Dear Margo: Is This Geezer Creepy? Yes

My boyfriend made an inappropriate comment about a teenager on the beach. What should I say? Margo Howard’s advice

Is This Geezer Creepy? Yes

Dear Margo: I am dating a 57-year-old man who is quite wonderful in some ways. But he sometimes says disturbing things. Today, he reported that he walked down to the beach and studied “40 or 50 teenagers” to see what they were wearing. He wanted to tell me all about the current state of teen fashion at the beach. I told him I did not want to hear it. Conversation over dinner was awkward because I could not get this strange conversational overture out of my head, and he seemed not to be able to think of anything else to talk about.

He has not shown any particular interest in fashion until now. I know that many older men check out teenage girls, but isn’t it kind of a creepy activity, and one you wouldn’t tell your girlfriend about? I’m wondering whether he has inappropriate proclivities. He also asked me once if it was odd for him to check out his daughter’s boyfriend’s female friends on Facebook. I said yes. He responded by defending his decision to do so … and then did so.

He also told me his wife (now deceased) slept with their daughter until she was 10. About a year after the daughter got her own bedroom, she stopped speaking to him for seven years. He has no explanation for any of this. — Greatly Confused

Dear Great: Unless your 50-plus fella works for Women’s Wear Daily or a garment manufacturer, his interest in teenagers’ beach attire — with a sample size of 40 to 50 — is a signal that there is some psycho-sexual screw loose. And the fact that the subject was of no interest to you and he was stuck for conversation confirms my “diagnosis.” This man sounds like he’s come from a strange place with secrets and dysfunction. I would head for the hills and look for a man who is wonderful in other ways. — Margo, honestly

School Daze

Dear Margo: Three weeks ago, I moved to rural Mississippi with my family: wife, three kids all under 9, and my mother. We decided to send our kids to public school instead of private school, as we had before the move. This decision was based on our kids’ wish for “more kids to play with” and my wife’s idea that this will be a good way for us to acculturate the children.

Despite our thorough research of the school system, we are uncovering many unsavory surprises. Even with a zero-tolerance bullying policy, our oldest son has come home crying multiple times. Our middle child, a girl, says her teachers are mean and never listen to her. Our youngest seems fine, but then again, he was never much of a complainer. So now my wife and I are debating switching back to private school. Our hesitations come from our hope that if we wait out the rocky beginning, our kids will get stronger and more able to cope, but we hate to see them unhappy. What do you think we should do? — Undecided Dad

Dear Un: First, three weeks is not a very long time for kids to fit in anywhere, let alone with children who have most likely been in school together from kindergarten. And when you say you’re considering private school again, is there even one in a rural area? (And, of course, private schools are not bully-free zones.)

I would wait until the end of the year before making any decisions. In the meantime, you and your wife might go to school and talk with the teachers. Explain that the kids seem to be having trouble, and see what information you get back. Between giving your kids more time to get acclimated and taking a measure of the teachers, I think the answer you are looking for will become clear. — Margo, patiently

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Dear Margo is written by Margo Howard, Ann Landers’ daughter. All letters must be sent via the online form at Due to a high volume of e-mail, not all letters will be answered.


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73 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Dan Patterson says:

    As always, Margo gives the best answers to both these problems. (She really is superb.) I would only add one observation. Undecided Dad should also base his decision about private schooling on a couple of other factors. Mississippi is rather notorious for its sub-par educational systems; the state spends less on education than any other state. Be certain your kids are getting at least an adequate education , this is the most important point, surely. Also, one is apt to find a good deal of bigotry in rural Mississippi, even in its school systems. I’m sorry to say this, but it’s been well-documented, even in recent years.

    • avatar Lila says:

      Dan, those are exactly the points I was thinking about.

    • avatar Briana Baran says:

      Re: L#2: I live in Houston, Texas, and the two public school systems I would be the least likely to send my children to would have been Louisiana’s and Mississippi’s. It doesn’t matter if it’s a rural, suburban or urban setting, they have uniformly poor standards of academic education, high tolerance for bullying, racism and other profiling and bias issues, and are frequently known to mix religious science (an oxymoron) such as Scientific Creationism and New Earth Theory into the curriculum. This also holds true for certain small town and rural districts in Texas (we are in Humble ISD, in an Exemplary set of schools that send a lot of kids to excellent colleges all over the country).

      The first few weeks of school can be challenging for children…especially if they have moved to a completely different environment and region of the country. However, in this case, I would pay very close attention, be certain to get to know the teachers and administrators of the school, express your concerns not only verbally, but in writing and listen carefully to what your children are saying and how they are saying it.

