Dear Old Dad
Prudie offers Father's Day advice on secret paternity, absentee parenting, and a dad's dating dilemma.
Got a burning question for Prudie? She'll be online at Washingtonpost.com to chat with readers each Monday at 1 p.m. Submit your questions and comments here before or during the live discussion.
I have been married for almost a decade to my high-school sweetheart. A few years into my marriage, I had an affair with a colleague. My husband found out, and we decided to work things out and stay together. Then I found out I was pregnant. As hard as it was to know I was carrying another man's child, my husband stood by me, and he's been an amazing father. My question is, do we ever tell our son, now 3 years old, that my husband, his "daddy," isn't his biological father? His biological father has kindly always offered to do whatever I wanted in terms of what I tell my son. I worry constantly about my son growing older and learning of his paternity in some way. Are my husband and I better off with a lie of omission or telling a terrible truth?
I wish you had explained why you know that your husband could not be the biological father of your child. If you were having sex with both your husband and lover, in the absence of a DNA test, there should be some ambiguity to your son's paternity. Even if you're certain there's not, you, your husband, and your son know who the father of your child is in every way that matters. So, please, stop the constant worry. First of all, your son is 3 years old. If you decide someday to tell him, that day is a long way off. In the meantime, you have to lift this moral shroud you're living under. Having a mother who is in a perpetual state of anxiety and guilt will be more damaging to your son than whatever he finds out about his origins. I think people have a right to know such things. But as I imagine you one day having the "I have something to tell you" conversation with your son, I wonder what for. Sure, he would be finding out the truth, but it's such an undermining and unnecessary truth that I don't see the point. There's a possibility that some blood test or medical crisis might raise questions, but I bet most people go through life not knowing their own, let alone their parents', blood type. And if such a crisis happens, then you'll just have to own up. I think you should tell the biological father (and you're positive about this?) that your husband is the only father your son knows, and all of you want to keep it that way.
My wife and I have agreed on childrearing since the kids were born, but we have a disagreement that we can't resolve. Our kids (a boy, 7, and girl, 11) are participating in summer sports. I coach my son's baseball team; games are Monday and Wednesday evenings. My daughter plays softball on Tuesday, Thursday, and every other Friday. This means we have a free evening every other Friday. I have to be at my son's games, and I'm planning to attend at least one of my daughter's games each week. But I don't want to be heaped with guilt by my loving spouse if I don't attend every one of her games. (My wife intends to go to all the kids' games.) Coaching is stressful, and I need a break from the ballpark. My wife thinks I'm cheating our daughter out of her fair share of Daddy's attention. When I was a kid, I was lucky if my dad came to any of my games. Am I being unreasonable, sexist, or just plain mean?
So now both parents are expected to cheer on their offspring at every single sporting event for the entirety of their childhoods? No wonder we're raising a generation of people who think they deserve a Nobel Prize just for showing up. I'm not the best arbiter since I had to explain to my daughter, "Daddy's the one who'll be at your soccer games, because Mommy's going to have something called 'a breakdown' if she has to stand in a muddy, buggy field one more morning watching you girls fall all over each other." Surely the level of neglect your daughter will experience by your attending one, but not two of her ballgames a week will not drive her into the arms of a Humbert Humbert, in search of a father figure who cares. Explain to your daughter that because you're the coach, you're required to be at all of your son's games, otherwise you'd divide your attentions more evenly. As for your wife, tell her if you have to be at the ballpark five nights a week, you're going to have a breakdown—it worked for me! And the best way to show you really aren't sexist would be to volunteer next summer to coach your daughter's team.
I'm a single mom of three teenagers. I divorced when they were little and decided to sacrifice my personal life to make up for the loss of their father. I also have a stressful job and a long commute. My kids are wonderful, do great in school, and are in college or headed there. Their father, however, pretty much dropped his involvement in their lives when he remarried and fathered another child. When they visited him, they watched TV while he went about his life. He's now divorced again, and my kids hate going to his house; they say my house is their real home. However, I've come to cherish the time I have alone when they're with him. I need some down time from chauffeuring, solving problems, and providing meals. I want to lie on the couch, eat ice cream for breakfast, and walk around the house naked. Recently my sister said I'm destroying my kids by forcing them to go to their father's when they don't want to. Now, I'm worried that in my old age, when they're stressed out, they'll put me away.
—Protecting My Sanity
Usually people with three teenagers are complaining: "I never see my kids. I only know I have any because the refrigerator is always empty." Yours obviously rely on you, enjoy your company, and want to be around you. That bodes well for you not ending up abandoned in a nursing home in your old age because occasionally you told them to spend some time with their father. Yes, the guy sounds like a washout, but since they're becoming young adults, they should be able to occupy themselves over a weekend with him. Have a discussion with them in which you say you understand their objections, but it's important they maintain a relationship with their father. Help them come up with strategies to connect with the guy. Suggest they do activities with him—play board games, make pizza, volunteer together at a soup kitchen, so everyone's not stuck silently watching TV. You need and deserve time off. So if your kids refuse to leave, use your secret weapon. Say, "OK, kids, you can stay here this weekend, but I'm warning you now, I'm planning to spend it naked."
I got an e-mail from my dad via an online dating service asking that I write a testimonial for him. My dad is 70, and I am 32. My parents divorced when I was young, and I have no desire to be involved in his dating life. Furthermore, I can't honestly give him a glowing recommendation. I believe he's a good person at heart, but he's got some psychological problems that have caused him to not always be there for me and to treat my family negatively. Let's just say that there's a reason he's single. But I'm afraid if I decline to write the testimonial, he will feel offended. I do care about him and want to do what's right, but I just feel weirded out by the whole thing. What should I do?
From what I can glean about your father, your testimonial would sound something like: "My Dad is a thin-skinned guy who won't be there for you. At the end of the date, you won't wonder why he's single, but you may wonder, 'Has he had a psychological evaluation?' In case you couldn't guess, I'm writing this under duress." It's sad not to have done better in the father lottery, but he's what you got. But you're an adult now, so it doesn't really matter if he has a little fit when you say you won't go along with this. You want to be respectful of your father, but he needs to be respectful of you, and that means not trying to coerce you into doing ridiculous things. Simply tell him that facilitating his dating life makes you uncomfortable and you can't do it, then wish him a Happy Father's Day.
Photograph of Prudie by Teresa Castracane.