Dear Prudence: My father-in-law might be a pedophile.

Advice on manners and morals.
Sept. 1 2011 7:12 AM

Give Grandpa a Kiss-Off?

A creeping suspicion tells me to keep my father-in-law away from my kids. Should I listen to it?

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Dear Prudence,
I'm a mother of two attending graduate school and constantly in need of quiet time to study. My husband is a great help, but with two toddlers he's got his hands full. His father often asks to take our daughter to help "lighten the load" but doesn't ask to take our son, as well. I don't like my father-in-law because of comments he's made about women in general and me in particular. He has also served time for drug-related offenses earlier in his life. But I don't want my feelings to taint my children's view of their grandfather. He's recently converted to a neo-Buddhist religion in which he "lives in the now" and tries to get everyone around him to be "enlightened" and forgiving about things that happened in the past. I keep getting this strange notion that something is inherently evil about this man, though he's tried hard to convince everyone that he's a new person. Do you think that people can really change in such a significant way that it'd be safe to let him spend time with my kids? Or should I trust my instincts and allow only supervised visits or no contact? My husband doesn't like his father but humors him so that he doesn't "have to deal with him."

—Conflicted Mother

Dear Conflicted,
Sure, people can change. Perhaps your father-in-law has gone from being a drug-dealing felon to a Buddhist pedophile. * One clue that you're dealing with someone with big problems who needs to change but hasn't actually changed is how much effort he puts into convincing everyone he has changed and suggesting "the past" is a construct that must be transcended. There's something ominous in the way your father-in-law wants to "lighten your load" by taking his toddler granddaughter, but not his grandson. You've done a good job of making me shudder at the implication of what he may have in mind when he relieves you of your little girl. It's perfectly possible he's not sexually attracted to toddlers; it's also possible he's trying to lay down a protocol of frequent sleepovers by his granddaughter so he doesn't arouse suspicion when she gets to an age he finds more desirable. I'm indulging in these thoughts because you say convincingly that he gives off a vibe of being "inherently evil." You must follow your gut and not allow him to be alone with the children. It's true that gut instincts can be wrong. Maybe all your father-in-law wants to do is teach your daughter how to bake brownies. (In that case, why can't your son go along?) If those are his intentions, then your daughter will have missed some chocolaty treats and good times with grandpa. But if your instincts are right, you will be saving your daughter from possibly being scarred for life.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence: I'm Dating a Chimney!

Dear Prudie,
My boyfriend used my laptop one afternoon, and the browser stored a few of his passwords. The next time I accessed the Internet, I was able to log in to his email and Facebook accounts. I snooped around and found messages from the last few months in which he had contacted past girlfriends or women he appears to have dated. He got in touch with an ex who is overseas, apologizing for the way things ended and discussing racy videos of them together. He asked her to visit. He also asked a number of local women if they would like to go hiking, to the movies, or to dinner. Most of them responded, "Please don't contact me again." I don't know what to do. We've been together for two years and I could see myself marrying him. I trust him completely and have never had reason to be suspicious. If I admit to snooping, he will be hurt and offended. I've had to be apart from him for the last three months, and he's assured me he hasn't felt lonely or neglected. Should I let what I've discovered slide, or am I setting myself up to be hurt?

—Curiosity Killed the Cat

Dear Cat,
I suppose it could be a comfort to conclude that your boyfriend is probably not actually cheating on you because he's such a creep that the other women he pursues beg him to get lost. Of course he hasn't felt lonely while you've been away, because he's been so busy seeking female company. You say you trust him completely, yet something prompted you to run a little fidelity check, and you hit the lothario jackpot. It's hard to realize the person you've been with for a long time, and whom you thought you had a future with, is a deceitful skirt-chaser. Please stop worrying that he's going to be hurt and offended. Acknowledge to him that you snooped—then say the ethics of your actions are for another discussion. What you two need to talk about now is the fact that he appears to be putting all his time into trying to be unfaithful to you. Unless he can make a convincing case that yet someone else got access to his account and created a fake persona modeled on Dominique Strauss-Kahn, there's no other conclusion you can draw. Given your discoveries, you've got to recognize your trust in him is broken. Ultimately, though, it sounds as if you're going to have to join that burgeoning group of women who tell your boyfriend, "Get out and stay out of my life."

