Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is online weekly to chat live with readers. An edited transcript of the chat is below. (Sign up here to get Dear Prudence delivered to your inbox each week. Read Prudie’s Slate columns here. Send questions to Prudence at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon, everyone. I look forward to your questions.
Q. Pool Rules: I recently moved to a neighborhood with a nice community pool. My two pre-teen girls are having a great time playing and meeting new friends. My problem is with one man who wears a thong-style bathing suit. I’m not the bathing suit police, but now I’ve seen him walking around on several occasions with a very noticeable erection. The kids notice too, and make hushed jokes about “banana-man.” He doesn’t seem to pay any attention to the kids in the pool. He swims a few laps and gets out. Still, it makes me uncomfortable when he gets in the pool while my girls are swimming. Should I ask him to “lower the flag pole” before swimming with a bunch of kids? This does not seem like normal behavior, but I don’t want to overreact. Advice?
A: It’s time for Mr. Bananaman to get chopped. I strongly urge you not to go to the thong guy, point out his erection, and announce he needs to go someplace else if he can’t control his urges. You are uncomfortable for a good reason, but you should not handle this one-on-one. I hope that there are adults in charge of this pool, because you—and preferably you and a couple of other parents—need to go to the manager and say this guy’s attire and behavior is not appropriate for a community pool. Say they need to take action to send this big swinging creep on his way.
Q. Raising an Only Child (Not by Choice): We have a beautiful, smart, and vivacious 3-year-old who is the love of our lives. We almost lost her during delivery and since her birth, we have had repeat miscarriages and I was diagnosed with a disorder that makes it difficult to carry a child. We may never have another. This is difficult for my husband and me, but the hardest part is my overwhelming (and irrational) fear that we will lose our only daughter. I know you are a mother of one. Did you have these fears and how did you get over them?
A: After I had my daughter I finally understood the stream of newspaper articles my grandparents clipped and gave to us during our childhoods: stories of children drowned in puddles, asphyxiated in hot cars, etc. When my daughter was just a baby I asked my brother, who has older children, if he had the same dark thrumming fear in his head as I did. Sure, he said, probably every parent does. And you just learn to live with it and keep it from overwhelming you. In a way this is the unavoidable price we humans pay for the depth of the love we feel for our kids. But it’s a parent’s responsibility to manage this fear and keep it in its place. The good part of the fear is that it makes you double-check the car seat is put in properly and that your child is vaccinated on schedule. But if you let it run you, or dictate how you treat your child, you will be damaging your relationship to your daughter and disabling her joy in childhood. It’s comforting to think you only can do what you can, then you have to let go for the sake of everyone’s happiness. You’ve been through a lot of trauma surrounding having kids, and if your thoughts are out of control, please seek some counseling. Cognitive or mindfulness therapy can help you accept your concerns and not allow them to take over your life.
Q. Medical and Identity Fraud: About 12 years ago, my sister “Anna” met a guy she said was wonderful. He wasn’t. He was verbally abusive, manipulative, a cry baby, and a jerk. He was also married with two kids in another state! She waved it off and said he was planning on divorcing his first wife to be with my sister. Today the guy is overseas, and my sister is working as an administrator at our local hospital, and a single parent. (The guy never divorced his wife.) I took a firm stance that my sister and the guy were not married and probably never will be. My nephew, meanwhile, keeps referring to his father’s wife as his stepmother, and my grandmother allows him to do so, saying it was “socially acceptable” that he not identify himself as an out-of-wedlock child. The guy’s mother was admitted into the hospital a few days ago, and I learned from my mother that my sister has put herself down as the guy’s wife so that she could declare this patient is her mother-in-law! My question is this: how do I tell my sister that what she was doing was illegal medically? What can I do?
A: Lucky for you the answer to all your dilemmas, sis, is to butt out. The wife of your nephew’s father is the boy’s stepmother, so I have no idea what your objection is to that. Fortunately, we no longer live in a world in which small children are identified as bastards. I sincerely hope that if you are a presence in your nephew’s life, you have refrained from pointing out to him the “shameful” nature of his origins. I’m sure you’re right that your sister will never be married to the father of her child. But you’re more than a decade past this being something you should be concerned about and it’s not something you should ever have rubbed in her face. As for her declaring on official forms that her former boyfriend’s mother is her mother-in-law, well, that is an exceedingly bad idea, and one that potentially could get her fired from her job. If your mother has a good relationship with your sister, I hope she can persuade her to correct the forms and not jeopardize her ability to support her son. I think you should just stay out of it.
Q. Re: Pool rules: I question the erection. The LW didn’t mention seeing the offender other than on occasions when he walks hard (as Dewey Cox would say). My guess is that this guy just has a large banana, which he likes to show off. And if management gets involved, this will be his direct or implied response (“I can’t help it! Don’t hate me because I am endowed!”). We don’t want to get into issues of endowment discrimination. Therefore, management needs to not address him specifically, but rather create a new rule for how everyone should dress, pool-wide. Ban the banana hammock, and take the erection question out of the matter.
A: Thank goodness this chat doesn’t have photo illustrations. Yes, it could be Mr. Bananaman just wants everyone to appreciate his endowment. That’s why I agree with you that the pool needs to post rules on appropriate attire. Fortunately it’s not in Brazil so this community can ban thongs. However, management needs to keep an eye on him, and if he needs to be someplace that’s adults only, they can refund this member’s membership fee.
Q. Familial Obligations: Four years ago, my father revealed that he had a secret family and that I had a 7-year-old half brother. I met him once at that time, but my mother was crushed and forbade me from interacting with the other family. At the time, it seemed like a very reasonable demand and I had no issue with going along with it. Fast forward to today and my father keeps lightly prodding me to develop a relationship with my half brother (I’m in my 30s). My brother obviously knows of my existence and I think would very much like to get to know me. I’m unsure of my mother’s current position as she’s now happily remarried. I know it would mean a lot to my father to have his two sons become good friends. The problem, aside from my mother, is that I really don’t have any desire to develop a relationship with my half brother. I’ve gone four years ignoring the situation and it’s now become habitual. I lead a good life and don’t want the complication of this new relationship. Plus, I’m not very keen (don’t know how?) to interact with an 11-year-old. Am I being selfish for continuing to ignore this situation?
A: There’s a lot of sorting out to do here. Shame on your father for not only brazenly cheating, but for keeping secret for so many years the existence of another child. I understand your mother was shocked and devastated, but I have to take her to task, too. Ultimately, the betrayal ended the marriage. But anyone in that situation needs to be an adult and recognize the innocent party is the child. At the time your mother declared her edict, you were already grown. So she had no power to keep you from knowing your brother; she only made it a condition of your continued decent relationship with her. Shame on both your parents. Neither parent should be dictating your behavior. You do not need to ask her permission to get to know your half brother, nor do you need to develop a relationship with him. I agree it’s unlikely that a man in his 30s is going to become close to a pre-teen sibling. However, I think you should strongly consider getting together with your father at a time that he has his younger son visiting. This has no implied promise, but it’s just the natural thing to do. This child, through no fault of his own, has a fractured sense of family. It would be kind for you to stop being an abstraction and instead become a flesh and blood person. Go into this with an open mind and you may find this boy expands your feelings in ways you never expected.