The one thing writer Margo Howard never wanted to be was an advice columnist. Not surprising since her mother was Ann Landers, the world's most popular giver of advice to the lovelorn. And her aunt, her mother's twin, was Abigail Van Buren, another extremely well-known "agony aunt." Margo says, "For thirty years, I wanted to have nothing to do with it. I was a magazine writer and a syndicated columnist writing for many publications including TV Guide, People and The Nation. I was a proper journalist for thirty years."
But then when editor Michael Kinsley was launching "Slate" online, he asked Margo to plug in a computer and try her hand writing a "Dear Prudence" advice column for the web magazine. "I was in my late 50's and not doing much and I said I would try it. And I loved it. "
And how did her mother react? Margo says "She was alive for four or five years while I was writing that column and she thought I was very good. But even though she knew a column had already run, she would still edit the copy and send it back to me."
Unlike some children of the famous, Margo is full of praise for her well-known mom. "I was fifteen when she went to work. I was pleased because it took the focus off me. And even though she was famous, she wasn't an actress; she was a hard working journalist. And, yes, she gave me advice. Wonderful advice. I read the letters she wrote me and they are like having a conversation with her, full of good and sensible advice."
In her "Dear Margo" column, which appears in over 200 newspapers, Margo, who has been married four times, says she has a kind of permissive attitude. "In my personal life, when it wasn't working I was out the door." (Her third husband was the actor Ken Howard, and she is currently married to a Boston cardiac surgeon.) " But in my column when people are thinking of breaking up, I tell them to give it a last hurrah. There can be mitigating circumstances that keep people together." Stil,l she says, "I don't think anyone should be held hostage to really bad behavior. If someone--a mate, relative, a friend, or a child--is exhibiting toxic behavior, remove them from your life."
Currently, Margo says, "Times are very tough and people feel rather hopeless and helpless." Still she says, "Everything is about relationships, problems about relationships have stayed the same forever. The only thing that is new is the internet. And the internet is just loaded with trouble!'
Margo Howard's column "Dear Margo" will soon appear weekly on ThirdAge.com.
Myrna Blyth is editor-in-chief of ThirdAge.
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