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Many years ago, after a girlfriend and I broke up, she had a baby at age 18. Over the years, I heard rumors that I was the father, although the little girl was told someone else was her biological father. I decided that if the girl ever learned the truth and decided to contact me, I would be receptive. I'm now in my 40s and married with two small children. Before I married, I told my future wife about this situation. When my daughter became an adult, her mother told her the truth; my daughter contacted me, and we met. I also wrote an email to her mother, who felt guilty for not telling me. I was heavily into drugs as a young man, and I told her she made the best out of a bad situation. My daughter is an interesting and good person. The problem is my wife: She is hysterical about this. I was open about meeting my daughter the first time, but when I got back, she was in tears about my "new family." I have since met my daughter secretly, while my wife was visiting relatives. I feel sleazy about that. I'd like to be open about the fact that she's my daughter. She has expressed an interest in meeting my sons, and I know they would love having a sister, but my wife would freak out. What is particularly inexplicable is that my wife's father abandoned her. I would think a biological father trying to do the right thing would be pleasing to her, but this is not the case. What can I do?
—New and Old Dad
Before this goes any further, you should establish that you actually are the father. It's great you want your daughter in your life, but you need to confirm that's who she is. Suggesting a paternity test should not be insulting but reassuring. Assuming she is yours, it would be helpful if your wife would keep in mind that she is not finding out about a love child you fathered during your marriage. She is not even finding out about a secret child you had before you met her. You warned her that one day a young woman might walk into your lives, so she should have been prepared—or as prepared as one can be—for this eventuality. But human psychology can be a perverse thing. Certainly a woman who was abandoned by her father should encourage her husband to be a father to his out-of-wedlock child. But it sounds as if you daughter's arrival has taken your wife back to the trauma of her own abandonment. Irrational as it is, your "new family" brought back fears she'd be left behind again. The solution is not for you to cut this daughter out of your life, or to sneak around to see her, but to deal with this as forthrightly as possible. Gently tell your wife you understand your daughter's sudden arrival has stirred up all sorts of difficult feelings. Reassure her that a new family is the furthest thing from your mind—after all, your daughter is already a grown woman. But you would like to make a place for her with your family, especially as a big sister. If your wife remains unhinged, suggest the two of you see a counselor to help you figure out how best to incorporate this new addition into your happy family.
Dear Prudence: Facebook Photo Flub?
Six years ago, I learned my parents were on the brink of a second bankruptcy and the bank was taking back my childhood home. My brother and I bought the home from the bank and fixed it up. A year later, our parents divorced after 30 years. Mom moved out. Dad stayed and continues to pay rent. I live far away and usually see Dad only when I visit my brother. On a recent trip to my hometown, I told Dad I wanted to visit with him, but he made an excuse and left town. I stopped by the house anyway. When I looked in the windows, I could see trash stacked floor to ceiling. A toilet is completely missing. A sink is torn from the wall. A small path winds through the garbage from one room to the next. While I do care about my investment in the house, my bigger concern is my father's emotional health. I have no idea how to approach this topic or how to find help for Dad—we're not close, anyway. What should I do?
—Stacked With Emotions
Your father is mentally ill, and hoarding is hard to treat. Often it gets out of control after a traumatic event, such as a divorce. I know approaching your father about this seems painful, and he's embarrassed about how he's living. But sooner or later the house is going to start to smell, the neighbors are going to call the police, and possibly the property will be condemned. Alternately, your father could be crushed under his own debris like one of the Collyer brothers. You and your brother bought the home to help your parents. The property is benefiting no one if your father is destroying your investment and living in squalor. You should contact an attorney who can help you sort out your legal situation. You need to get your father out of the house and have it cleaned up. Possibly you and your brother need to become your father's legal guardian. At the very least, he needs a full physical and mental evaluation—many hoarders have multiple medical diagnoses, including, commonly, drinking problems. The best Father's Day gift you could give is for you and your brother to start digging your father out of this mess.
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