What’s Your Problem?

By Jeffrey Goldberg

This is a follow-up question to the exchange in which you argued that it is okay for parents to tell children the truth about their previous drug use. Do you think there is any time when lying to your children is okay?

N.M., Miami, Fla.

Dear N.M.,

You can certainly tell small children that a ringing bell means the ice-cream truck is out of ice cream. But that’s about it, I think.

A friend of mine was recently instructing me on how I’m supposed to treat my wife now that she’s pregnant. He told me it is expected that I will buy my wife a “push gift,” such as expensive jewelry, once she delivers our baby. It seems to me with all the expenses associated with raising a child, we might be better off using that money elsewhere.

A.S., Chapel Hill, N.C.

Dear A.S.,

Your wife deserves a piece of jewelry. Think of it this way: If you managed to squeeze a baseball through your penis, wouldn’t you deserve a nice gift?

Friends of ours just had their first child and are reconsidering whether they should keep enjoying such extreme activities as skydiving and skiing in avalanche-danger zones. While this makes sense to me, I was surprised to hear that they are also reconsidering whether to fly on airplanes together, though they accept riding in a car together as an unavoidable risk. I told them I thought they were being ridiculous by ignoring data that say planes are safer than cars. Can you please explain the logic of decisions like these?

E.E., Philadelphia, Pa.

Dear E.E.,

Surveys show that 117 percent of Americans don’t understand statistics, and 92 percent don’t care about them. Seventy-three percent of Americans believe that airplanes are held up by invisible steel wires, and 89 percent believe they will win Powerball, even without buying a ticket. My point? I don’t have one. Except the following: Your friends are worried not only about dying, but about feeling like schmucks in the process. They understand that in the period between the realization that they are going to die in a plane crash and the moment when they actually do die, they are going to feel crappy because, though they read the statistics right, they ignored their intuition.

My wife wants me to get a vasectomy, but I’m uncomfortable with the idea. Have you had a vasectomy, and if not, would you ever consider it?

S.E., Springfield, Ill.

Dear S.E.,

I don’t even like getting my hair cut.

I really like your column, but please, you gotta come clean. Do people really submit those questions to you, or do you make them up yourself? If you print this one, the answer will be self-evident.

J.R., Jamaica Plain, Mass.

Dear J.R.,

Yes, the letters are real.

Here’s my problem: I write an advice column for a major American magazine, and I want to bring it to an end. There is so much to do in journalism these days—so much content to produce, so many tweets to write—that I find myself exhausted by the pressures of advice-giving. How generous can one man be? But I’m not sure my editor will take kindly to my abandonment of his magazine’s back page. (Did I mention that the column runs on the back page?) How should I bring this column to an end?

J.G., Washington, D.C.

Dear J.G.,

Whatever you do, don’t be passive-aggressive about it. Be forthright. Say what you just said. It will be fine. And remember to express gratitude for the opportunity. One more thing: thank your readers for their questions, and for their loyalty. Readers love that sort of thing. And be sure to say goodbye.


VIDEO: Jeffrey Goldberg advices Atlantic magazine editor Scott Stossel on an awkward personal dilemma.


If you really need advice from Jeffrey Goldberg, or if you just miss him, he can be reached at jgoldberg@theatlantic.com.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/07/whats-your-problem/308996/