DEAR AMY: I am a male in my early 70s. I made a terrible mistake when I was 16 years old: I got my girlfriend (also 16) pregnant. Both sets of parents were supportive and arranged for my girlfriend to enroll in what was at that time referred to as an unwed-mother’s home. At birth, the child was immediately placed for adoption and went to a loving home. I know nothing of the child and have had no contact with my ex-girlfriend since she left our town for the home. My question is, should I be open with my children (now adults) about their having a half-sibling out there someplace? I’ve told my wife, but never discussed this sordid part of my history with anyone else. Not ever. I am concerned that someday there will be a knock on my door due to the extensive research capabilities available via the internet. To try to find out details about the child seems to me to be a fool’s errand, and any light shed on this subject would only serve to hurt people. I have managed to keep my mouth shut for decades; should I continue to hold this secret to myself? Thank you for your insight and advice.
DEAR BURDENED: I think you should make an effort to reframe how you’ve been thinking about this episode for the past five-plus decades.
Here are the words you use to describe your role in the birth of this child: “Terrible,” “mistake,” “sordid,” “secret.” You describe any possible disclosure as a “fool’s errand” that will “hurt people.”
Try to replace those words with these: “Truth,” “light,” “acceptance,” “forgiveness.”
You and this child’s mother were 16. You did what 16-year-olds do, and you got through it with the tools you had at the time — through your parents’ collective control, fueled by the societal shame that dominated the culture during that era.
Yes, I believe you should disclose this. Why? Because it is the truth. But before you talk to your children, you absolutely must own this important part of your history. Strive to do so with integrity and authenticity. Trying to track down this biological child should not hurt other people. I believe it could actually liberate you (and perhaps others). After a period of adjustment, the people who know and love you the most (your wife and kids) should support your efforts.
You are correct that DNA testing and internet tracking has brought countless stories like yours into the light. You can’t control how people receive this story, but please — claim this, and understand that life is messy, and that’s OK.
DEAR AMY: I am a retired man. I enjoy the company of women my age and stage in life. I do not need a cook, maid or financial support. But I have an issue when it comes to going out with women. I don’t want to always be the solo planner, provider and driver. I believe that when financial circumstances are roughly equal, these responsibilities should be shared. What I have found, especially with the last woman I dated, is that many women expect everything to be provided (even when I have suggested some sharing) for women who believe themselves to be strong and independent individuals. They’ll belt out “I Am Woman,” while I pick up the tab. Please understand — if I’m going out with a woman with limited finances, I have no problem being the provider. What are the rules?
DEAR WONDERING: I’m picturing a parade of women of a certain age belting out Helen Reddy’s classic song “I Am Woman,” so thank you for that.
Generally, the person who initiates a date will do the planning and paying. But if you are dating the same woman over time, you should not have total responsibility for all outings and meals. Healthy relationships are fueled by a wonderful feeling of balance, where you simply stop caring who does what, because it all seems to work out in the end.
Some of this might be generational; a younger woman might have a more egalitarian attitude.
DEAR AMY: The letter from “Devoted and Caring Parents” made me crazy. Last year, our son and his wife raced to five (yes, five) Christmas celebrations, trying to please every parent, stepparent and grandparent. We have decided that as a gift, we will liberate our children from having to be with us on that day.
Truly Caring Parents
DEAR CARING: This is a very (and wise) generous gift.