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

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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."