      And, as Margo said, private schools are not always havens free of bullying. Some are quite the opposite. In Mississippi, a lot of them will be affiliated with certain churches…so choose very carefully as some are extremely restrictive, the curriculum can leave a great deal to be desired, and the discipline can be corporal.

  2. avatar Violet says:

    No long advice for letter writer 1 other than lace up your sneakers and RUN away from this freak ASAP.

    On letter 2, I might be a bit more proactive on the bullying issue, not just make the kids ride it out or toughen up. I was a shy kid who was mercilessly teased and tormented and it made me hate school and there were no consequences to the “poplar” bullies. When I changed school environments, I graduated valedictorian of my class. You have to try to figure out what’s going on and see if your children can be given tools to make the situation better or the school will have to step in.

    • avatar Lila says:

      Violet, for the life of me I have never understood why adults allow that kind of bullying to go on and leave kids on their own to “work it out,” or figure “it’s just kid stuff, they’ll toughen up,” or “oh, pooh, everyone gets teased, deal with it.” Sometimes it turns into friggin’ Lord of the Flies and the adults are absolutely clueless.

      If the popular kids deface your property, threaten you, beat you up and take your lunch money, you’re supposed to figure it out yourself. But if you’re an adult in a shopping mall and some goons do the exact same thing, they will be up on charges. Or, if a co-worker harasses others incessantly and creates a hostile environment, HR gets involved and in some cases charges or a lawsuit can be brought.

      Why the double standard? And why do we not teach this to the bullies: what you are doing is a chargeable crime? The fact that they are 8 is no excuse; it just means that it’s time to teach them in no uncertain terms that it’s wrong and unacceptable.

      • avatar Briana Baran says:

        Lila & Violet: My son’s middle and high school have a “Zero Tolerance” system for dealing with bullies. When students report an incident, the offender is put on a watch list (they are not all completely stupid…they try to avoid being caught by teachers, etc.). This goes out to all staff. The bullying students have points added for each incident reported; if they are caught it’s immediate suspension, no matter how much their parents whine or protest. A bully with two offenses ends up in the “Alternative Program” at a different school for the long term…which consists of sitting at a desk all day, working, with supervised lunches with no talking, then back to work. No electives, no socializing, and a wicked PE class with no mercy (girls and boys).

        Bullies with three offenses are expelled. End of story. The parents can try to get them into another school in our area…but a report goes out to all principals. Once they reach middle school, or worse, high school, it’s very unlikely that a principal will except a student with a serious bullying problem into a school. This happened to a boy who bullied my son, who told his principal, then two other boys, who also told, then got caught by the coach (yep, even the coaches are on board…and the kid was in Athletics and Football) planting his cleats in another boys leg. Expelled. Well-off parents, who screamed “Not our son, you can’t do this!”, no racial profiling…and the kid was gone. No retaliation from his friends either…getting expelled is not a good thing. That student is attending a private school, because no principal in our system would take him.

        What a shame that not all schools are like this, eh? I think of all of the kids dead by their own hand because of bullies…and those who have taken others with them…Zero Tolerance should be the only answer.

        • avatar D C says:

          “then got caught by the coach (yep, even the coaches are on board…and the kid was in Athletics and Football)”

          That’s profiling, and profiling is wrong.  I am quite suprised that an individual so seeminly evolved as yourself would say something so provocative about a subset of teachers.  I happen to know MANY coaches who care very much about the subjects they teach (advanced placement classes in math, science, chemistry) and about the students they work with. 

          Stop hating on coaches like all the other sheep. 

          • avatar Mandy says:

            DC, I think you need to reread what was written. The original poster was talking about the bully getting caught by the coach. Nothing negative was said about the coaches. In fact, it seems the original poster was praising the coaches for being on board with the zero tolerance reporting policy.

          • avatar Briana Baran says:

            @D C: whoops D C, you did it again. Mandy is spot on in regard to my intent…I wasn’t stereotyping coaches. I’ve had two sons in public school for over 16 years…and the male (and female) coaches were some of the most decent, caring educators I have ever known. Not only did they help my older son, who is high functioning on the autism spectrum, with his coordination, balance and sense of physical self and spatial awareness (autistic people frequently have issues with all of these), but they insisted on fair play, even when he was guilty of bullying in high school (which I supported fully…the coaches, that is), tolerance, restraint and control.

