I have a half brother from my father's first marriage. Recently my father's first wife revealed to my mother that my father is actually not the biological father of my half brother. It turns out my "brother," who’s almost 40, has known for 10 years. He even has his biological father listed on Facebook. So everyone knows this big secret, except my father. It's starting to cause problems between my mother and me because I feel my father needs to know, and she thinks it's best to keep it quiet because it will devastate him. My father always raised me to do the right thing no matter how difficult it is, but I don't think this is something I can handle. I can't stand keeping this from my dad, but how could I possibly tell him?
—No More Lies
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Dear No More,
Slate recently ran a story by my colleague Daniel Engber on genomic testing, which has been revealing that many men who think they’ve sired their children actually haven’t. But no one has to spend money getting their saliva analyzed to confirm that—just read this column. So your father is another one of the cuckolded men who’ve devoted their love and resources to raising the genetic offspring of someone else. But fatherhood is not just about DNA, and nothing will change the fact that your half brother is your father’s son. It’s unfortunate that your father’s first wife has loose lips as well as loose morals. I don’t understand the purpose of blabbing this news to everyone, apparently, except her ex. But once your father’s first wife decided to come clean with her son, one or both of them should have informed your father. I hope you have a good relationship with your half brother because it would be helpful for you to talk to him about this knowledge, why you think your father deserves to be told, and that he should be the one to do it. It could be he agrees with your mother that telling your father will only cause pain. You don’t want to tell, and I don’t think it’s your obligation. But it’s true that if the gossip mill is churning your father might find out. If he does and comes to you, you can let him know he’s always been a great father to all his children, and no paternity test will change that. I also urge you to see Sarah Polley’s extraordinary new documentary, The Stories We Tell.
My wife and I are in our early 50s and my mother-in-law died almost two years ago. My wife’s parents were married for 55 years, and as an only child she was close to both of them. The death was devastating for everyone. My father-in-law is a healthy and energetic 84-year-old with a comfortable retirement portfolio. Eventually he decided to try to find a companion and turned to the Internet. On his first try he found a woman with similar interests and they started dating. We met her and she has a nebulous life story. She’s not sure of the status of her previous husband (her fourth) because his family took him from her care and put him in a nursing home. Her grown children are constantly asking her for money, so she has very little. We did our best to be accepting of her, but our alarms were going off. Things progressed quickly and my father-in-law is now at the beck and call of his girlfriend’s children, but started to fall out of contact with my wife. He refused to let us take him out for his birthday—we invited his girlfriend—and instead went alone with her. Now her father called to say that he’s been feeling ill lately, with dangerously low blood pressure, and he thinks the cause is the diet pills his girlfriend convinced him he needed and purchased for him as a gift! Now this has become a health and safety issue in our minds, and we feel we need to speak up and voice our concerns to him. He says he intends to have her move in with him permanently by Christmas, but that neither of them want to marry again. We're becoming increasingly worried, but are we meddling or being justifiably protective of my father-in-law?
—What Do We Do About Dad?
You are not meddling by wanting to disentangle your father-in-law from the web of this black widow who is in the process of emptying his bank account and alienating him from his loved ones. Elder abuse can be insidious, especially if the victim apparently has all his marbles. But at this point your father-in-law’s relationship may be causing him to be roiled by a combination of attraction, fear, embarrassment, and powerlessness. I agree with you that it’s alarming this woman who’s not quite sure if her last husband is among the living, is now drugging a vulnerable old man. Read up on elder abuse at this government website, then find a specialist in elder-abuse law at the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. Your father-in-law may resist, but you two have to try to protect Dad.
More Dear Prudence Columns
“Skin Deep: Should a husband tell his wife how he feels about her physical flaws?” Posted March 22, 2012.
“My Gay Husband: He’s closeted, but I don't mind. Should I set him free anyway?” Posted March 15, 2012.
“Gastric Warfare: I fear my mother-in-law is poisoning me, but my husband doesn’t believe it.” Posted March 8, 2012.
“Smell Ya Later!: Should I break up with my fiance because he thinks I have horrible body odor?.” Posted March 1, 2012.
More Dear Prudence Chat Transcripts
“The Wrong Touch: In a live chat, Dear Prudence offers advice on a frisky roommate, felonious family members, and friends who become lovers.” Posted April 2, 2012.
“Whoa, Momma: During a live chat, Dear Prudence offers advice on having children after tragedy, elective surrogacy, and the demands of parenting twins.” Posted March 26, 2012.
“Should I Leave My Infertile Partner?: In a live chat, Dear Prudence advises a man who wants to bolt after learning his girlfriend can’t have kids.” Posted March 19, 2012.
“Sex Education: In a live chat, Prudie advises a student whose pregnant friend doesn’t know where babies come from.” Posted March 12, 2012.
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