Ask Amy Amy Dickinson, Ask Amy

Amy Dickinson is a general advice columnist.

DEAR AMY: My mother gave up a daughter for adoption before my older sister and I were born. She told us about our half-sister when we were in our late teens. About 10 years ago, this birth sister "Jane" found us, and we have met and kept in touch. We have all become close. My mother will not divulge the identity of Jane's father. She said she will go to her grave with this secret. My mother is now 87 and her memory is going. Jane asked her to write down his name on a piece of paper and put it in a sealed envelope. Mom says if she remembers it, she will write it down. I highly doubt she will. When prodded, mom says she is trying to protect Jane, but she won't say why. We've asked if it was incest, rape, etc., but she says no. We have some information that my mother gave to the adoption agency about his background and the information seems solid, but there is no name. My mother lived in a very small town at the time, and we feel someone knows something. We've even become amateur detectives trying to find out who Jane's father is. We feel Jane has a right to know. How do we go about persuading mom to give up the information?

TV

DEAR TV: At this point you should assume that your mother either cannot or simply will not supply the name of "Jane's" birth father. Given her advanced age, I think you should stop trying to get this information from her.

You and your sister should continue helping Jane in her search. There is some likelihood that her birth father is deceased, but knowing his identity (and perhaps finding additional relatives) is a natural need of hers.

I'm assuming that Jane's adoptive parents have cooperated by providing her with information. Depending on where she was born, locating her birth records might be as simple as going to the county courthouse and requesting a copy of her birth certificate.

There are many online forums and "adoption angels" dedicated to helping reunite adopted people with their birth families. Given that you have Jane's birth mother's name and other identifying details such as the town and hospital where she was born, finding this information might be easier than you think.

DEAR AMY: Recently I went out to dinner with my boyfriend's daughter. During dinner she excused herself to go to the bathroom. When she came back her eyes were slightly bloodshot and watery. Years ago she had a very serious bulimia problem and I have noticed that she has lost weight. I think she might be purging. I know the signs of this disease and am worried she has a problem again. I know I should mention it to my boyfriend but he is dealing with other issues with his kids. How should I talk to her -- or should I just talk to her Dad?

Worried

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DEAR WORRIED: People with eating disorders often struggle with relapsing. Your guy's daughter might be dealing with anxieties, depression, family stress or any number of underlying problems that could trigger her disease. Talking about it is very tough, but if you are close to her and are concerned, you should tell her: "I'm worried that you might have relapsed." And yes, you should definitely mention this to her father. No matter what other challenges he is dealing with, this should be recognized and she should be offered help. The National Eating Disorders Association (www.nationaleatingdisorders.org) has a help line, which you (or your boyfriend, or his daughter) can call for advice: 800-931-2237.

DEAR AMY: Regarding your answer to "Heartland Holdout," the woman looking for advice about how to deflect nosy strangers inquiring what her business is, you advised her to tell them that she is a business consultant and that "I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you ... ha-ha-ha." Actually, a better answer would be, "I could tell you what I do, but then I'd have to bill you." That might chase them away even faster!

Lisa

DEAR LISA: Bam! Nailed it.