            This comment, ““then got caught by the coach (yep, even the coaches are on board…and the kid was in Athletics and Football)” from my post was directed at those who think all coaches are troglodytes to stop moronic comments. It worked…and then came you. You made a comment on another Margo thread bitterly complaining of the hostility and attacks rampant on this site…and here you are…one of the worse offenders. Lacking pejoratives and writing with a semblance of coherence does not compensate for making specious assumptions, and name-calling. Sheep? Really? Even you, one of my most persistent detractors, should know better.

            I have a term that might apply to you, given the other post and this reasonless, and thoughtless attack: Hypocrite.

      • avatar mabel says:

        Lila – Thank you, thank you, one thousand times thank you!!! I have said the same thing for years. Things that are illegal for one adult to do to another adult should be illegal for a kid to do to another kid. Obviously the penalties should be different (a 3rd grader shouldn’t go to jail for assault for shoving a classmate), but I think a big part of the problem in society today is that behavior that would be considered criminal in adults is labeled “no big deal” or “just a part of growing up” in kids, and when these kids are grown up it comes as a surprise to them that suddenly the things they’ve been doing without consequences for years are getting them arrested.

        When I was a teen and bullied so badly I attempted suicide five times between the ages of 10 and 14, instead of telling me that “it gets better” people who should have known better (like guidance counselors and psychologists) said things to me like “Well, you need to figure out what it is about you that invites this kind of behavior from people” and “If you can’t figure out how to get along with your peers now, you shouldn’t expect to be able to get along with your peers when you’re an adult either.” Yeah, well… I’ve been an adult for a couple of decades now, and when I sit and eat my lunch at work none of my coworkers walk up to me and spit in my food for no reason at all. Nobody has walked past me in the office and slammed a book across the side of my face with no explanation and no provocation. And if anybody DID do those things, I don’t think that the police and the HR department would tell me that I’M the one with the problem. And I think the person who did those things would be facing some consequences for them. But if you’re 12 years old and get treated like that every day, you’re told you need to suck it up and deal with it, and oh, yeah, you’re the one who has something wrong with them.

        I pay $1,200 a month to keep my own 12-year-old daughter in a private school where she has never had these issues. And if these issues arose, and I had no other options, I’d home-school in a heartbeat. My BFF from high school is home-schooling her kids for similar reasons. I cannot emphasize strongly enough that parents should not allow their kids to be treated like this NO MATTER WHAT. Protecting my daughter from the five years of living hell I had to go through is my absolute top priority, and if I had to move thousands of miles away or sell everything I owned in order to do that I would.  

        • avatar Lila says:

          Mabel, I am SO with you in all of this, and glad you are protecting your daughter from these things. In my opinion, a child abused by their peers is still abused, just as much as if they were abused by a parent or some neighborhood creep. Different, sure, but still terribly damaging. Kids don’t have choices – they can’t quit their job or move away to get away from abuse – they’re trapped, and that makes it even more crucial that parents and teachers stop the abuse immediately, and SHOW that there are consequences for hostile behavior.

          You should write about this! Click my name or avatar, several of us regulars are trying to get a sort of meeting-place started.

        • avatar D C says:

          Mabel, it got so bad for my son that when the bully threw a textbook across the table and nearly put his eye out, we finally had to press criminal charges to get the school to do anything about it.  Luckily he had no lasting damage.  We still ended up moving to another district.

          • avatar RB Hopper says:

            I would like to know how the school or the bully’s parents handled the criminal charges against that child. I’m just curious, I have never heard of anyone doing that and I think it should be done ALOT more!

          • avatar D C says:

            The student was suspended from school and we waited to hear from the court about what to do next.  Then we heard the family had withdrawn the child from that school entirely, so we dropped the charges with the understanding that the kid would not be back at school or allowed anywhere near our son.  I was glad we didn’t have to go all the way down that road because, as the parent of a special needs child, I could see that this other kid was special needs in their own way, and the parents just weren’t doing anything to get help for their child. 

          • avatar Briana Baran says:

            D C: Too bad you dropped the charges. Having “special needs” is not a reason or excuse to make other people’s lives miserable, regardless of whether the bully is child or an adult.

            Why do I say this? My older son is high functioning on the autism spectrum. He has been diagnosed as bi-polar…but the diagnosing psychiatrist diagnoses ***everyone*** as “bi-polar” (so much so that it’s a standing joke among the therapists, psychologists, and other personnel who work with him regularly). It is more likely that he has ADD, and a personality disorder…but his father will not allow him to be re-assessed, and he is now an adult.

