While I'm away, readers give the advice.

On wanting what everyone else has:

I admit I occasionally wish I had someone else's income, legs, job, etc., but the feeling is momentary. When I was 11, I was desperate to change places with Mary K., a beautiful blonde in my class. She had everything I wanted: a big brother, a big house on the lake, a father who was a doctor and thus didn't change jobs and force us to move every year, a bubbly personality. Her 11th birthday party was a sophisticated trip to dinner and the movies; mine was a run-of-the-mill slumber party.

I don't remember my 12th birthday party. Mary K. never had one: There wasn't much they could do for leukemia in those days. So I learned that you never know what sadness lies beneath the surface or what the future holds for those who seem to have it all. I still have her photo on my wall, smiling and looking forward to life.

On a loved one's bigotry:

Instead of trying to encourage tolerance and understanding via what accidentally may come across as our own, if you'll forgive me, "bigotry against bigotry" - what if we were to demonstrate the very behavior we hope to inspire?

Ever notice real-life examples of the adage "There's no zealot like a convert"? After all, heckling, expressing bigotry, and making other opinionated statements all demonstrate a willingness to speak up. When communication lines remain open, when we metaphorically stand together on whatever ground we do have in common, and when no one has to "lose face" to learn, those most opposed may transform into the most ardent supporters - sometimes of the very same cause they once decried.

I discovered the hard way that my having nursed a grudge, however deservedly, provided me only with a well-fed grudge. Perhaps we can learn, however great the challenge of overcoming our (understandable) righteous indignation, to come to "practice what we preach" instead.

On gender preference for one's kids, superficially, but really on being a great parent:

When I was initially asked about my gender preference for my coming child, I was startled. It had never occurred to me to prefer a gender. I understood I would love this child whatever. I found the question offensive, asking for a commitment that might not be fulfilled. After trying once, "I will love it whatever its gender," only to be confronted with: "Aw, come on! Which do you want?" I asked myself, how could I gently deflect this question without offending any who might ask?

I replied: "I want an elk." When they persisted, I continued: "When they are young, their hair is so silky. Even the horns are covered with fur." (No one ever called me on the fact that only males have horns.) Amazed at how many friends just could not take a hint, I stood firm.

That was 44 years ago. I have just turned 80. That child, a boy, now has two children, as does my daughter. My wife is gone. I love both my children and my grandchildren insanely - but they need their own space. I still try to walk lightly.