Dear Amy: My son-in-law is a physician at a large hospital. He is exceptionally smart and well regarded, but he's also incredibly dumb at the same time. His errors and goofs have gotten so bad that we often think twice before inviting him and my daughter anywhere. He is a one-man debacle.

Just recently he's started a kitchen fire in their house, fallen down the stairs (injuring himself), backed his car out through their closed garage door and flooded his backyard by forgetting to turn the sprinklers off.

Over Memorial Day weekend, they came to our lake house. In three days he lost his car keys, shattered an antique, burnt a meal on the grill and created unnecessary drama by miscommunicating our plans to other family members.

My daughter seems to think his absent-mindedness is charming, but we do not. He does not drink excessively or have any medical issues. I've asked him to be more careful, and it doesn't seem to stick.

We are planning a family vacation. My wife and I have considered not inviting them, because we want to keep our stress down, but this feels cruel. We love having our family around us, but I won't have yet another vacation wrecked because of his foibles. How do I address this?

Amy says: You say your son-in-law does not drink excessively or have any medical issues, but how do you know?

One or even a few of these incidents could be chalked up to stress, exhaustion or absent-mindedness. The picture you paint, however, is alarming. I realize that you find this mainly annoying on your own behalf, but I hope you will speak, and act, out of concern for his health. Tell him (and your daughter) that you are worried because his coordination (and perhaps, cognition) seems to be getting worse. If he dismisses this, recount some recent incidents, and ask him what conclusion he might draw if a patient came to him with these issues. Urge him to get a thorough checkup.

He could have a serious neurological illness that he manages or masks while he is at work, but which flares when he is outside of his normal routine and surroundings. My understanding of neurological disorders is only anecdotal, but I believe that some of the behavior you describe could be linked to very serious illness.

He could also be drinking, or taking drugs, behind the garage. Your concerns are valid.

Theft still haunts

Dear Amy: Many years ago, when I was a teen, I took $20 from my friend. My friend confronted me. I denied it, and we never really spoke about it again. She was my neighbor, and our families were very close.

We still keep in touch. I have not seen the friend in many years, but I have seen other family members, and my theft is always on my mind.

Should I apologize and repay the $20 after all these years, or should I just forget about it?

Amy says: If I told you to just forget about this, would you? Haven't you tried to forget about this theft?

No, you won't forget about it, so you should own it, admit it, make amends and ask to be understood and forgiven.

I hope you will contact your friend. Tell her that you are embarrassed that you stole from her and then lied about it. Don't offer up an excuse, but do explain yourself.

Your friend's $20 would be worth close to $50 now. Send her a check and, if you can afford to, donate the same amount to a local charity — perhaps one benefiting wayward teens.

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