            His step-father and I spent most of his childhood working on his very serious issues with bullying, identifying with violence and aggression (no, he was NOT exposed to these things by me, his father or any REAL person). We limited his media exposure, and taught him to understand boundaries and consequences. His father’s family allowed him unlimited access to cable and increasingly violent video games. Again, try to get a judge to refuse visitation when there is NO abuse or neglect as defined by the courts.

            He would bully other children. We had zero tolerance, as did the school. It stopped by the time he was ten. Then he went to live with his father after he became violent (6’2″, 250 pounds) at sixteen with his six-years younger brother and me. He was angry because he had homework…not beyond his ability. He was under a psychiatrist’s care, seeing a therapist, had excellent care and supervision at school and I was at home. At this point he began bullying other children…students with CP, MS, mentally challenged kids, kids in wheelchairs, black kids (we are not racist, biased) kids he thought might be Jewish (a complete WTF moment for us). If he had injured another student, or bullied them into a serious breakdown, and his father (who had custody by then) had been sued…he would have deserved it…whether my son had “special needs” or not. It’s not a good idea to let a violently inclined 16 year old play uber-violent M rated video games 24/7…or watch “Live Free or Die Hard: Unrated” 21 times back to back. Unsupervised.

            He tried to strangle his ten year old brother, and punched him in the chest so hard that he couldn’t breathe. He tipped a student out of his wheelchair, and threw a backpack at a teacher. If the school had expelled him, or sent him to BCS (the behavioral section for disciplinary cases involving special needs), or a parent had sued…I would have fully supported them. He knew what he was doing. Four different licensed clinical psychologists, and two psychiatrists (neither just pill-pushers), confirmed this. He was getting what he wanted at our house, or at school.

            I’ve known far too many “people with special needs” who do as they please because people let everything slide, because, well…they have “Special Needs”. So do I: schizophrenia and bi=polar disorder and OCD qualify. I took responsibility a long, long time ago…and so do a lot of people. Don’t give people who can learn such an easy excuse. That’s how people get hurt. Or dead.

          • avatar Briana Baran says:

            Excuse me, I should have written, “He wasn’t getting what he wanted at school…etc.”

            I was irate.

  3. avatar Hewson_p says:

    On the one hand I agree that three weeks is a short period of time.  However, I would recommend that the parents get into the classroom to observe and also to talk to the teachers.  I would try to understand what the teachers’ approaches are in introducing the children to the classroom and also in terms of getting to know the children themselves.  Based on that conversation you can get a better sense of whether or not the teachers are truly looking out for the needs of the children versus just going through the motions. 

    • avatar Lila says:

      Hewson_p, doesn’t having a parent sitting in the back of the classroom observing change the dynamic? I suspect that neither the teachers nor the bullies will act the same as when the parents are not around. Plus, now the kids have the problem of being singled out as the ones who “had to have their Mommy come to school with them.” The bullies will have a field day with that.

      • avatar L T says:

        Yes, it will change the dynamic. When I was in high school (more years ago than I care to count), I asked to be moved to a different English class because of how the teacher treated me and certain other students who weren’t in the proper cliques (cheerleaders, the Prom Committee group she supervised, etc.). They refused to move me, but other students must have complained as well, because one week the Vice Principal sat in for two or three days. Those were the only comfortable, enjoyable days in that class all year, and the verbal abuse and poor teaching picked right back up the first day he was gone.

      • avatar Hewson_p says:

        Hi.  I think these are good points.  And, truthfully, before I sat in on a classroom for my child, those thoughts held me back.  But, I got lucky that my child is at an age wherein they allow the parents to occasionally help with the schoolwork.  So, it wasn’t clear that I was there to “spy”.  And, I started relating to the kids on their level and also showed up enough times that the teacher started to relax.  And some of the kids and the teacher started to show their true colors. 

        So, with that information in hand, I was able to talk to my child about handling these interactions with specific individuals.  And I was able to say to the school “I think this teacher might be making a few missteps with the kids in the class and here’s why”.  The teacher was seasoned and generally well liked, but she was still doing things that were blowing it with my child and a few others.  The school system heard me out and did some coaching.  Things got better!

        Please note that I am also not in the least bit trying to discount anyone else’s parenting or personal experience with bullying.   I’m merely trying to make the point that gathering more information can often help with deciding the next steps. 

