Sex offender dad wants to renew his relationship with our son.

Advice on manners and morals.
May 20 2010 6:46 AM

Ex-Con Dad Wants Back in Son's Life

He's a deadbeat sex offender. Should I let him have a relationship with our boy?

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Dear Prudence,
I am a young mother with a 6-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter and have been married to a wonderful man for almost three years. My husband is not the biological father of my son. My problem is that my son's biological father has just gotten out of prison and is a registered sex offender. He has not seen our son for the past five years and now wants to be part of his life. I haven't tried to hide from my son that he has another father, but I think he is still too young to understand the whole story. My husband wants to adopt him, and I want this as well. But we don't know whether we should do that or let his biological father into his life, even though I'm worried he might hurt him emotionally or, God forbid, some other way. But if we go through with the adoption, maybe my son will resent that we made this decision for him. Everyone close to us has an opinion. I would like the opinion of someone who is not close to the problem.

—Stuck Mother

Dear Stuck,
Your dilemma touches on some of my strongly held beliefs. For one thing, that people are entitled to know about their origins. For another, that children need stability, so a reliable step-parent can be preferable to an untrustworthy biological parent. And finally, that the fewer ex-con sex offenders hanging around the kids, the better. Your fear about what your ex might do to your son tells you that there's really no place for him in your family's life—presumably, the courts would prevent him from seeing the boy unaccompanied. Good for you for explaining to your son that he has another father. And you're right, he doesn't have to know the whole story, but he's old enough to know the general outlines: His father had to go to jail because he committed a crime. However, there's an even more important story to tell your son about himself: that the man he knows as "Daddy" loves him completely and wants to adopt him so that he can be your son's father forever. (Of course, getting the biological father's parental rights terminated requires consultation with a lawyer.) When you complete the adoption, you can celebrate this happy event with a cake and a little family party. Because your son legally has a new father, that doesn't mean you should make the subject of your son's biological father verboten or refuse to let them meet when your son is old enough—if that's what your son wants. Go ahead with the adoption with the confidence that you are acting in your son's immediate and long-term interests. Let me also assure you that no matter what you do, and even if your son had been born to the world's most traditional nuclear family, by the time he becomes a teenager, he is guaranteed to resent you for oh-so-much. 

—Prudie

Dear Prudence:
I've been unemployed for the past two years. I've applied for thousands of jobs in person, online, through the mail, etc. This whole thing has been very stressful and has affected me in a way I cannot describe. I just want to work to take care of myself without relying on anyone for assistance. Recently, I've had a couple of phone calls from recruiters who asked why I've been unemployed for so long. This irritated the heck out of me, and I'm sure the tone of my voice changed after that. Being unemployed this long isn't something I wanted, nor was it a decision I made. Prior to this, I was never unemployed. What can I do to not get so bothered by this? And what would be the best way to respond?

—Not Happy About It

Dear Not,
Sure, you're tempted to say, "Apparently you haven't heard that we're in the worst economic downturn since the Depression, and economists are talking about a 'jobless recovery,' you moron!" But think of it this way—you have attracted the interest of recruiters, and that's great news. Their job is to vet you, and your job is to persuade them to recommend you for the next stage. So do your job! That means you want to answer all their questions without sounding bitter, defensive, or desperate. You can say something like, "If I were in your position, I'd be asking exactly that question. The answer is that, like millions of others, I've been hit hard by the economy—and that is the reason. Prior to the recession, I'd never been unemployed, which is what you'll find when you check my excellent work record and references." I hear from so many people who have been shredded not only financially, but emotionally, by unemployment. It's cruel that people are looked at askance for being out of work through no fault of their own. I know it's hard to stay positive, but by doing so, you will make your return to the work world that much more likely.

—Prudie

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Dear Prudence,
My sister-in-law is graduating from the private K-12 school my husband and I attended. We just found out today that she and another girl will share salutatorian honors, while two of the boys in her class tied for valedictorian. Wonderful, right? Not to my mother-in-law. She informed my husband that she and my father-in-law are going to file an official complaint with the board of the school. She feels that one of the valedictorian boys should be excluded because he was a congressional page during his junior year, and the girl sharing honors with my sister-in-law should be out because she didn't take the high-level math classes that my sister-in-law did. Not only do my husband and I find my in-laws' position to be embarrassingly petty, but my mother and uncle both teach at the school, we still attend athletic events there, and we plan to send our daughter there in a few years. Do you think my in-laws are out of line, and if so, do we have a right to speak to them? I should mention that my mother-in-law has a history of doing this sort of thing.

—Almost Fed Up

Dear Almost,
By now, since your mother-in-law has had two children spend 13 years each at this school, the administration is well used to her antics and is thrilled to have received a final tuition check from her. Yes, she sounds petty and embarrassing. I wonder whether Dad actually concurs with her objections or is just going along because he's found if he disagrees with her, life is hell. If anyone is going to talk to them, it should be your husband. He may have some standing to say that her complaints are only going to alienate the board, and since you two have relatives teaching at the school, and you wish to send your daughter there, you don't want your family creating bad feelings. He could add that everyone is proud of his sister's great accomplishments and that he hopes his parents can find a way to simply enjoy this honor. If the conversation has no effect, then just let your in-laws make fools of themselves. Surely the admissions office won't hold it against your daughter.

—Prudie

Dear Prudie,
My boyfriend of more than four years is going out of town for a conference. He has made plans to meet up with a female college friend who lives in that area. She will stay over in his hotel room (on a couch or second bed) during her visit. I am extremely uncomfortable with the arrangement and told my boyfriend that I will not allow them to share a room. Even though she is also in a relationship, and I trust them both, I think this is very inappropriate, especially since other people at the conference will see them going into the room together. My boyfriend sees nothing wrong with the situation. I do feel a little guilty asking the friend, who was recently laid off, to get her own room, but I am not running a charity. How should we handle this?

—Not Willing To Share

Dear Not,
If there really were some hanky-panky planned, your boyfriend would probably do it the old-fashioned way and conveniently forget to mention to you that his friend was staying overnight. That he apparently told you in all innocence supports his platonic intent. Even you acknowledge that you believe the two of them are being upfront about just catching up and are not scheming to get some on the side. You may be uncomfortable with the arrangement, but I bet your boyfriend is even more uncomfortable with your announcement that he is forbidden to let his friend crash. I'm not sure how you plan to enforce this, except by making yourself unbearable. Have you noticed that being unbearable does not add to one's allure? The way you should handle this is to back off and apologize for your fit of jealousy. Say you were wrong, that you realize it's silly to care what people at the conference think, and that you're glad he's the kind of guy who has female friends.

—Prudie

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