*

        There’s an xkcd strip in which they’re called “wikifriends,” i.e. they act like they’ve just been edited by an onlooker.

    2. Gary Patterson's Cat*

      Right. They’re not bad people, just ineffectual managers. I guess like the old saying they’re “yes” men/women.
      Sometimes I think they have fear of making a decision and/or they fear executive management or losing their own jobs.

      1. Nanani*

        Aren’t yespeople supposed to be kissing up to -higher- people on the org chart than themselves? Yesing every suggestion from their own staff no matter how contradictory is extreme even for that particular oldschool mentality.

  4. Snarkus Aurelius*

    OP #1> I work for a public health government agency. On Christmas Day, my mom asked about work. I told her I was stressed because I was running out of money again due case and variant increases, and I’d have to ask for at least $10 million to get through 2022.

    The following exchange occurred:

    Mom: you don’t have that kind of money! No one would ever give you $10 million, and even if you asked, you’ll never get it.

    Me: what do you think I do for a living? I spent $15 million on COVID-19 efforts this year alone.

    Mom: it’s not like you’re in charge or anything.

    Me: I literally have a staff of 13 soon to be 16 people. Do you literally not listen to anything I say when we talk?


    1. LifeBeforeCorona*

      I mentioned at a family gathering that I had access to the corporate credit card and one older relative advised me not to put personal purchases on it. This was followed by a lecture about how women and credit aren’t a good combination because women can’t resist a bargain. (eye roll and I went for another drink)

      1. Popinki*

        I hope the drink was a diet soda, because regular soda and cocktails will make you fat and then you’d never attract a man so you could quit your job and make babies. /s

      2. Lady_Lessa*

        Reminds me of the time that my sister-in-law (I’m the age of her children) recommended that I find a financial advisor and start investing money.

        I don’t think that I had even mentioned the topic, and had already done so.

        1. Anon and on an on*

          And some may write that at least she assumed you had money to invest and sense enough to look to the future, but I am not that person. I am writing this with empathy and with a pat on the back for your restraint, because I am the youngest, by a generation overall and it’s actually the sib closest in age (better part of a decade, btw) to me who tells me things like, “don’t just use the backup camera in your car when you are backing out of the driveway. I know it might be fun and seem easy, but you still have to look.”
          I’ve had the car five years.
          and yes, I was 49 years old when he told me this.

          1. Gray Lady*

            Ooooh, this is my brother-in-law. I love him, but he just really thinks that he knows what other people don’t and needs to tell them, regardless of their age, experience, etc. Fortunately, we have so many different viewpoints in so many areas that I just let nearly everything he says bounce right off by default, and so nothing really bothers me.

    2. Nanani*

      Hah! Are you my sister (you aren’t) because my mom doesn’t listen either. Words are said but nothing daughters say ever sticks, mom just has a script in her head and doesnt even notice that I said anything not on it.

      Commiseration, stranger.

    3. Lobsterman*

      An information diet and a grey rock strategy are good for people like this. Of course, that also requires managing one’s own expectations. Sympathies.

    4. HolidayAmoeba*

      Bet your mom thinks you’re just the receptionist or something similar, despite evidence to the contrary. People seem to automatically downplay your job when you’re a woman. I was talking to someone I’ve known for years and I was mentioning having to do something because my assistant was unexpectedly out sick and it was time sensitive. They were gobsmacked that I had an assistant. They assumed I was a glorified filing clerk despite multiple discussions about work over the years.

      1. Academic Librarian too*

        My stepmother thinks I sit at the circulation desk and check books in and out of the library despite having published two books, numerous academic peer reviewed articles, supervise a department, keynote at national and international conferences, supervise a department and achieved the rank of Full.

      2. PT*

        One place where I worked, all of the female department heads/leads were just “helping” with whatever the department did.

