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My parents went on vacation and my father asked me to answer email from a client on his behalf, because he was cut off from the Internet. While searching for the relevant emails, I came across a couple of messages that had subject lines such as, "Hi Dad, I love you." These were not from my siblings. I dug through his inbox and found several messages from what sounded like a teenage girl calling my father “Dad.” I also found a few angry emails from the same address that I’m assuming were from the girl's mother. My parents have been married for almost 40 years, and I had always assumed they were happy. I don't know whether to tell my siblings—we’re all adults—about this, confront my father, or reveal this to my mom. My mother is completely dependent on my father financially and emotionally. I am going to be married soon and this makes me lose all faith in marriage and relationships. My father was my hero both as a husband and father, and if he is this sleazy I am not sure how my fiance and I stand a chance. Do my siblings have a right to know what going on? What is the path of least harm?
Your father was responsible for opening this Pandora’s inbox when he gave you access to his email. You and your siblings are entitled to know whether you have a half-sister, and she’s entitled to be known by all of you. If your father indeed has fathered a child who is now a teenager, think of the years of subterfuge it has taken to keep this girl hidden. Then he goes and leaves a trail of “Hi, Dad” emails for you to find. Perhaps blowing this secret wasn’t his intention, but that’s the result, and the first thing you should do when your father returns is ask him what’s going on. If your suspicions are confirmed, then explain to him that it’s time he told the rest of the family—that includes your mother—but if he won’t, you will. It is pernicious to deny the existence of your own children. Of course this will shake the foundation of your parents’ marriage. But preserving the deceit for your mother’s sake is not worth the emotional cost to your half-sister. This potential revelation has also shaken your belief in marriage. But if you are old enough to be married yourself, then you know that even if your parents’ marriage was ideal, that does not mean you get a replay of it. Nor, if their marriage was terrible, are you condemned to repeat it. You also say that your mother is completely dependent on your father. As you contemplate your own union, surely you long ago realized that is a perilous position and you don’t want to be that kind of wife. This news will test your family, but it will also be a good test of your own relationship. I hope your fiance will be a source of support and comfort as you deal with the fallout from the possibility that your family has expanded by one teenager.
Dear Prudence: Dating Adonis
I’m have been babysitting little girls, ages 2 and 5, for about two years. The parents, while very loving with their children, are constantly arguing, even in front of me. Recently, the youngest, "Emma," told me, "I don't like my daddy." I asked her why and she said, "Because he's mean to my mommy." To which the older sister, "Elizabeth," responded, "He's not mean, he's just intense!" (his normal explanation for his behavior.) Last week, the parents were arguing again, and after they left, Elizabeth told me, "Sometimes I go under the table and say funny things, like, 'Stop arguing, Mom!' " Emma seemed on the verge of tears. I really care for these children, and it breaks my heart to hear them say things like that. Do I bring it up to the parents, and if so, what do I say? I really dread such an awkward and uncomfortable conversation. And so you know, I am an adult, not a teenage babysitter.
—To Tell or Not To Tell?
My parents fought nonstop. Sometimes my father would stay home from work so they could fight around the clock. There was violence and abuse, too, but as I look back, the relentless arguing—you’d think they would have exhausted themselves!—was one of the most destructive parts of my childhood. In my first week of college, late one night, I was falling asleep in the dorm when I heard a high-pitched female voice. I started to stuff my sheets in my ears to block out the sound of another fight, then I realized it was a classmate down the hall laughing. I was flooded with relief that I’d never have to listen to my parents again. I wish someone had said something to my parents about how damaging their fighting was to their children, even though I know it wouldn’t have made any difference to them. But maybe it will to this couple. You are in a good position to observe the deleterious effect the fighting is having on these little girls, and you are employed to care for them. I think you should speak up, but if you do, you have to be prepared to be fired. (If you are a loving, reliable adult who enjoys babysitting, you should have little trouble finding another family.) The next time you’re scheduled to babysit tell the parents you’d like to come a few minutes early to talk with them. Then sit down privately and say you’ve noticed that their fighting is very upsetting to the girls. Explain that you understand they may see your remarks as being out of place, but you hope they’ll consider the effect of their conflict on the children. Then you’ve done what you can do. As for the girls, if they bring up their worries to you, tell them that you know it is upsetting to see grown-ups fight and you’re sorry they have to hear it.
I am in my late 20s and recently moved in with a new roommate who owns a dog. She just told me she would be away visiting family for a week during Thanksgiving, and since I was staying in town asked if I’d watch the dog while she was gone. I told her I’m not getting the whole week off and that I can’t come home during the day—as she does—to let the dog out. She said that was fine and I could just walk him first thing in the morning and come home right after work. I said I’d let her know. But I don't want to wake up early to walk it, and I don't want to have to rush home after work, especially since I have a lot of athletic and social activities. I understand that this sounds selfish, but I don’t have a pet because I don’t want the responsibility. Is there an unwritten rule that if you move in with a dog owner you are expected to pitch in? What should I do?