Dilemmas: It's not his car, so how can he forbid me to use it?

The car is owned by Ewan's mother and, until recently, was happily shared. But his new stepfather now maintains it, and has forbidden Ewan its use `in case he needs it', which causes Ewan inconvenience. His mother says that he must sort this out with her new husband. What can Ewan do?

VIRGINIA'S ADVICE

Cars plus stepfathers plus young, male stepchildren - I can't think why scientists spent so much time and microscopes on splitting the atom when they could have created a worldwide deterrent simply by mixing these three simple ingredients.

Let's take cars first. To some men, they mean a lot more than a couple of seats with an engine, roof and wheels to get about quicker than normal. They mean power. Men who get company cars at work have been known to burst into tears if they're given a car that's an inferior model to someone they feel superior to. To some men, cars matter emotionally. Ewan's stepfather must feel humiliated enough not owning the family car; to have to share it with a male teenager must make him feel, irrationally, almost emasculated. His complaint that Ewan leaves the seat in the wrong place and the radio tuned to the wrong station are only excuses. So is his complaint that he "might" want to use it. Ewan could easily put the first two things right, anyway. But perhaps he could offer to get the car cleaned weekly, at a cleaner of the stepfather's choice. This might allow the man to feel superior again, and to see his stepson in the role of lowly chauffeur rather than competitive driver.

Next: stepfathers and their male stepchildren. Any man who comes between a son and his mother is almost bound to want to make trouble. He wants to be top man in a household where, until he moved in, the son was top man. (And probably still is, in his mother's eyes, if the truth be known.) Privately he would probably like to devour him, in the same way as a new top lion kills the cubs of all the females in his group to establish his supremacy. He would certainly like to see Ewan dead, though he would never admit it. He would give anything for Ewan to leave home and is doing his best to make things uncomfortable for him. If it's not the car he complains about, it'll be something else - the state of the bathroom, the noise, the time Ewan gets home. Ewan's poor mother is probably on her son's side, but feels that since Ewan's of an age when he'll soon leave home anyway, she had better side with the one who'll be around for the rest of her life.

Ewan can do two things. He can recognise his stepfather's fragile ego and try to make him feel big, however humiliating it may be. He can do all those oily things, such as asking his advice about trivial things, in front of his mother. He could ask him about what wine to buy, or what route to take, or how to polish shoes properly (and do his as well), and whether to shave his neck pulling the razor up or down. Yes, yuk - but does he want use of the car or not? If he crawls enough, Ewan may patronisingly be given use of the car occasionally.

Or he should say to his mother that she has to sort this out with the stepfather, not him. It's her car, after all. It's she who married this man. And it's she who should untangle the unpleasant repercussions. If she agrees with her husband that Ewan can't use the car, she must bear Ewan's resentment. If she allows Ewan to use it, then she must bear her husband's.

READERS' SUGGESTIONS

The point of a car is that it's available when you need it

Don't you know that the whole point of having a car, rather than taking cabs all the time, is precisely so you can use it whenever you like? Your stepfather may not use the car for three months, but suddenly need it - perhaps in an emergency, or just to go into town for some special ingredient for a dish he's making. It's the availability of a car that's part of its charm; no wonder he doesn't want you hijacking it every day.

Get your own car. Don't be dependent, anyway, on a man you don't even like.

PETER BARKER

Romford, Essex

Buy your own car, or bike it

This sad little story does not just seem petty; it is petty.

Leaving aside the obvious Freudian stuff, why not get a part-time job out of college hours, then save up and buy a small motorbike or an old banger, expensive insurance and all. You'll then have the thrill and self- esteem of owning your own first vehicle from your own exertions. Impress the girls - they don't like mummy's boys.

Alternatively, get the job, do your bit to combat global warming by using a push-bike everywhere in all weathers, and save money to go and do voluntary work somewhere next summer vacation where most people can barely afford a push-bike. As that old adage says: always think of your glass as half- full, not half-empty.

ROB THORBURN (ex-mummy's boy)

Farnham, Surrey

Next Week's Dilemma

Dear Virginia,

Our first baby, a girl, was born on the same day my mother died. Though she was always known as Clem, her real name was Clementina, and that's what we christened our little girl in her memory. It meant a lot to us. But now our best friends, whom we see every weekend, have just given birth to a little girl - their second - and they've said they're going to call their daughter Clementina, too. They say there's no ownership on names, and that it was the wife's great-aunt's middle name, and they like it. They've virtually said: "Like it or lump it." What can we do? For a start, it's going to make the children playing together so difficult, because when we call "Clem" they won't know which one it is. They knew how special this name was to me. But am I silly to feel so hurt?

Yours sincerely, Graham

Anyone with advice quoted will be sent a bouquet from Send your letters and dilemmas to Virginia Ironside, `The Independent', 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL, fax 0171-293 2182; or e-mail dilemmas@independent.co. uk, giving a postal address

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