        If you were Tangerina Warbleworth, Director of the Llama Barn, in charge of a half a million dollar budget and 50 staff, and ran a program of 30-some odd llama training classes, plus another 20 llama fitness classes and a llama racing team, you just “helped out with the llamas.”

      3. MK*

        Not always. I am a lawyer working for the judiciary in my country, and it is dificult to convince my dad that I don’t have the combined powers of the President of the Supreme Court and the Justice Minister. It’s kind of endearing, compared to the OP’s father.

        1. NoFlyingMonkeysHere*

          I realize some convos with him may be frustrating, but it’s amazing that your father assumed that rather than what the OP (and many other parents and relatives) assume. Pretty cute, too.

        2. Legal adjacent field*

          My father-in-law told everyone that I’m a lawyer. (Spoiler: I’m not)
          Also, he was very, very close to winning Publisher’s Clearinghouse (as the company president had written him personally and told him) and was going to pay for me to go to law school. So, so sweet.

        3. Mannequin*

          My late mother was absolutely certain that I was so brilliant, I could walk into any publishing company in the country and get a job as an editor by telling them “I read a lot of books”, LOL.

    5. Analytical Tree Hugger*

      “Do you literally not listen to anything I say when we talk?”

      With regards to my parents, the honest answer seems to be “mostly yes” with a generous helping of “I replace what you say with what I want to hear.”

      Not in regards to my professional work so much, but with regards to my personal life (i.e., my parents are on a slow arc of accepting that I’m gay).

      Parenting is hard. Being someone’s offspring is also hard. Odd how experience with the latter doesn’t always inform the former…

      1. Artemesia*

        I remember a car ride from San Francisco to Seattle with my parents when I was in my 20s and about to finish my dissertation. Mom asked what the dissertation was about. I swear to god I was giving the 50 word simple description about a study that was easy to explain in plain English. I was not rambling on for 20 minutes about the path analysis. I got 25 words in and she said ‘oh look at those seagulls.’ She always wondered why I didn’t share more.

    6. Chauncy Gardener*

      Before I went NC with my family, here is a typical interchange with my mother:

      Mom: You probably need to get more education in finance and business if you want to be successful
      Me: I have my MBA and Master’s in Accounting and my CPA
      Mom: Well, then why don’t you have a good job?
      Me:…… I’m a CFO……
      Mom: See, why don’t you have a good job?

      1. Artemesia*

        When my brother was accepted to Harvard Business School in the 60s (and later went on to be a CEO of a Fortune 500 after years of being CEOS of smaller companies) my aunt and uncle both asked why he was going all the way to Boston when there was this perfectly good business college in Walla Walla. It was basically a secretarial training program at the local CC. My uncle was a high school principal and his wife was a counselor; it blew my mind that they could be so naive about higher education.

        1. pancakes*

          Naive or controlling? There are numerous other reasons, too, why people are dismissive of higher education and/or the idea of leaving the area they live in. In any case, I hope the students they advised received better advice than your brother did, but I wouldn’t bet on that.

        2. Thursdaysgeek*

          Wait!? Do you live in my part of the country? I’m in eastern Washington (but further west from WW).

    7. A Feast of Fools*

      When I told my dad (via email, our preferred method of communication) that I was going back to school — at age 46 — to finish my Bachelor’s and get my Master’s in accounting, he responded with an article about how much money dog walkers make in his city.

      Women, in my father’s opinion, owe it to heterosexual men to always be in shape and pleasing to the eye. Dog-walking would keep me from getting fat(ter).

      Then, when it came time to get internships, he emailed me about what great companies Lowe’s and Costco are, and how well their cashiers get treated.

      We finally had the conversation where I told him he can get on board with my plans for myself or I would quit talking to him about anything job/school related. Kudos to him, he backed off.

      But he still has no real idea what I do (internal audit and risk management, with an IT focus) and discounts anything I say about. . . well, everything. Because the other thing women need to do besides be pleasing to the eye is to listen adoringly to anything a man says and praise him for being so intelligent and witty.