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
I'm about to travel to my best friend's wedding. It's going to be a small ceremony with about 20 guests, and I will be the maid of honor. The bride's mother, "Amy," passed away a year and a half ago. Amy always treated me like her daughter, and I feel as though I should acknowledge her during my toast, particularly since Amy's wishes are the only reason my dear friend is having a "real" wedding and not eloping. At the same time, I don't want to cast a pall over the day or make the bride's father (and his new girlfriend!) feel uncomfortable. Is there any way I can tactfully give Amy her due during my toast, or should I avoid the subject entirely?

—A Reluctant Maid of Honor

Dear Reluctant,
Everyone there is going to be aware of the void where the bride's mother should be, and not mentioning her is only going to make the hole seem bigger. You can put into words what everyone is thinking, and if a few tears flow, it will probably be a relief that allows people to better experience the joy of the day. Start your toast the traditional way, talking about the bride and groom. Then you can bring up Amy. You can say something like: "As happy as all of us are for Brad and Nicole, many of us are missing someone much beloved, who wanted more than anything to see her daughter walk down the aisle: Nicole's mother, Amy. Let me tell you a little bit about Amy and what kind of mother she was." Then briefly tell a story or two about Nicole and Amy. You can sum up by saying, "Amy was the kind of person who would be happy to know that life has gone on for those she loved most. And while we mourn her, today she would want us to celebrate." My only caveat is that you should check in with your friend about acknowledging her mother. I hope she doesn't say no because she might cry or because it might make her father's girlfriend uncomfortable. There's nothing wrong with dabbing your eyes because your mother can't be at your wedding. And if the girlfriend can't handle a tribute to the woman who came before, I hope she's a short-timer.

—Prudie

Dear Prudie,
Recently while walking in the New York theater district, my boyfriend found $80 on the sidewalk. The area was crowded, and we did not see who dropped it. I would have kept it, since the odds of finding its original owner were virtually zero. However, my boyfriend was uncomfortable keeping money that wasn't his. Since we were just a few feet from a busy theater, he decided to turn it in at the front door on the off chance the owner of the cash was seeing the show and would come looking for it. I think it's more likely that the ticket-taker to whom we gave the money kept it and hopefully treated his wife to a nice dinner. We're not rich, but neither one of us is losing sleep over $80 that was never ours to begin with. What should we have done?

—Girlfriend of a Good Samaritan

Dear Girlfriend,
Your boyfriend didn't keep the money, but he sounds like a keeper. It does seem to make sense that if you find a wad of cash on a busy sidewalk, it will never be reunited with its owner and it's yours. But of course there are laws that govern such things. It turns out you are supposed to try  to return such lost property. That can mean taking it to a police station, and if it is not claimed in a given amount of time, it reverts to you. It does seem unreasonable to have to set off on this errand, and I'd like to see the look on the officer's face who books the $80. In addition, anyone who realizes they've dropped $80 on a New York sidewalk and thinks it's going to be waiting for them at the nearest precinct house does not belong in New York. But your boyfriend's decision to hand it in at the box office was elegant and appears to have fulfilled his legal obligation as well as the spirit of good citizenship. I agree with you that it likely ended up in the ticket-taker's pocket, but so what? It was worth it to know that if your boyfriend had lived in ancient Greece, Diogenes would have found his honest man.

—Prudie

Correction, Sept. 6, 2011: This sentence originally used the term pederast instead of the more appropriate word pedophile. (Return to the corrected sentence.)

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More Dear Prudence Columns

"Big Love: I met a great woman online, but I'm not attracted to her body type. Is our blooming connection doomed?" Posted April 21, 2011.
"I'll Have What the Toddler's Having: Dear Prudence advises a woman whose partner eats only unsophisticated kids' food." Posted April 14, 2011.
"Dating a Cyber Snooper: My boyfriend hacked into my email and now uses my sexual past against me. Should we break up?" Posted April 7, 2011.
"A War of Words: I'm proud of my Marine brother. What do I say when people denigrate the military?" Posted March 31, 2011.

More Dear Prudence Chat Transcripts

"My In-Laws Should Be Outlawed: Dear Prudence offers advice on overly critical, criminal-minded, and cringe-worthy in-laws during a live chat at Washingtonpost.com." Posted April 18, 2011.
"Baby on Board: Dear Prudence advises a mom weary of rude subway riders interfering with her baby's commute—in a live chat at Washingtonpost.com." Posted April 11, 2011.
"Let's Tie the NOT! Dear Prudence advises a reader whose mate is reluctant to wed, even after five years and a baby together—in a live chat at Washingtonpost.com." Posted April 4, 2011.
"Awkward Family Photos: Dear Prudence advises a reader who accidentally sent sexy self-portraits to her in-laws—in a live chat at Washingtonpost.com." Posted March 28, 2011.

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