    • avatar D C says:

      My youngest, a special needs child, was a target of bullying in junior high such that we had to move out of the district.  They would not allow a parent to visit a classroom at all, and of course, you couldn’t have anyone video the class because that would infringe on the rights of other students.  We couldn’t sell our house for a reasonable price either, so ended up renting it out so we could move to another school district. 

      I would suggest that the parents get seriously involved (teacher conferences, administrator conferences, attend school board meetings) and become so visible that your kids will be known to have parents that care.  The old squeaky wheel thing. 

  4. avatar Cindy Marek says:

    L #1: You’re not greatly confused, you’re in denial. He’s a creep and likely also a scumbag.
    L #2: Rural MS, ya’ll? Are you from the North? That could be some of the “problem”…because some Southerners still haven’t gotten over/forgiven the Civil War. It’s an impoverished state as well. I’d get them to private school, if able. There’s a reason 2 of your children are crying and/or complaining and I’d HEED THAT. And I’m not a parent, but do see the headlines.

    • avatar Briana Baran says:

      Thank you Cindy Marek: “Rural MS, ya’ll? Are you from the North?”

      I was born and raised in Chicago. I’ve lived the last 29 years in Houston…y’all. While there are some people “down here” who haven’t forgotten “The War Between the States” (if you’re going to be disrespectful of the South, be consistent)…I’ve seen nearly as many Rebel flags on pick-ups in Northern rural Illinois, where my mother lives (not very rural now, but still a lot of farms, hyuck-hyuck) as there are here. And just as many rednecks. And ignoramuses who think Southern equals stupid.

      Might I generously point out that many Northerners come to the South with the attitude that everyone born South of the Mason-Dixon line is a blithering, inbred moron? Poverty doesn’t mean cruelty, nastiness or a lack of compassion or hospitality, either. If the kids at the school are picking on anything regional, it might be the dialect or accent…and my dear, every time I visit Chicago, everyone has a good laugh because 30 years in Texas does rub off a bit…and my son and husband are Texan through and through and we all sound so ***quaint*** and dumb, you see. Y’all. All y’all.

      If supposedly intelligent adults who should know better think it’s hilarious to listen to a slight Texas accent, just think what a group of ***rural MS kids, y’all*** think of one from Boston, or the Bronx, or Staten Island, or Maine. Kids. Elementary school kids, who are not know in any time or place for their kindness or compassion. Or impulse control.

      Jist giss Ah’ll set on th’ poach an’ have me a glass a swee’ tea, y’all. W’ ma dawg, ‘n’ ma s Ol’ Bessie. Shee-it.

    • avatar lisakitty says:

      re: LW2.  That was my first thought as well, Cindy.  I wonder why they decided to move there: was it a move to be closer to family?  A job move?  Want to escape from the big bad city?  It could be a North/South thing, a city/country thing, depending on the race involved, it could even be a racial thing.  I have amily in the south and even though I am FAMILY I always here about how bad the city is, etc. whenever I visit them.  It’s hard enough for adults, it’s brutal on children.  Adults know enough to keep their predudices to themselves for the most part, children don’t have that filter yet.

      • avatar Briana Baran says:

        @lisakitty: When children express prejudice based on race, regional origin, ethnicity, religion, etc., in elementary school in the form of bullying…do you think they’re actually coming up with those feelings, whole-cloth, on their own? Or are those picked up like a social disease from the adults who “know how to keep their prejudices to themselves”?

        Children are taught to have filters by their parents…and also taught empathy, compassion and that everyone is the same under the skin…or, alternatively…that the color of your skin, the place you were born (city or country, state or region, North or South), your religion, your parents’ politics or sexual orientation…makes you a bad person as opposed to a Good Person. Parents frequently lack filters with their children, in fact, lack any whit of common sense, and teach their children every bit of divisiveness, anger, fear and hatred that they themselves have, without any background, rationale or explanation. And they never bother to teach said children that it isn’t all right to express these sentiments as bullying.

        Children don’t come out of the womb as bullies. They’re taught that it’s acceptable, even laudable behavior. I just love how everyone blames the schools…who are held hostage by litigious parents who scream bloody murder and threaten to sue if their little monster(s) get a day of detention, or if a victim who is tired of getting his/her head slapped, bounced off of a basketball, getting kicked by cleats, kidney punched or spit on rises up righteous and blacks the pissant’s eye. As my sons’ middle school principal put it, there are parents who are bigger bullies than their kids…just as mean, just as cowardly…and he profoundly wished he could expel them too.

        By the way, my older son started bullying in high school, and we and the school cooperated, and collectively came down on him like a 16-t