      I visited him last week and experienced something I hadn’t seen since when I was a child in the 1970’s: A man brings up a topic or asks a question to people around, say, a dining table. A woman, who has years of expertise in that topic answers the question, adding context and details. Another man, who has has no idea what he’s talking about, acts as though the woman hasn’t spoken and engages in speculation with Man #1 over what could or couldn’t be the right answer to Man #1’s question.

      Topic: Risk Mitigation
      Woman: Me
      Man #1: My dad
      Man #2: My dad’s girlfriend’s son, who is a newspaper subscription [inside] sales person

      I left the room to binge-watch “Hawkeye” on my laptop.

      1. OrigCassandra*

        Hey, I just want to say a big congratulations on returning to finish your degrees! That’s awesome!

  5. EPLawyer*

    #4 literally made me gasp out loud. No plexiglass even? Geez. No mask mandate is less surprising given the politcs around those. But no plexiglass even? JUST WOW. Glad you are out of there.

    #3, it wasn’t you, it was her. Your company is very understanding by moving her around when she flat out refused to do her job.

    #1, I know it was hard to cut your dad out of your life, but you have to protect yourself, even from so-called family.

    1. OP 4*

      We were told that the request for plexiglass was denied because upper management thought we would stay behind the barriers and not get up to help people in other parts of the building. So they risked our lives and insulted our professionalism all at the same time.

  6. Hippo-nony-potomus*

    “Unfortunately, this realization meant cutting him out of my life. For the commenters who might think this was harsh, there are multiple steps I’m leaving out, and this isn’t a decision I made lightly.”

    In my experience, things like sexist career advice are either (a) a total one-off and the person will reform or at least moderate what they are doing when it’s pointed out, or (b) the tip of the iceberg. There’s really not a lot of in-between; he’s either doing this because “sexist career advice” is what worked for him back in the day and he’s mindlessly parroting it, or he does not respect you as a person or as a professional.

    1. Nanani*

      Given the content of this update and the original letter, it is abundantly clear that the last part was correct.
      Please don’t put scare quotes around sexism. I don’t need to know your gender to tell that you think it’s somehow fake or overblown, but I assure that it is not. Sexism is real and affects a lot of people every day.

      1. A Simple Narwhal*

        This was not my interpretation of Hippo-nony-potomus’s comment at all! Nowhere did I see that they thought this was fake or overblown at all. How did you come to that conclusion?

      2. PhyllisB*

        I don’t think that was scare quotes around “sexist career advice”, I think it was sarcasm quotes. After reading the whole statement, I’m sure of it.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          I also read sarcasm – as in yes this is real even though people who’ve never dealt with it believe it’s fake.

        2. Myrin*

          I’m pretty sure it’s neither. The terminology is escaping me at the moment but it’s when you put something in quotation marks to visually show that it’s one single expression, often encapsulating an idea or attitude, and also to shorten a sentence while often being grammatically wonky yet more illustrative; other examples would be “Oh god, she’s doing her ‘I’m the best at painting triangles on the horses’ hooves’ thing again” or “He somehow thinks that ‘Slither around on your stomach like a snake’ is good dating advice”.

      3. Just somebody*

        I don’t share this impression at all. The content of the comment doesn’t jibe with your interpretation. It seems strange to weigh a particular interpretation of the punctuation more highly than the substance of the comment.

          1. Nanani*

            Understood, Sorry Alison. I should have listened to the voice in my head telling me that was a bad idea to post.

      4. Chicanery*

        I didnt read it as scare quotes but more as an [insert example here] sort of thing. Whatever the intention, I feel the rest of the comment makes it pretty clear that sexism isn’t being denied here.

          1. Random Bystander*

            I didn’t take your above as awkward–I liked your fun examples. But concurring with the general interpretation as marking off a phrase as a distinct concept rather than a denial of the reality of the content of the phrase.

