My husband has a brother, "Tim," who has always hated my husband. I tried to make peace with Tim but concluded that he is twisted and miserable. For a long time, nothing made him happier than causing us pain or driving a wedge between us and the rest of the family. At my in-laws' request, we kept any good news—promotions, awards, vacations—secret from Tim because these would send him into a downward spiral. Still, his rages ruined most family events, and he made snide comments to me from across the dinner table. Then Tim met a woman. At age 40 he married and evened out emotionally. It has been several years since he threw a tantrum, and in front of his wife he is on best behavior. The family is overjoyed. I would be, too, if it weren't for a strange new development: Tim has taken an inordinate interest in my young daughter. He fawns over and dotes on her, and she adores him. The family thinks their closeness is wonderful and bridges the rift between brothers. To me it seems sinister. I recently learned that my mother-in-law has been taking my daughter to see Tim without my knowledge. She says it's his right to see his niece, but I don't think anyone who can barely speak to me should be hanging out with my child. Is this worth reigniting a family war over? Somehow I think that's exactly what he wants.
The kind of dramatic personality change you describe is unusual, so I was so excited to read that someone who had been so mired in hatred and jealousy could make such a startling mid-course correction. Then you threw in a spanner. I don’t think that every male adult who takes an interest in a child is up to no good. However, I agree with you that Tim’s focus on your daughter is likely not benign. Given the long, obsessive abhorrence Tim had for his brother and you, I would not be surprised if he was playing out some kind of sick, possibly sexual, long con with your child. Also disturbing is your in-laws’ history of toadying to Tim’s insanity, particularly as it involves your husband. Your mother-in-law has been keeping these visits secret because she knew you would rightly object. But she doesn’t want anyone to get in the way of making her little Timmy happy. You and your husband should immediately suspend any contact between your child and his family that is unsupervised by one of you. If this does result in a resumption of Tim’s hostilities, then it’s time for an break in those jolly family get-togethers.
My husband and I have friends out of town whom we stay with occasionally. My husband has a bad back and he wants to tell them "tactfully" that they need a better mattress in their guest bedroom. He says their other guests must feel the same way. I say there’s no way to say this tactfully and we should just stay in a hotel. Who’s right?
—Just Back Away
If your husband tells your hosts that their lousy bed cuts short his visit and those of their other guests, I’m sure they will murmur appropriate concern. Then when they’re alone they will high-five each other and vow never to replace that mattress.
More Dear Prudence Columns
“My Twin Sister Says I'm Fat: Prudie offers advice on twins entangled in family rifts, rows, and rivalries.” Posted Aug. 25, 2011.
“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?” Posted Sept. 1, 2011.
“Longtime Companion: Is it OK to hide my gay affair since my wife doesn't want sex anymore?” Posted Sept. 8, 2011.
“Deadly Family Secret: My mother-in-law hid a life-threatening condition that could strike my child. How can I forgive her?” Posted Sept. 15, 2011.
More Dear Prudence Chat Transcripts
“Type "R" for Revenge: Dear Prudence advises a woman who got her cheating ex fired by sending a nasty email—in a live chat at Washingtonpost.com.” Posted Aug. 29, 2011.
“The Nudist Next Door: Dear Prudence advises a reader whose new neighbor needs better curtains—during a live chat at Washingtonpost.com.” Posted Sept. 6, 2011.
“Am I Dating a Swinger?: Dear Prudence advises a woman who craves a monogamous relationship but can't seem to find one—during a live chat at Washingtonpost.com.” Posted Sept. 12, 2011.
“He'd Like a Virgin: Dear Prudence advises a woman who lied to her fiance about her sexual past—during a live chat at Washingtonpost.com.” Posted Sept. 19, 2011.