Question:

My ex just missed my daughter's birthday. He was supposed to see her today and apparently forgot all about it. She's 5. I'm just so sad for her right now. I shouldn't assume this will become a thing, but I'm having trouble dispelling visions of a disappointed child for years and years when her inattentive dad forgets.

Answer: A dad who doesn't show up is a major source of disappointment, yes.

But so is a firmly held expectation that he will show up when his actions say otherwise.

And though you can't make her father show up, you can help your daughter avoid building expectations of him that he will likely never meet.

You can do this for her kindly, too, without bashing her dad. Where you might be tempted to say in frustration, "Let's see if your dad decides to show up this year," instead, you can take care to say as little as possible beforehand about his planned visits. With a 5-year-old, you can say nothing at all, for example - and if her dad shows up when he told you he would, yay.

As your daughter gets older, you can graduate to giving notice that's as offhand as his history of showing up: "Your dad said he might come by later if he's able to." That not only builds in the possibility of a no-show, it places the responsibility for his absence on a vague "ability" to. As in, you don't hand your daughter chances to blame herself. This phrasing has the benefit of being true enough, because being too inattentive to keep his promises is just another version of being unable to.

As she becomes more aware and, presumably, able to express her own frustration with his unreliability, you can give her a way to understand him that bypasses blame for acceptance and understanding. "I know it's frustrating. He has been absent-minded for as long as I have known him, though. I also know he loves you dearly, so it's about him, not you."

And, finally, as annoying an extra burden as this might be, have a Plan B for days when her father is supposed to show up. Why curse the darkness when you can go to a matinee?

Question: My new in-laws - we've been married less than a year - struggle with deep or intimate conversation. I am from a family who talks about feelings all the time, and I don't know how to find a place or build intimacy here. Case in point: I tried to ask about husband's childhood. Father-in-law uncomfortably shifts to sports while mother-in-law "jokes" that that is too personal. Whaaa?

How do I build meaningful relationships with them? And/or, how do I not be the judgy daughter-in-law who always wants to make everyone talk feelings?

Answer: You respect the boundary they've set. There's no chance of intimacy without that crucial first step. Also, accept that there might be no chance of intimacy, period. Some people just don't want to be close to others, or don't know how to, or never bought into the idea they're supposed to.

That is their prerogative. The whole point of intimacy is that it's mutual. People who respect limits upfront typically are rewarded with respect in return - and, for the patient, there are also warmth, affection, and trust to be earned through restraint and through attentiveness to their ways.

tellme@washpost.com. Chat with Carolyn Hax online at noon Fridays at www.washingtonpost.com.