        1. Hippo-nony-potomus*

          That is exactly what I meant – thank you and Myrin for explaining.

          There are a lot of things that people mindlessly parrot, even things that are inherently offensive or, given the context, are offensive, counterproductive, or bizarre. Sometimes, it’s wish-casting: they like you and want you to be happy; they just have a very weird script in their heads of what makes people happy. However, some people are saying those things because they genuinely don’t respect the person they are saying it to.

          There are a lot of things that slot into that rubric; sexist career advice is one of them.

      5. Hippo-nony-potomus*

        Nanani, you are reading far too much into this and are completely off-base with your assumptions about me and what I meant.

        1. All quotations are not scare quotes. There are a variety of reasons to use quotation marks in the written language; very few of them are scare quotes.
        2. I am a woman.
        3. I have degrees in male-dominated fields and my career is in a male-dominated field. My hobbies are traditionally those done by men.

        Have you learned anything from this?

  7. knitcrazybooknut*

    OP #1, you are not alone. It took me 41 years to realize that my family wasn’t ever going to treat me with respect, let alone affection. I cut the cord about eight years ago, and my life has opened up in ways I couldn’t have imagined. Know that you’re not alone, and standing up for yourself is brave and amazing.

    (I will also recommend the heavily moderated subreddit raised by narcissists. It can be really helpful to see you’re not alone.)

  8. Sending hugs*

    OP1 sending best thoughts for you. Its difficult to go no-contact with a parent and was also not a decision I made lightly, either. You are brave and strong and deserve your best life.

  9. Gary Patterson's Cat*

    #2 “The Goldfish” (ha ha thanks for that one) sounds like a guy who continues to fail upward. Ugh! They talk a good game, but never actually do anything useful.

    That being said, my company has a LOT of these goldfish types. There are so many meetings, and so much talk, but everyone is afraid to actually do anything. It’s quite crazy. In the 5 years I’ve been there, my department as had 4 reorganizations, including a new CEO and 3 new CMO’s, and lots of inter-department shuffling of functions. Every time this happens all decision making seems to stop until the new leadership can get a handle on what’s happening. But they never do get a handle, and then it’s back to square one every time. I’d be depressed and want to leave except that my area and team have been thriving even with such chaos.

    1. HolidayAmoeba*

      I have a manager I support (I’m the HR person assigned to directly assist his branch) and he is frustrating because he is always reluctant to make a decision without consulting like 4 other people and he is known to change him mind on a whim. We will have discussions about what his options are and my recommendations within his options, then I take a day off and come back and he’s requested a major change. Or I need him to make a simple decision and he will hem and haw over it for 2 weeks when it is a simple yes or no question. Then of course, he ends up in a crunch because his failure to make a decision leads to short staffing, job offers being declined because the good candidates move on and current employees leaving due to missed opportunities. He’s the equivalent of a SVP and I have no idea why he has direct reports.

    2. Kit*

      > “The Goldfish” (ha ha thanks for that one) sounds like a guy who continues to fail upward.

      It has been sadly proven recently that it is possible for people like this to fail so far upward they end up as chief executive of the entire country. (Okay, there was also a lot of lying and grifting involved, but the goldfish phenomenon was widely reported too.)

  10. Nanani*

    LW1 – Congratulations on taking a difficult step.
    Nobody ever cuts off a parent on a whim, and those who would “but faaaaaamily” at you clearly do not have the slightest inkling of a clue about what it’s like for those of us who have had to do that.

    Put yourself and your dignity first. May your boundaries hold and your path be bright.

    1. Quack Quack No*

      “May your boundaries hold and your path be bright.”

      That’s beautifully put. *memorizes*

  11. HolidayAmoeba*

    I always find it fascinating when a person who has a track record of poor performance repeatedly gets jobs at the same or a higher level. Poor performance at one job? The job may not have been a good fit for them or the expectations may not have been realistic. But you had 100% turnover of your team at your last 3 positions? You may have great technical skills but apparently you should not be in a role with direct reports. Not to mention that level of flakiness.

