Q. My Parents' Marriage Is a Lie: My parents have the most incredible marriage. My whole life I've looked up to them as a model example of a strong and happy relationship. Needless to say, they are loving and supportive parents as well. Dad is just as close to my half sister (who was from mom's first marriage) as he is to me and people are amazed to hear we're a blended family. Then I discovered something that changed my entire view of my parents. It turns out that when my mom and dad met, they were married to other people. The affair started when my sister was a baby, and continued for three years, until they each divorced their former spouses and married each other. What was equally shocking was that dad has a son from a previous marriage and he stopped seeing him altogether. I didn't even know I had a half brother through dad. I always presumed people who have affairs or men who ditch their kids are scum, and it turns out my parents did exactly that. What's worse, I found out accidentally (they didn't have the guts to tell me), and when I went to them to see if there was some kind of justification—anything—well, there wasn't any. They met, left their spouses and even a child, and married each other. Dad said he tried to see his son initially but "just lost touch with him" over the years. It makes no sense to me. I feel like our whole family is based on lies and betrayal. I feel sick and guilty that I had my father at the expense of my half brother. My parents apologized profusely for not telling me. How can I restore respect I once had for my parents?
A: It can remake your understanding of the world to discover the people you always thought were paragons are actually flawed—even profoundly flawed—people. Your parents ended up with the right partners—sometimes marriages cannot be saved—but at a high price. Even so, "losing touch" is simply not a justification for abandoning a child. You have found out what how your parents met, your parents have apologized for keeping it from you, but that's not the end of the discussion. It’s the beginning. You don't want your relationship with your parents to revolve around this, but you need to tell them you would appreciate it that now that this information is out, it's no longer taboo. Explain there's a lot you're trying to process, and you could start with your half brother. Consider whether you want to reach out to him, and discuss with your parents and sister how to go about this. Talking this out, and the issues that have been raised, with a family counselor, could be a good way to begin this new phase of your family life.
Q. Re: Difficult co-worker: Thanks so much for taking my question. I will go back to HR. Your comment was very prescient: on Friday this co-worker actually did tell me I was as pretty as a doll. Yuck.
A: Amazing, and yes, yuck. Get HR on this case.
Q. Family Relationships: My husband's brother, Bob, has been in a relationship with a woman, Sandy, for over 40 years. That's not a typo: They are now in their late 50s and have "dated" off and (mostly) on ever since college, but never married. Sandy is a lovely person and I think of her as my sister-in-law. She attends family events and celebrates major holidays with us. Our daughters even call her Aunt Sandy. Recently, Bob was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and the prognosis is not good. He asked my husband to help him get his affairs in order and to be executor of his will. My husband told me that except for his car and some furniture, Bob is leaving all his estate to our daughters to help with college expenses. I was shocked and assumed Sandy should get the bulk of Bob's estate, given all that she has done and meant to him. Even now, she is taking care of him during his illness which would cost a fortune if he had to pay for such care. I realize Bob wants to leave a legacy, but we've been saving for our daughter's educations, so the money, while a help, will not make the difference as to whether our girls attend college. But it would mean a lot to Sandy who is a retired schoolteacher with a small pension. I have encouraged my husband to discuss this with Bob and convince him that he should leave more to Sandy than a 1999 Jeep and a brown futon. My husband says that his job is to follow Bob's wishes and he feels that talking about this with him is not appropriate. Everyone is pretty emotional about the diagnosis now, but I think this needs to be discussed soon. Am I off base?
A: Poor Bob, and poor Sandy. Of course as he's facing death your husband wants to support his brother, not challenge him. But since Bob's announced what he's planning to do with his estate, he's raised it as an issue, and it's fair for your husband to discuss it with him. He can tell Bob how moved he is that Bob wants to help his nieces this way. But he can also reassure him that there are funds for their education. Then your husband can tell Bob all of you are concerned for Sandy. Your husband can explain that because you all love her, you hope Bob will consider leaving her a larger portion of his estate. Since any money to Sandy goes against your family's interest, this will make a pretty compelling case.
Q. Confessions: I had the hardest time accepting that my boyfriend of eight years broke up with me. I begged him to take me back and was devastated when I discovered he started dating again within a couple of weeks. In my heartbroken and crazy state I lied and told him I was pregnant. He didn't get back with me immediately as I hoped, but said he wanted to reconsider our relationship for the sake of the "baby." Shortly afterward I realized how crazy I was. I told him I had a miscarriage because I was too embarrassed to tell him the truth. He is a good guy and he checked on me a few times after that to be sure I was okay. It's been a few months since we last had contact but I feel awful about the lie I told. I don't want him to go around for the rest of his life thinking he lost a child. I know I have to confess—but how? I feel so embarrassed and angry at myself for doing something so stupid.
A: Good for you for seeing that your devastation temporarily deranged you. Send him a brief note saying you owed him the truth, and that you're sorry that in your pained state you mislead him.
Q. Re: Mistress Daughter: It also could be that the daughter is so uncomfortable talking about the specifics of her affair with her mother that she is minimizing any discussion with mom, and may feel entirely different than mom is presuming. The difference between daughter and father is that father apparently never left mom, while daughter is now in a relationship with a man who chose to separate from his wife. Now that the die is cast, what does mom want? She wants the daughter to behave in the way she wants, and she has no qualms about using her money as a weapon to make everyone toe the line. What she's going to do is to drive a wedge between herself and her daughter and any children this daughter may have with her "unsuitable" partner, as well as between her daughter and her other children (presuming they also don't "disappoint" mom). Remember that YOU raised her. She's still your child.
A: Let me make clear that I hope mom is planning to keep quiet about her musings over her estate planning. I'm normally in favor of dividing estates equally—unless there are overwhelming reasons (a child with a disability, say) to do otherwise. Mom can eventually do what she likes with her estate, but I think she should not make any decisions about that now. And yes, working out her own anger at her husband on her daughter is very unpleasant.
Q. Puppy Problems: I'm hoping you can help my husband and me with a puppy problem. A few months ago my husband surprised me with our first puppy. George is a 6-month-old bichon-Maltese mix, and I honestly couldn't ask for another dog as easy to train or as amazingly well-behaved. This is the first dog either of us has ever had so we aren't sure how to deal with this current problem. George is left alone for about six hours twice a week. I just don't feel right putting him a cage for that long and he's a small enough dog (12 pounds) that our master bathroom has more than enough room for him to be comfortable and safe in. It's appropriately puppy-proofed and he's stocked with food, water, a puppy pad, and his favorite toys. It's worked out very well until twice last week we came home to discover that he'd figured out how to turn the water on in the tub! I hate the idea of putting him in a kennel for six hours but I'm scared he'll hurt himself if he doesn't stop. Do you or your readers have any advice?
A: Your puppy wants to freshen himself with a bath before you come home, but he's too young to be left alone for that long. See if there is doggie day care (which is different from a kennel) near you for those days you're gone, or pay for a dog walker to take George out for attention and relief.
Emily Yoffe: Thanks, everyone. Talk to you next week.