Amy Dickinson is a general advice columnist.
DEAR AMY: I have six siblings, one older than I am. When my older sister and I were young (13 and 15) our mother had a long-lasting affair with her "business partner." She had four children from that affair while married to our stepfather. At the time, it wasn't a secret; our stepfather knew and stayed with her (for some reason). After her fourth and final child, she cut ties with her lover and it became a family secret. The five youngest children do not remember the affair. For the four youngest, the man they consider their father is not their biological father. Recently the oldest child from this affair asked me what I remembered about our mother's business partner, and said he had stumbled upon some weird memories of him and her together. He asked if I knew whether they had a more intimate relationship. I am struggling with the "right thing to do" because there is still a 16-year-old sibling at home (the others are over 18). He said he had asked our mother, but she said "no" and glossed over everything. I never wanted to hold this secret, and now my sister and I are being forced to be complicit in the lie. I'm struggling with whether it is my/our responsibility to tell, since my mother will not; and if so, when is the best time to tell someone something so horrible.
Feeling Guilty by Association
DEAR GUILTY: Your siblings have the right to know the identity of their biological father. It is, quite literally, their birthright.
Family secrets have a way of gaining power over time until they form a hard, tough and dangerous core. Secrets can damage individuals, families and relationships in unseen ways over time. For instance, look at how you and your sister are wrestling with this, even as your brother seems to suffer with his own suspicions. Your mother's choice to hold this close has transformed her into a denier -- and a liar.
I don't know if I would characterize this as something so "horrible," but more as something that simply is.
You and your sister should meet with your mother and tell her that you will not hold on to this secret for her. If she needs help with how to disclose it, you should be available to meet this challenge with empathy.
A professional family therapist could help all of you by meeting with you as individuals and as a group. Over time, your entire family will need help to navigate the fallout and emotional challenges of this new reality. The best time to face this is right now.
DEAR AMY: I have been dating an obese woman for two months. We are both 30. We have created incentives for each other (I'm actually a little underweight) and we are both living more healthfully. I introduced her to my family. She loved them, but the next day they voiced their disapproval to me. They said some horrible and insulting things about her weight. I didn't realize how shallow my family was, and I am trying to figure out how to persuade them not to be. I keep telling myself someone's weight can change, but the personality can't. I would be lying if I said I was satisfied with my girlfriend's weight, but she is doing great and has lost 25 pounds. Should I keep those comments to myself until I can prove them wrong? Is it horrible that I now keep her away from my family with no explanation?
DEAR WONDERING: I think you and your family are all very focused on your girlfriend's weight. You should not reward your family for their coarse judgment and rudeness; nor should you share their comments with her. You are 30 years old. You should focus on living well and enjoying your life -- not pleasing your family.
DEAR AMY: Your advice to "Frustrated" was so off base! This woman wanted to discipline her 5-year-old stepdaughter and you said no! You obviously don't know what you are talking about.
DEAR DISAPPOINTED: I have four stepchildren. I think this gives me some skin in the game.