    1. Autumnheart*

      Maybe they frame it as, “Restructured team in order to accomplish XYZ goals” on their resume.

  12. Lobsterman*

    Solidarity with OP1. Sadly, when I read the letter, the eventual outcome was a distinct possibility in my mind.

  13. beingafunkynote*

    It’s so interesting that many of this year’s updates end in the LW getting a new job. Proof of the great recession in action. I did the same. So glad to see people aren’t putting up with terrible treatment from employers.

    1. pancakes*

      You don’t think it’s likely that people who got new jobs are more likely to write in with updates than people who remained in place or, worse yet, were laid off? I love the idea of a huge shift in the employer/employee power balance as much as anyone but I don’t think this is proof that it’s definitely happening in a big way.

      1. Myrin*

        Also, I don’t have any hard numbers on this but if memory serves correctly, many many updates for at least the eight years I’ve been reading AAM ended in OPs getting a new job; I don’t think that’s a new thing although I might be surprised by actual statistics!

    2. LW2*

      In my case, at least, the new job was over a year before the pandemic. I just kept forgetting to write in with an update until this fall with the call for all the updates that’d run in December.
      Yes, yay for people not putting up with poor treatment from employers, but for me at least, it had nothing to do with what’s been happening this year.

  14. Critical Roll*

    OP1, I’m glad you’re in a better place on multiple fronts. Good on you for making the hard decisions and doing the hard work to get there.

  15. Lady Whistledown*


    Ask a Manager is also where I learned about Captain Awkward and just devoured her archives for scripts and frameworks and validation and solidarity. We have had to cut out family members and I admit it makes me rage (internally) every time someone tries to minimize our decision. Years of therapy, countless fruitless conversations, tons of boundaries, setting and resetting of expectations, literal history of trauma, and some folks just can’t miss a chance to question, judge or shame. It’s not always malicious in intent, but the impact is gutting all the same. From the other side, I will say that it does get better. And if you’re patient and lucky you’ll meet new people who approach your history with empathy and kindness. We’ve opened up a lot with some new friends who have a similar family drama and it’s been deeply validating and healing.

    It sounds like you’re doing an amazing job of trusting yourself and moving forward. The grief and the anger aren’t linear, but over time even when the pain doesn’t get smaller, you can build a bigger, happier life. Distance helps ensure that you have so many other things to invest your time and energy in that it occupies a smaller percentage of your brain space.

    And if it brings you peace, you can always remember that while the door is closed for now, it doesn’t have to be closed forever. I’m not leaving it cracked for them to worm back in, but in theory if many (many) changes were made, I might be open to a fresh start.

    Good luck!

      1. Lady Whistledown*

        Thank you for the kind words! The truth is that it still feels dreadful, it’s just better than the alternative. A bit like opting for amputation instead of some kind of slow moving gangrene. The limb is lost either way, but at least once you amputate you can start to heal and find a new normal.

    1. Artemesia*

      I never understand people who try to bully others into contact with toxic family — especially people they don’t know. (you can kind of understand it with other family members caught in the toxic stew). I know so many people who have family situations with in-laws and parents where it seems to me cutting them off would be the thing to do; yet these people soldier on. I admire the courage but wish they would protect themselves better.

      1. Batgirl*

        People seem to get in a weird head loop when discussing other people’s (name of relation), and confuse it with their own (name of relation). You’d think it was a pretty easy thing to keep straight; there’s the common noun mother, and the proper noun Mother, or Dad or Grandma or whatever. But people keep getting them mixed up. It’s still more common to hear: “Oh but it’s Your Mother, and My Mother loves me in such a wonderful way, I would hate you to miss out on this wonderful relationship My Mother and I have”. When obviously the more rational response is: “Well, I don’t know your relative and you do, so sorry to hear about that”. It’s a mistake a stranger is more inclined to make because they haven’t met your relative, so the ability to project their own relationships/how relationships should be onto you is more possible than if they’d seen them sneering at you. It’s a staggering ignorance if you think about it.

