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43° Good Evening

Should we tell our dad a recently discovered secret about his dad?

DEAR CAROLYN: In doing family research, my brother's wife came across documents indicating that my dad's dad was still married to another woman when he married my grandmother in December 1927. The divorce on the first marriage was not finalized until October 1928. My dad, his younger brother and older sister are all still living. The older sister was actually born in September 1928. There was never talk of a different, first wife prior to my grandfather's marriage to my grandmother, so this was a surprising discovery. We are all leaning toward keeping this information to ourselves. What is the point of anyone knowing it at this late date? Why possibly impact how these clear-thinking siblings (all over 85) feel about their dad? However, does that decision belong to us? That is, are we not sharing information with people that is their business?

Family Research Assistant


I wish I could give you an answer as juicy and definitive as what your sister-in-law turned up.

But the questions you ask do a good job of illuminating why that's impossible: What indeed is the point of their having this information now, except to diminish their view of their father? And, yes, who are you to decide that for them?

A note, if I may, about the point of sharing the truth: The "new" information about their father might complete or help make sense of old impressions they have of him, or of gaps in their understanding. They also might just not care anymore about a century-old choice that affected them barely if at all.

But anyway. The two truths are that it's not necessary to tell, and it's not up to you to decide what's necessary.

The information that tips the decision toward one truth or the other isn't which one you (or I) embrace. It's what the potential recipient of this news embraces.

Obviously you can't read minds. But you can probably achieve some accuracy at reading people, if you push your own preferences out of the way. As is confirmed and reconfirmed daily in America's divided political climate, there are two general temperaments out there: people who do not want their comfortable narratives challenged, not one bit, no matter how solid the challenging facts — and there are people who do not want information kept from them, not one bit, not even if it hurts.

Which of these describes your father?

You and your brother must have an inkling, if not a certainty.

The fact of his siblings does complicate this, since he could be a want-to-know type among those who'd put their fingers in their ears and sing LA-LA-LA while he's talking. Knowing that, he could feel only burdened by any knowledge you give him.

But that still falls within the scope of the main question for you and your brother: Would your dad want to know?

Which seems fitting. A question about how well your father knows his father depends on how well you two know your father. My apologies if this is, as I suspect, particularly unhelpful help.

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