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When my brother and I were children, our parents were friends with another married couple, "Bob" and "Helen." Bob and Helen were frequent guests, and the two couples often traveled together. In my early teens, my family moved across the country, and Bob and Helen disappeared from our lives. Years passed. Last month, my parents were killed in a car accident. At the funeral, I was approached by an older couple who identified themselves as Bob and Helen. They asked if my brother and I would have dinner with them before they left. At the end of the meal, Helen revealed that she and Bob were swingers, and my parents had been their partners! She went on to say they'd had a falling out, and my parents had moved us across the country and cut off contact. She said they felt very parental toward us and wanted to be involved in our lives. My brother and I babbled something and fled. They contacted me a few days later, and I politely told them neither one of us wants further contact. Bob got very hateful and said that my parents had filmed several "sessions" of the four of them, and if my brother and I didn't turn over the footage, we'd regret it. Bob has since been hounding my brother and me by phone and mail, threatening to let anyone who will listen know of our parents' history with them unless we comply. Is this a matter for the police, or would they laugh us out the door? The prospect of cleaning out my parents' home has gotten even bleaker, as I fear what every old VHS tape may hold. Then there's the larger issue, which is trying to fathom how my parents lived this life for so many years. Help, please!
—Too Much Information
Dear Too Much,
How grotesque that on the day you buried both your parents, a pair of wizened swingers showed up to intrude on your grief and start the process of blackmailing you. These people are so toxic and despicable that no wonder your parents fled to the other side of the continent. I understand dealing with the shock of your loss, and handling their estate, is consuming enough. But in order to get this repulsive twosome out of your lives for good, it's worthwhile for you to retain the services of a lawyer. I talked to Washington, D.C., criminal defense attorney Danya Dayson about your options. She said there's a good chance that a cease-and-desist letter on legal letterhead arriving at the home of this oversexed, over-the-hill pair will be all you'll need. The letter can explain that unless they make a second, and final, disappearance from your lives, you will pursue further legal options. Depending on your jurisdiction, this could include obtaining a civil restraining order or possibly even letting prosecutors make Bob and Helen's acquaintance. As for their threat to tell "anyone who would listen" about your deceased parents' love lives, presumably all your parents' friends and family members would have the same reaction: "If you ever contact me again, I'll call the police."
A while ago, I ran a letter from a woman who couldn't bear to dispose of a sex tape she and her late husband had made, but she also couldn't stand the thought of her children finding it if she died suddenly. In response, clever readers suggested that all older people label such tapes "Matlock, Season Four" or "The Best of Hee-Haw." That way, the kids will toss them directly in the trash. You actually don't know if these alleged sex tapes ever existed. If they did, it's likely they didn't make it onto the moving van for that cross-country trek. If you find any VHS tapes in your parents' house, just put them in a box for now. Finally, you don't have to try to make sense of what your parents may have been doing in the rec room when you kids had gone to sleep. Just know that even those we think we know best have the capacity to surprise us. And maybe someday you can even smile about the fact that behind your parents' Ozzie and Harriet façade was something wild.
Dear Prudence: Keep Your Hands to Yourself
My father is retiring after more than 60 years in the same business; for more than 30 of those years, my husband and I have worked with him. Our annual holiday party is going to be a roast and a farewell. Many of the employees have worked with my father for decades, and everyone's excited about the party. The problem is that my sister, who's not in the business and lives out of town, is bringing her boyfriend, who will be celebrating his "birthday weekend," which she wants acknowledged at the party. I told her we would have a brunch the next morning and do something for her boyfriend then, but it would be inappropriate to celebrate the boyfriend's birthday at my father's retirement, especially since no one from work knows him. She's extremely upset and thinks this reflects on how I feel about her boyfriend. She said all she wanted was a cupcake and rendition of "Happy Birthday" at my father's party. Now she and her boyfriend aren't coming. I asked her to reconsider, as Dad was so excited she was coming, but she just cried and screamed about how out of line I am. Am I wrong?
—Retirement Yes, Birthday No
Given that your father has been in business for 60 years, the most amazing thing about your letter is that, apparently, he also has a 5-year-old daughter, because that's about how old your sister is acting. Let me take a guess that her behavior is not wholly out of character. Perhaps it's been going on for the last 30 years or so, since she probably has built up some major resentment over what, from her worm's eye view, looks like your worming your way into the family business. Normally my advice in such situations is to say, "I can't accommodate your wishes. We would love to have you attend, but if you can't, we will miss you." However, your father is a very old man and you say it would mean a lot to him to have both his daughters there. So, just this once, I say give in to her and toss in a cupcake and a song for these middle-aged spoiled brats. It actually will be kind of amusing when your family starts singing, "Happy birthday, dear Sidney," and the entire crowd murmurs, "Who the hell is Sidney?"
My wife and I are in our 40s and happily married. My wife has always had problems taking criticism from authority and has never kept a job for more than two years. She recently decided she wants a "low-stress" job, so she took a position at a fast-food restaurant. I don't particularly understand this decision, but I support what she wants. The problem is that I work at a snooty advertising agency. All my co-workers' spouses are lawyers, doctors, and accountants. When people inevitably ask what my wife does, the conversation gets extremely awkward. They usually think I am joking, and it goes downhill from there. How do I talk about this situation?
Despite your wife's personality quirks, you obviously love and accept her. Try to convey those feelings when you give information about your wife's employment to your snooty colleagues. Make clear that you're not embarrassed by what she does for a living. Unless you work at the world's largest advertising agency, surely the word will get around quickly, and you'll stop being asked. And these days, there are plenty of Ph.D.'s behind the Frialator to keep your wife company. However, if she has the education and training to do more challenging work, perhaps you should encourage her to see a professional. Talk therapy might help, or perhaps if she got her serotonin selectively inhibited on the reuptake, she would stop fighting authority, because in her case, authority always wins.