Advice on manners and morals.

Advice on manners and morals.
Sept. 7 2006 7:41 AM

Kith of Death

I love her, but she doesn't know I killed her father.

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Dear Prudence,
I have fallen in love with a woman I knew from childhood and ran into again after not seeing her for 20 years. As kids we hardly noticed each other, but when we met again after all these years we felt an immediate attraction. The problem is that when I was 12 years old I did something terrible that caused an accident that killed her father. No one ever found out it was me and I've never told anyone after all these years. I feel horrible about what happened, but it was a long time ago and I've gotten on with my life. But now what? Should I tell this woman that I caused her father's death many years ago? I'm afraid it would ruin our relationship and we love each other a great deal. The accident occurred when I was in a cornfield at night—we were throwing corn at cars when they drove by. We couldn't see the cars because we were hidden in the field. An ear of corn I threw went through the open car window and struck her father in the head, causing him to lose control of the car and crash into a tree. I ran from the scene and was never implicated.

—Guilty and Confused

Dear Guilty,
History and literature are full of great loves doomed because of circumstance and fate. I'm afraid that being responsible for the death of your girlfriend's father—and having kept this terrible fact a secret—adds you to the list. You are contemplating keeping quiet in order to keep the girl. That is cruel and untenable. Do you hold her hand and nod sympathetically every time she says, "After my father died …"? You cannot build a healthy relationship on such deceit. You mentioned there was at least one other person with you in the field. Imagine how your girlfriend would feel if whoever was with you that night finds out about your romance and sends her a letter about what you did. There's no undoing the heartbreak caused by your childhood prank, but you have the power to at least answer the question for this woman (and her family) about what happened to her father that night. Telling her is the right and moral thing, and you have to accept that doing so in all likelihood will cause her to end your relationship. Before you tell, you also need to be prepared for the legal consequences of confessing. I talked to several law professors and they all said you should consult an attorney to find out your possible criminal and civil liability (and just to add to your dilemma, each said if you came to them as a client, they would advise you to keep your mouth shut). If you do decide that you can keep the secret and still live with yourself, then you must break off the romance. Her father died because of what you did accidentally; don't destroy your own decency because of what you're doing deliberately.

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—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
My husband and I were recently invited to a good friend's wedding out of town. We won't be able to attend but we would like to send a gift. It turns out the bride and groom have specified that donations be made to their favorite charity in lieu of gifts. I love this idea; however, the charity they chose recently published views on the U.S. involvement in the Middle East that my husband and I were rather insulted by. On the other hand, the core mission of the organization itself is admirable. My husband does not want to donate to this organization because of their remarks and wants to choose another. I say that it would be an insult to the bride and groom because it's (not so?) subtly judging their views on philanthropy and politics at a time that's totally inappropriate to do so. I'd rather just suck it up and go with the favored organization to make our friend happy. Who do you think is right?

—Donation Dilemma

Dear Donation,
If only they'd just registered for a gravy boat—at least it doesn't come with its own Middle East policy. No one should feel obligated to contribute to a charity that makes them uncomfortable—and no one is obligated to provide a wedding gift, either. I agree with you that selecting another charity signals a criticism of their choice (but it is the couple who has injected politics into their nuptials). So, forget about making a donation. Instead, since you were unable to attend the wedding, why not tell them you want to celebrate with them by taking them out to dinner when they get back from their honeymoon—and make sure you discuss subjects other than wedding gifts and the Middle East.

—Prudie

Dear Prudie,
I am an 18-year-old woman who has been shaving her head for about two years now, purely out of choice. It is comfortable, simple, and flattering on me. Of course, I receive many outlandish comments that put me in awkward situations due to my appearance and I accept it as inevitable. My particular question is how to respond to post-cancer patients who try to speak to me in a motivational or inspirational way. I appreciate that they try support others, but I am bald, not sickly, and they can't assume that because a woman is without hair that it's because of chemotherapy. This has happened to me a few times, and each time the patient wants to tell me their story, show how their hair is growing back, or bare their pink-ribbon tattoo, often after I've told them that I'm cancer-free. I don't want to appear insensitive, but why should I be bothered with hearing a stranger's story when I can't even empathize?

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