Advice on manners and morals.

Advice on manners and morals.

Advice on manners and morals.

Advice on manners and morals.
March 29 2007 7:26 AM

Invitation to Disaster

Must I invite the man who molested my child to a party?

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Dear Prudence,
At a family Christmas party, my husband's best friend briefly fondled our young daughter. When confronted, he apologized and admitted he was drunk and it was wrong. In lieu of criminal charges, he agreed to seek therapy. His wife has since left him, and much of his life has fallen apart. I don't have much sympathy, but that's not the reason I'm writing. Every year, we have a joint birthday party, since my husband and I were born only several days apart. My husband has now asked me how I would feel if he invited this friend of his back. How do I feel? I feel outraged, but I told him I would think about it. Am I wrong to feel such outrage toward a man who has been my husband's best friend since longer than I have known him? Should I be more forgiving? If this friend says he's sought counseling and is truly apologetic, am I being unreasonable in my strong desire to have him not attend our party, let alone ever step foot in our home again? Somehow I don't think my husband grasps the gravity of the situation. Since no "physical" harm was done to our daughter and she seems to be OK, he sees no harm done. He considers it a one-time indiscretion. What should I do?

—Defensive Mother

Dear Defensive,
Without getting into the legal fine points, if I were the mother in question and this man showed up on my doorstep, I'd be inclined to insert an andiron into his skull. But that, of course, would be wrong. Also wrong would be to knowingly allow this child molester to ever be within any measurable distance of your daughter. We know the friend is sick—but what's up with your husband? Yes "physical" harm was done to your child—she was molested! Since an outrage was done to your daughter, and your husband is OK with it, you two need counseling to make sure your daughter really is all right, and to try to get through your husband's thick skull (without the benefit of an andiron) that it is his job to protect his little girl from monsters, not invite one into your home and hand him a drink.

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—Prudie

Dear Prudie,
My oldest friend and I grew up in the same neighborhood, and although we've lived thousands of miles apart since we were teenagers, we stayed in regular contact for 33 years. She phoned a while ago and told me a disturbing story. Her youngest son was recruited into the Army and soon thereafter was given an honorary discharge and sent home. He was extremely depressed. Her son is mildly learning disabled from a childhood illness. What stood out to me when I met him was that he was very timid, sensitive, and gentle—characteristics that the unscrupulous Army recruiter should have noticed, even if he was not trained to pick up on the learning disability. The medical officer who examined him also apparently did not notice. Fortunately someone at boot camp realized that he was not soldier material and organized the discharge. I listened to her story in shocked silence for a while and then, as politely as I could, asked if she or her husband had tried to intervene or let the Army know about his medical history. Her response was, "The boy is 18 and can do what he wants." I have not been able to bring myself to speak to her since. She keeps phoning me, but I don't answer—I am so disgusted that I don't know what to say. It doesn't matter how I feel about the war or able young men being cannon fodder. How could this mother do this? Because of our long friendship, do I owe it to her to tell her how I feel, or is it best just to forget her?

—Wanting To Be Honorable

Dear Wanting,
If your friend's son was mentally and physically fit, wanted to serve, and they proudly (and of course worriedly) said goodbye as he went to basic training, would you also not answer her calls? People join the military for many reasons—patriotism, a sense of duty, a desire for discipline and direction, and sometimes because of a lack of other clear options. We should be grateful for the choice they've made. I hope you aren't moved to ask other parents with a child in the military how they can condone their child becoming cannon fodder. Yes, there are many things wrong with the case of your friend's son. But it sounds as if you don't know much about the background. Perhaps the son always felt alone and adrift and harbored the hope that in the Army he would finally feel he belonged. Perhaps you're right and he was shamefully enticed by an unscrupulous recruiter. It's also possible that the parents—and the son—have never fully addressed the extent of his disability, and they all are now belatedly realizing the limitations it imposes on him. If you don't want to throw away this three-decade friendship, you should pick up the phone and talk to her about this last point. You can ask if the son's learning disabilities have ever been thoroughly evaluated and treated. If not, encourage her that it's not too late for him to get help so he can live a more fully productive life. You could add that you understand how sad it is for him to feel he has failed, but that the whole episode may be a blessing that can send this gentle young man on a path more suited to him.

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—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
My husband is going to the house he bought with his ex over 20 years ago to install a ceiling lamp (his married daughter wants to surprise her mother for her birthday while she's out of town). My husband claims that he only wants to save his daughter the expense of an electrician. I am confident that he has no interest in his ex, but am still uncomfortable with him being in her house as if he still owned it. His daughter asked him to do this, and he won't refuse his daughter. When I tell my husband I don't think he should still be doing house repairs for her, he gets angry. I stuff my feelings and figure it will be over shortly, but there are so many repairs to be done to our own house that I don't think he has his priorities straight. It's a little thing, but I feel like he's so enmeshed in his family of four adult children (and three grandchildren) that our marriage is not important. He thinks he has a great second marriage—but I'm going on two years seeing a therapist.

—Disillusioned

Dear Dis,
Lighten up about the light. From your own description, he's not involved with his ex, she won't be there, installing the light is a one-time thing, and, as you admit, a little thing. The bigger problem is that you see your husband's love for, and involvement with, his children and grandchildren as being "enmeshed" and an affront to your marriage. I hear from many second wives of husbands with previous families who seem to intellectually understand that they are marrying someone who has a profound, continuing bond with their children—even if their children are 40 years old—but emotionally are resentful and always looking for proof they're No. 1, 1, 1. Unless you're leaving something out, it sounds as if you're married to a guy who is thrilled to be with you, who loves his kids, and who does house repairs. He sounds pretty good. Perhaps you can discuss with your therapist how to better accept that you and his children can simultaneously hold top spot in his life. And since it sounds as if you two are not good at communicating your feelings without resentment, maybe he should join you at the therapist's office. Or maybe you need a new one; two years is a long time to be paying for help and still feel so stuck.

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—Prudie

Dear Prudie,
I'm 17 and in a new relationship with a sweet, smart, funny, caring, and cute guy—everything I love. We have been going out for a month and a half, so it's fairly new. I really like him. I don't want to ruin this relationship; I want to keep it going for a while. The other day he said, "I love you." This may not seem like a big deal, but it is to me. After he said it, I knew he was waiting for me to say it; I tried, I did, but nothing came out. I knew he was disappointed to hear my response. All I said was, "Well, I've got to go." I wanted to say it, but I just don't know if I mean it. How do you know if it's too soon to say I love you? And how do you know if you mean it? I spent hours and hours thinking about it, asking myself questions that might help me find if I love him. But nothing worked.

—Wondering

Dear Wondering,
It's too soon when you open your mouth to try to say, "I love you," and all that comes out is, "I've got to go." It's also too soon if you spend hours working yourself into being able to say it. And being 17 may mean it's just too soon for you to say it, even if this guy is everything you're looking for. Yes, it's terrible to get the courage up to say that first "I love you" and have the response be the equivalent of a dropped cell phone call. But your young man will recover. Next time you're together, you can say to him, "I'm having such a great time getting to know you. I really appreciate what you said to me the other day, but I need to take things a little slower than you." Then suggest something fun to do the following weekend. And stop fretting about what you should feel and when, and just enjoy being 17 and in like.

—Prudie