I Can't Relate
My estranged half-sister wants to get to know me, but I'm afraid my parents won't approve.
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My sister and I, both women in our 20s, found out a few years ago that we have a half-sister from an affair my father had when we were young. My mother knew of the affair and the child, and my parents paid child support for this half-sister throughout her childhood. My mother forgave my father, and he has always been wonderful to my sister and me. However, now the half-sister is eager to have a relationship with me and my sister. We are hesitant because we don't want to upset our mother. The half-sister is not being overbearing, but she let us know that she is pregnant and would like us to be a part of our soon-to-be-nephew's life. She's asked if we've told our father that she's expecting. I don't think it's our place to mention this news to our father. As far as I know, my father, having completed child-support payments, has not kept up with this other daughter and doesn't wish to be a part of her life. I feel that if the half-sister wants him to know about his grandchild, she should contact him directly and discreetly. Then again, I'd hate for my mother to open a letter and be forced to remember something she may prefer not to think about. If I decide I want a relationship with my half-sister, how can I go about it in a way that doesn't hurt my family?
—In the Middle
Dear in the Middle,
Your father may have been a wonderful parent to two of his daughters, but for his third daughter he was nothing more than a check in the mail. It's understandable that in order to save his marriage he kept his out-of-wedlock child away from his "real" family. Possibly this was a demand made by your mother; certainly it was a stance she supported. But however much people would like to wish away inconvenient children, your father had a moral obligation to be a father to all his daughters. Your mother may not have wanted a corporeal reminder of her husband's infidelity, but she needed to accept that an innocent child should not have been punished because her husband behaved badly. Your half-sister is turning to you because your father—his child-support duties discharged—has closed the books on her. But this woman exists, she's going to have your nephew and your father's grandchild, and it's time for everyone to deal with this honestly and compassionately. You and your sister should sit down with your parents and explain that your half-sister has turned to you because she doesn't know how to reach her own father. You can say you know she will always be a source of pain but that she's having a child, and you don't think another generation should have to pay the price of a mistake made a long time ago. And if you want to make a connection with this half-sister, do so. You can tell your parents about your intention, but you don't need their permission.
Dear Prudence: Credit Hog's Inflated Résumé
Last year I started working as a clerical assistant in a large law firm. Every St. Patrick's Day the office throws a big bash for all of our clients. Everyone in the office received an invitation, and I was excited about attending. However, a week before the party, the clerical staff received an e-mail asking us to sign up to work during the event checking coats. Apparently it is standard practice for clerical staff to work at this party, but I was shocked. Last year I did the work, but I'm torn about what to do this year. Do you think it is appropriate for the company to hand out invitations and then tell us we can attend only if we work? Should I swallow my pride and go again this year and work, or should I make up some excuse to stay home?
—Got My Irish Up
This is one of those social events that actually isn't a real party, but work disguised to look like fun. As you note, it is a bash your firm throws for the clients. Providing food, liquor, and good cheer is a way your place of employment thanks and encourages the people who pay the bills to think fondly of your bosses when it comes time to make decisions about where to send their legal business. Don't confuse this event with your interoffice Christmas party, which is a celebration for the employees. You feel stung by the class distinction inherent in the clerical workers being expected to haul around coats while the lawyers laugh it up. But understand that it is the lawyers' relationships with the clients that make your employment possible. Surely, if everyone in your department divides up the coat duties, all of you will also have a chance to grab a beer and mingle. Think of the party as a break from your usual duties. And if you want someone to serve you with a smile on St. Patrick's Day, go out later to an Irish bar.
My son's fiancee has become a true bridezilla during her wedding planning. I'm paying for an expensive gown that she selected for me, not of my choice, in a color—dark brown—that looks horrible on me. The bridesmaids are all in bright colors and the older women in dark shades she picked. I was told that an alternative color, which would have looked better on me, was not in her palette. I design textiles, so I know what works on my over-voluptuous body. Is it now common practice for brides to tell the parents what to wear for weddings? She has also been obnoxious with me on several matters that were out of my control. I hope it is just prenuptial madness and that she will return to the sweet young woman I knew before all this wedding planning began.
—Biting My Tongue
Despite your hope for her personality restoration, even if your daughter-in-law returns from the honeymoon all sweetness again, you will have a bitter taste about her for quite a while to come. It used to be that "wedding colors" were pretty simple: The bride wore white. Sometime in recent years, however, getting married has become like an episode of a crazed decorating show with family and friends being treated as if they are animated paint chips. No, brides do not tell their elders, especially a future mother-in-law, what to wear. Women old enough to have children who are starting their own married lives are assumed to be capable of picking out their own clothing. I hope you have time to cancel the dress. You should do so and explain to your future daughter-in-law with as much restraint as you can muster, "Lindsay, darling, I love you very much, and I am thrilled that Jeremy is marrying you. But I'm afraid the dress you've chosen for me makes me look and feel like a large, sad Tootsie Roll. So I'm going to choose my own dress, and I assure you it will be appropriate. I know wedding planning is stressful, but we're going to be part of each other's lives for a long time. So it's important that we get through this period with as much humor and kindness toward each other as we can muster."