        1. allathian*

          Yes, and it seems to me that people are also projecting their own relationship with a person to others. Just because Uncle Hubert was always a nice person to Don growing up doesn’t mean that he wasn’t capable of sexually abusing Don’s sister Sandra at the same time, and Don refusing to see that and insisting that Sandra should maintain a good relationship with their uncle is completely unacceptable (and could be a reason for Sandra to go NC with Don as well).

          This can also work in reverse, admittedly they’re few and far between, but some awful parents can become decent grandparents. Admittedly it’s pretty rare if there’s outright abuse, it’s much more likely if it’s more a matter of neglect than abuse. This is what happened to me. My paternal grandmother was an emotionally distant yet demanding mother, who also seemed to think that her son was incapable of making adult decisions (when I was in my late teens and my dad was in his early 40s, I remember my gran asking him if he’d started wearing long johns yet, at a time when my parents basically trusted me to select and wear appropriate clothes). Nevertheless, my paternal grandmother is the grandparent I was closest to when I was growing up. My maternal grandfather died when I was 5, and I have no real memories of him, except as a sick, grumpy old man who had no patience with noisy kids; my paternal grandfather was even more distant, he didn’t talk to kids unless he absolutely had to; my maternal grandmother was a bossy mater familias with very old fashioned ideas about gender roles – we used to spend summer vacations with her, but I rebelled at 16 because she expected me and my sister to do lots of chores, but our male cousins were excused; when her kids were growing up, girls did the housework and boys worked the farm, but she was no longer farming so there was nothing for the boys to do. Thankfully my male cousins were okay with washing up after meals and volunteered to do so, or I’d probably spent the rest of that summer sulking in the barn… The following year I got a summer job so I could stay in town.

    2. Student*

      “We have had to cut out family members and I admit it makes me rage (internally) every time someone tries to minimize our decision.”

      I don’t know if it will help you, but here’s what helped me cope with folks like that after I cut my family off.

      Depending on whether they had ever met said family members or not, I filed them into two baskets in my head:

      Basket 1, for people who knew my family and questioned my decision: These are people who deserve my family, and likely people my family deserves in turn. Let the jackals call themselves a wolf pack if they like; they’ll be at each other’s throats while I take myself elsewhere.

      Basket 2, for people who haven’t ever met my family nor heard my tales about them:. These people have a family so much different than mine that we will likely never be able to understand each other on the matter. They likely have things about their family that would seem so incredulous to you that you’d have trouble believing them, too – I know that’s been the case when I’ve listened to such folks. When I finally understood that we both have trouble believing each other, it helped me let go of being angry at them for not believing me, and helped me listen to them a bit more. I’ve found things to envy about such clans, but more often things to pity. My family ties are cleanly cut and long behind me; their family ties are so tight they’re losing circulation in their limbs.

      1. Prof Space Cadet*

        This is a great way to frame it. I don’t have a great relationship with my family, but it’s not terrible either. I try to be empathetic to people with situations different than mine.

      2. allathian*

        My family isn’t perfect, but I don’t have any complaints either, it is what it is. I do know that if I lost them, I’d be devastated (and will be, when my parents grow old and eventually die). They’re my foundation, people I can count on in any circumstances, and who can count on me to be there for them when they need me. Yet I feel that I have plenty of room to breathe, because I was raised by supportive parents who trusted me to find my own way.

        I’ll grant you that I’ll never be able to truly understand what it feels like to grow up without that sort of support, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t trust you, or anyone else who needs to go NC with their family, to make the right decision for you.

  16. Jake*

    #1 – as somebody that may end up having to cut some family out of my life if things don’t change, I feel for you. Its so hard, especially when people that don’t know the full story feel the need to have input.

