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What we can learn from Dear Abby

When I was running daily newspapers, I always heard from the marketing gurus that Dear Abby was one of the most well-read features.

As a hard-news guy who wanted to believe our readers were waiting breathlessly for our next big shocking headline, this always bothered me a little. I wanted to believe everyone was picking up the paper because of my astute news judgment and all-around professionalism.

I thought of this the other day when I was surfing the Net and saw that the most popular “story” at that moment – worldwide – was a Dear Abby column.

I decided to read it.

Was it ever enlightening with regard to the changing moral state of the nation and its ramifications for real people.

First item: “DEAR ABBY: My boyfriend and I have been together for two years. We recently spent a romantic night at a hotel, complete with dinner, drinks – the whole shebang – that he organized. I know he was a little stressed about money because he mentioned it. He asked if I could shell out some money, which I did, and when the bill came, he asked me if I could shell out some more. I was a little upset because I wasn’t planning on spending that much. He says he is going to pay me back some of it, and now I just feel bad. I told him I didn’t enjoy being put in that situation and things got awkward quickly. Now I am the one apologizing, and I feel like I ruined our night. Am I being a brat? – NEW YORK READER”

Abby went on to say the obvious – it was wrong for her boyfriend not to tell her beforehand he couldn’t afford the “romantic evening.”

What she omitted saying in 2014 was even more obvious: Why are you sleeping with such a slug? Why hasn’t he asked you to marry him after two years of being together? Where is this relationship going? You’re not being a brat. You’re being a slut – or a dope or both.

Second item: “DEAR ABBY: I work at an elementary school, and I help out during lunch, keeping order and making sure the kids are not too loud. Two of their moms work here. The kids are bullies and have no respect for adults whatsoever. When I try to discipline them or give them a time out, they go to their moms and accuse me of targeting them because they are black. Then the moms come to me and complain and ask me why I’m ‘targeting’ them. This is causing me a lot of stress. I can’t allow them to bully other kids, but at the same time I don’t want trouble with the parents. How can I approach this situation without it getting more complicated? – SCHOOLYARD MOM IN FLORIDA”

Abby, again, had obvious advice: Tell the principal.

But wasn’t that exactly what this schoolyard mom was thinking about when she said she didn’t want the matter to become “more complicated”? Perhaps she has already been to the school principal. Perhaps she fears she will lose her job because of the accusation of racial targeting. And is this not symptomatic of a broader cultural change that has many blacks seeing themselves as perpetual victims of racial bigotry? And is not that cultural change fueled by media stereotypes, political demagoguery and institutional racial polarization? Isn’t it just a wee bit more complicated than “Tell the principal”? Might there be a larger problem behind the schoolyard mom’s problem?

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Third item: “DEAR ABBY: My mother-in-law watches my four kids so I can work outside the home. On the off chance that she can’t, she tells me my brother-in-law will watch them. While I appreciate her gesture of trying to ‘cover her shift,’ my brother-in-law is irresponsible, suffers from severe depression and smokes pot. I don’t want to be rude, but I don’t like her leaving my kids with him. Is there an OK way to tell her that, or do I need to stop being ‘overprotective’ and suck it up? – MOMMY OF FOUR”

Abby told “Mommy” it would not be rude to let her mother-in-law know that if she cannot watch the kids personally to let her know – and why.

But here again there’s a larger issue: What’s more important than taking care of your own kids? I know this sounds like an archaic idea – a throwback to a better time and place, a more ideal “Ozzie and Harriet” world. And that’s the point. How many moms are in this boat today? Who’s minding the kids? Do kids just need watching? Or do they need rearing? How many kids are being watched by pot-smoking ne’er-do-wells and mothers in law who don’t know better than to shuffle them off to such irresponsible, severely depressed, mal-adjusted creeps?

As for me, I long for the days when Dear Abby was dealing with much simpler questions and problems – those that didn’t confirm my worst fears about the direction of the country.

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