The man I thought was my daughter's father isn't.

The man I thought was my daughter's father isn't.

The man I thought was my daughter's father isn't.

Advice on manners and morals.
Aug. 5 2010 6:47 AM

Who's Her Daddy?

The man I thought was my daughter's father isn't, and now she wants to find her real dad. What should I do?

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Dear Prudence,
Twenty years ago, I had a child out of wedlock. I had slept with two men during that period, "Tom" and "Mike." I assumed Tom was the father, but when I told him, he said he was infertile because of a childhood illness, and he showed me some paperwork to prove it. When my daughter was born, she looked just like Mike. I told him he was the father, but he didn't want anything to do with her. When my daughter was 5, I got married, and my husband was the only father my daughter has known. She loves him, but she always had questions about her biological father that I couldn't answer. I eventually got divorced, and when my daughter was 18, she wrote a letter to Mike. They started corresponding, and he flew out to meet her. They developed a relationship. We did a DNA test because he needed proof to add her as beneficiary to his will and other things. When the test came back, it proved Mike was not her father. So now my daughter wants to go to Tom's house and meet him. What do I do?

—So Ashamed

Dear Ashamed,
The ultimate lesson here is that sometimes we invest way more than we should in that double helix. You saw the inherited resemblance between your daughter and Mike, even though it was nonexistent. He felt the pull of shared genes with a child who turned out not to be his daughter. I hope your daughter keeps this in mind as she makes (or doesn't) contact with her actual biological father. It sounds as if you know where Tom is and how to locate him. I think the first contact should come from you. Get a phone number, or if you have only an e-mail, reintroduce yourself and say you need to have a conversation that would go better on the phone. Then lay out the facts as you've explained them here. Add that your daughter is a wonderful young woman who was lucky enough to be raised by a loving stepfather, but she has always wanted to know her biological origins. Tell Tom that, of course, your daughter wants to undergo DNA testing to clarify paternity. Then see how he reacts. If he denies paternity or says he wants nothing to do with you and your daughter, explain that you know he must be stunned to hear this. Say that you'd like to give him some time to absorb the news, and you'll contact him again after he's had a chance to think about how to proceed. You also need to prepare your daughter that, though she may have fantasies about how this reunion should go, even people with whom you share 50 percent of your genes don't always live up to your expectations. I hope that despite your divorce, your daughter still has a good relationship with her stepfather. Because whatever a cheek swab reveals, her father is the man who raised her.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
I am a female law student who is employed for the summer (and potentially for the school year) at a small firm that I'm really enjoying. The law office shares a floor of an office building with a bigger law firm, and my cubicle is "on the border." All of the attorneys at both firms are male, but at the other firm, the men are far from politically correct. I have two issues: First, one of the attorneys, "Jerry," often makes comments to me about my appearance. These range from annoying but harmless ("Nice tan") to creepy ("I like that skirt," in a lecherous tone). I have tried to ignore him or subtly indicate his comments aren't welcome, but neither approach has worked. I'm tempted to speak to one of my firm's partners, but I fear it would make me look like a little girl running to a man to fight my battles. I'm also considering documenting all his comments until I have enough for a sexual harassment suit so I can make his firm pay for the legal education I used to nail it. Second, I overhear a lot of conversations I find highly offensive. The men are fond of using homosexuality-based insults, calling one another or opponents "fag" and "homo." The work environment is becoming so unpleasant that I wonder how long I can stand it. What should I do?

—Livid but Lost Law Student

Dear Livid,
I hope you don't view your law degree as a carte blanche to take to court everyone who makes you uncomfortable. If you tell a judge that getting the compliment "I like that skirt" made you unable to discharge your own legal duties, the conclusion may be that you need to find another line of work, not that the firm of Blowhard, Homophobe & Creep owes you a tuition check. The law firm you're working for likely won't be impressed with your enterprising spirit if they find out you've filed suit against the guys next door. Let's deal with Jerry. As you've discovered, being subtle isn't working. I assume your legal education is teaching you to state your position plainly, so do so. Next time Jerry comes over, tell him, "Jerry, I'd appreciate it if you would cease remarking on my appearance. I find your comments disruptive and your tone hostile. I hope you understand what I'm saying and that I won't have to say it again. Thanks." Only if he escalates should you take it to one of your partners, explaining that you've tried to deal with him yourself. As for the frat boys next door—get a sound-blocking headset if you must. Yes, their comments are repugnant, but you don't want to be the Carrie Nation of your floor. Let's hope this is resolved one day when a client of the firm who doesn't share their sensibilities overhears the office banter.

—Prudie

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Dear Prudence,
My 80-year-old father has just sent me a "friend" request on Facebook. I didn't even know the Web site was on his radar! I love my Dad, but we're not close; he's not a person I confide in or really get loose around. I'm thinking of the things that pass through my Facebook page—the dirty jokes, comments about spouses (he knows nothing about my relationship with my husband), the giving and asking of advice regarding kids (I tell him nothing about any problems my kids might be having—and it's much better that way). I will feel stifled in all of these areas if Dad gets involved, but I don't want to hurt his feelings. What should I do?

—Facebook Challenged

Dear Challenged,
What hath Mark Zuckerberg wrought? Only a few years ago, his Web site's purpose was to help college students see who was hot. Now it's the primary way for adopted children to announce their existence to unknowing relatives; for bored, married, middle-aged people to start affairs with their high-school classmates; and now for elderly parents to monitor their offspring's every "like." It's great that your father has entered the world of social networking, but it's fine that you don't want him to be part of your web. You have a couple of alternatives here. One is to accept his request but put so many privacy protections on it that he's in a friendship gulag, unable to observe what's really going on. Another is to have an actual, not virtual, conversation with him about this. Explain that for some people Facebook is a kind of billboard, and they want everyone they know to see everything that's going on in their lives. For you, it's a closed circle of a few close friends, and you use it mostly to communicate personal stuff to your contemporaries. Say being Facebook friends is not the way to go for the two of you, but that his request was a good reminder for you to send him more pictures and updates on the kids directly to his e-mail, and add that you'd enjoy hearing more from him.

—Prudie

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Dear Prudence,
I have been dating the love of my life for a year and a half, and we've recently become engaged. (We were friends for several years before.) This is the second marriage for us both. I am a widow in my 30s, and he is divorced and in his 40s. A dear friend recently expressed her concern to me that my fiance and I almost never argue. In all the time we've been together, we've had one or two disagreements, and they were minor. My friend thinks this is unhealthy and that most couples fight on a weekly basis. At first I blew her off, but now, thinking back to my previous marriage, I think she may be on to something. My late husband and I didn't argue weekly, but most definitely monthly, usually trivial spats over housework or child rearing. Is my new relationship doomed because my fiance and I don't take part in those little squabbles?

—To fight or Not To Fight?

Dear To Fight,
I imagine her other warning signs of doom are that you two are also sexually compatible, have similar spending habits, and enjoy the same leisure activities. Your dear friend sounds like a nut. If what keeps her relationship going is a weekly fling of the lamp at her beloved, that's between her, her husband, and the lighting fixture showroom. You have found the kind of haven most people can only fantasize about. Be grateful that you and your fiance have gotten another chance at love and that you've found such serenity with each other.

—Prudie

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