  17. Beth*

    LW #1 — it’s hard to “divorce” family members, and it can be the very best, most wonderful and powerful gift you ever give yourself. Be proud of your strength and enjoy your life without the DNA-linked toxins!

    1. Lifelong student*

      I didn’t find it hard at all! I have gone no contact with one of my sisters and with my sister-in-law for years! I’m glad none of us live in the same part of the country- which does make it super easy. All of the parents are gone- so no pressure. And with my sister, before our Mom died in 2020, it was still no problem. I may have to see each of them at family funerals in the future- but I don’t have to be anything more than socially courteous- which I will do as long as they do. But if they don’t- if they start something- I will finish it!

  18. Moira Rose*

    LW4, just in case it comes up again, Plexiglass barriers are not effective at preventing the spread of Covid. Aerosolologists in fact caution against them because they can inhibit building ventilation from turning over air in a timely manner.

    1. OP 4*

      That’s an interesting bit of information, thank you.

      I just want to add to this, the reason I brought up the plexiglass is not because I believe it to be a foolproof form of protection against covid. I brought it up because it feels like a good example of how the upper management at my old job didn’t trust or believe staff when they brought up concerns, and regularly proved through their actions that staff needs and safety were not a priority.

  19. Heffalump*

    I cut off my surly, irrational cousin years ago. For years I’d thought that I could somehow, sooner or later, get her to see reason and logic. And then I read a psychology book that had a section on the dynamic of trying to get people to change. It was a real light bulb moment–my cousin sucked and wasn’t going to change.

    Dr. Kristina Scharp of the University of Washington has written on family estrangement. When she proposed the topic to her advisors, their reaction was that family estrangement was so rare that she wouldn’t have much to work with. She went forward and found that she had plenty to work with.

  20. Jack Straw from Wichita*

    LW 1 – I’ll reiterate a comment above: “You are not alone.” I cut my mother (which included my sister and the entire extended family on that side) out of my life at 21 and it saved my life. And saved my children from both the mental and emotional injuries I’ve had and they did see that bizarre relationship and think it was normal.

    I like it when I tell people that and they can’t understand it. It means they’re lucky enough to have family that love and care for each other. Which means it can be done.

  21. Candi*

    #2: Ugh, I hate people-pleasers. All about avoiding conflict and none about actually getting reasonable stuff done. That’s how that NewDirector reads to me.

    1, 2, 4, glad you’re all in better jobs! 3, glad you found someone who fits with your team.

  22. MEH Squared*

    OP#1, I recently had a serious medical event that brought all my family’s dysfunction home to roost as it were. I realized with clarity that they were never ever going to change (they have no interest in changing). I’m talking serious family dysfunction. I have not cut my parents out completely, but I have as little to do with them as possible. I also know that they will never see me for who I am nor do they have any interest in doing so. Because of this, I don’t tell them much of anything about my life. Which is to say, sometimes, you have to make the decision to remove the toxicity from your life. Good luck to you and solidarity on shunning sexist fathers.

  23. RagingADHD*

    It sounds like the “details” that got left out of LW1 are the actual story, and the original question was a minor detail in the context of the whole relationship. From bad career advice to cutting someone out of your life is quite a leap.

    1. pancakes*

      The letter writer made it pretty clear that there was a lot more involved in the leap than bad career advice: “I’ll spare you the details (which involve a lot of individual and family therapy as well as even more self-reflection…) but since that time, my relationship with my parents has completely changed.”

      1. RagingADHD*

        Yes…that’s exactly what I was referring to.

        The career advice was the relatively minor detail, and all the things that got left out were the important parts.

  24. Dr Sarah*

    OP1, I’m so sorry to hear that things were bad enough with your father for you to need to cut off contact. But, since they were that bad, I’m so glad to hear that you were able to cut off contact.

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