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I have just had devastating news: My 58-year-old second husband of two years has been having an affair with my 25-year-old daughter from my first marriage. I am in a state of utter shock. I had absolutely no idea that this was going on and feel heartbroken, betrayed, and furious at the two people I love most. They want to live together, but where does this leave me? I do not know what to do. Can you advise?
You are living a scenario right out of Woody Allen, only it’s a tragedy, not a farce. Allen himself is married to Soon-Yi Previn, the adopted daughter of Mia Farrow, who was Allen’s longtime companion and is the mother of three of his children. His son, Ronan Farrow, has cut off contact with Allen, explaining, “He's my father married to my sister. That makes me his son and his brother-in-law. That is such a moral transgression.” It must feel unbearable to find yourself in a parallel situation, realizing both your husband and daughter are morally repugnant. Without knowing any of the details about the relationships or personalities involved, one can only speculate about this couple. Perhaps your husband is just a sleazy sexual con artist. But though it hardly counts as good news, it may be that your daughter has an undiagnosed mental illness, possibly bipolar disorder. That disease can make people act in bizarre and self-destructive ways. Or perhaps she was sexually abused as a girl, feels you didn’t protect her, and is now acting out. Of course you’re in shock, and unfortunately there’s not much you can do except try to get through each day with the help of loyal friends and loved ones—and a good divorce lawyer. I hope you’re seeing a therapist so that you have a neutral party to vent to and help you deal with this pain. Perhaps you should think of what’s happened this way: Your husband and daughter were on a plane that’s gone missing. In the end your husband is going to be your ex and will be effectively dead to you. But if your daughter is mentally ill, maybe she eventually will be “found” and then slowly, painfully, you might be able to somewhat repair your relationship. If these two actually go on to shack up together, let’s hope no one who cares about you goes to their housewarming.
Dear Prudence: Studly Widower
My mother-in-law and my husband's stepfather are coming to visit my husband, my two young kids, and me at Christmas. They live across the country and we rarely see them, for which we count our blessings. My stepfather-in-law is a gruff man who has never really been around young children but has taken a great interest in our 4-year-old daughter. He wants her to perform for him and to hug him on command. He likes to find some toy around the house she wants and uses it to lure her close enough that he can grab her. During the last visit when he did this, she said nothing but looked at me like, “Save me, Mom!” I wish I had and intend to this time. My in-laws’ cultural background dictates that I should treat them like kings, although they treat me like dirt. I worry about a confrontation, but my daughter seemed to feel so violated and I feel terrible I was complicit. Should I prepare to say something this time?
—Want To Be My Child's Protector
This is turning out to be “sick stepfather” week. You must have heard the old novelty song, “All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth.” Your daughter could update the lyrics to, “All I Want for Christmas Is My Step-Grandfather Not To Molest Me.” It’s one thing to respect another’s culture, but if someone’s culture consists of, “You treat me like royalty, I treat you like a worm. Oh, and the dirty old man will terrify the granddaughter,” then that’s a culture gone rancid. The time to intervene is before the visitors descend. As I often say, when there’s conflict with the in-laws, it’s incumbent on their offspring to be the mediator. It sounds as if your husband shares your distress about the visit, so this means he needs to speak up—at the risk of offending his mother and stepfather—and set some rules. He should call them and explain the step-grandfather needs to keep his distance from your daughter because you both were uneasy with the way he handled her. Possibly this conversation itself will so offend them that they’ll cancel the visit. What a gift that would be! If they keep their plans, your husband could suggest they’d be more comfortable at a motel. Even if they won’t check into one, you should keep your daughter under constant surveillance and the step-grandfather at arms length. Do not be afraid to say, “Don’t touch her!” You will be letting your daughter know that her instinct was right, and that you are there to protect her. And you will be sending a message that this Christmas no one is getting away with being naughty.
My long-term girlfriend's stepfather paints nude pictures of her. He became her stepfather when she was 7 years old, but he didn’t start painting her until she was in her 20s. This is confusing and creepy to me. We are both in our early 30s. He's 80 and seems to be a down-to-earth, mellow fellow. We even have one of the paintings. It's a tasteful rendition of her backside with her face looking over her shoulder. I am an extremely liberal man, so posing nude doesn't bother me. But I didn’t start asking questions until Thanksgiving when he showed us the rest of the paintings, which included frontal portraits. It didn't feel right, but maybe it’s jealousy on my part. He paints other nude young women, so shouldn’t he just stick with them? I’m confused and can't figure out what it means in terms of the big picture.
—No Art for Art’s Sake
The big picture is a full-frontal nude of your girlfriend painted by her stepfather. I’m trying to understand how the tasteful portrait by the old guy of your beloved’s naked backside didn’t clue you in to the fact that she takes off her clothes and poses for him. That having his stepdaughter undress for him saves on model fees does not get this guy out of my trifecta of sordid stepfathers. I can’t help but wondering, as I’m sure you are, how that first session came to pass. You make no mention of your girlfriend’s mother. Maybe time and gravity have made her a less than ideal model in her husband’s eyes. But I’m trying to imagine her busying herself around the house while listening to her husband’s brush strokes as he renders her daughter on canvas. There seems to be a general lack of communication among all of you. But now that you’ve seen the artist’s oeuvre, it’s time you talked to your girlfriend about your discomfort. Tell her that posing nude doesn’t bother you, but it was concerning to you to realize she’s been a regular model for her stepfather. Then hear her out. And at least you don’t mention that the old guy likes to feature his work on the family’s Christmas card.
I am 27 years old and I live with my great boyfriend. The only odd thing in our household is that I still have a baby security blanket from when I was born. It is grey and tattered and is more of a knotted-up rag than anything else. I have always found comfort in rubbing the silk edges between my fingers when I am relaxing or going to bed. At first my blankey habit was a joke, but I think it is starting to skeeve my boyfriend out. I vowed to put it away for good, and hid it for six months, but have since unearthed it. I work from home and sometimes I hold it while I’m working. My boyfriend groans when he comes home and sees me pretending I wasn't just sitting with it, or when it finds it under our pillows. Part of me wonders why I can't break the habit. Another part thinks it just a piece of cloth and no big deal. Am I nuts?
—Too Old To Be Linus
I wish you could spare a few inches of blankey—I could use it today. Humans have always relied on amulets and talismans for the sense of comfort and protection they bring. When things get stressful, it sounds nice to be able to stroke a piece of a silky rag you’ve had your entire life. That you were able to put it away shows that you can function without it, but it’s not nuts to conclude that life is just better with a little piece of blankey by your side. Maybe your boyfriend has a “lucky” tie he always wears to important events, or has some little good luck charms on his desk or dresser. In any case, part of being in a great relationship is accepting each other’s harmless quirks and eccentricities. You can tell him that you’ve thought a lot about blankey, and that after discussing it with blankey, you and blankey both agree that blankey is staying with you.
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"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.