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My friend is pregnant with her first and probably only child. This was a complete surprise, as she thought she couldn’t have children. The father is someone she dated for a few weeks. She has decided not to tell him about the pregnancy based on his behavior when they were dating. He made comments that she was dirty because she wanted to have sex. (He was OK with them having sex, however.) He talked creepily about how he wanted to protect and save her. Then she went on a camping trip with a group of friends, which included some guys, and he got very jealous. He called her a slut, said he wished her puppy would die, and hoped one of her friends got cancer. She ended the relationship then found out she was pregnant and she’s having the child. Her family supports her decision not to ever tell the father. But she asked my advice, and I’m torn. I think the guy is crazy, but she could use the financial support. Also, in the future the child will have many questions, and my friend will have to say she barely knew the father of her child. What do you think she should do?
—She’s Having His Baby
I often avow that I’m in favor of honesty and truthfulness, then I find myself sometimes adding “but …” This is one of those cases. First of all, let this be a warning to people (even those who assume they’re likely infertile) who decide to have sex with partners they barely know. There really are reliable forms of birth control available, and it’s good to use one so that people don’t end up mixing gametes with someone they end up wishing they’d never met. I agree with you that it’s generally better for a single mother to be at the least getting financial support from the person who impregnated her, and for a child to have an acquaintance with his or her father. Except, that is, if the father is a bizarre, disturbed creep, as this guy appears to be. I’m going to guess this man has often found himself in serious disagreements with his bosses and may not be the most stable source of income. But let’s say he’s gainfully employed. Letting him know about the child in order to get child support would probably be setting up your friend for a lifetime of liens, supervised visits, restraining orders, and the other legal appurtenances that go along with dealing with a lunatic for the rest of your life. Sure, she’s going to have to tell an unusual origin story to her child someday. But for many years to come all she has to say is a truncated version of the truth: Mommy and Daddy didn’t know each other very well and she doesn’t know where Daddy is. She can add that she and her child, and their relatives, make up one very happy family. So I go along with your friend’s desire to keep her secret. Let’s hope the father scuttles back into a hole and never gets wind of the amazing news.
Dear Prudence: Father with a Gross Habit
I am dreading my family’s annual Christmas get-together this year, but not for the usual reason. My mother, who’s in her 60s, her sister-in-law, and a female cousin are huge fans of the Fifty Shades of Grey books. They literally cannot be in a room together without discussing the book in great detail, regardless of who is around. They have all badgered me to read the books; however, any interest I had in reading them was squashed by their incessant and overly detailed accounts of the books. They all call me a prude, laugh at me, and deliberately try to cause me discomfort. I have been warned to not be “so oversensitive and uptight” and that they plan to discuss this openly at our family Christmas dinner in front of the children. Am I wrong to think they should be respectful of my feelings and others? Am I the only grown woman having this issue or are all women so crazy for those books they have lost all concept of appropriateness?
—Dreading the Holiday
I can understand that after years of discussing the thickness of the gravy and the thinness of Uncle Herbert’s 401(k), these ladies have grown sick of post-Christmas Mass talk and would prefer a mass reading of Christian Grey. Sure it could be awkward explaining to the kids that even though Grandma keeps going on about her favorite brand of Ben Wa balls, that they are not getting their own set in the Christmas stocking. And yes, they might wonder what Aunt Lois did that was so bad that she keeps talking about getting spanked. But respect your elders and let these ladies have the pleasure of thinking that isn’t a hot flash, they’re just hot. As you’ve seen, the more you object and squirm over their passion for the trilogy, the more they’re going to torment you with references to Christian Grey-flavored popsicles. (Just tell the kids it tastes terrible and you’re sticking with grape.) Ignore this senior trio or laugh at them, and agree with the kids that they sound very silly. And if ice cream is served for dessert, just tell the children that even if Grandma keeps talking about letting it drip down her body, they’d better keep theirs in the bowl.
In 2006 my mother was diagnosed with lung cancer. Just over a month later my father passed away from his own previously undiagnosed lung cancer. My mother’s friends were such a huge help to my mother and me during that tough time. My mother passed in 2008 and my brother and I sent out notices and thank yous to them. Here is my dilemma: I just discovered a box of cards that my mother had written to her friends and never sent. They are all sealed and addressed. Do I send them out? Part of me wants to with a letter explaining the history of the cards. But another part of me says not to. I don’t know how I would feel if I received a card from a friend who has been dead for over four years. What should I do?
—No Return to Sender
Dear No Return,
Send them. You’re right to want to attach a letter of explanation. You can type up a note and just fill in the appropriate name for each addressee. Explain you just came upon a box of cards your mother wrote to her dearest friends but never got to send. Say you hope it is not upsetting to receive a letter from someone now gone for so long. But you were happy yourself to see your mother’s handwriting, and you’re assuming they would appreciate reading her last thoughts. Say that in the years since she’s been gone you’ve thought often about how important her friends were to her and how much they helped you and your brother. Add a few lines about how you’re doing and send your wishes for a wonderful New Year. I myself would be moved to get one last message from a beloved friend who was much missed.
I’m the oldest of my father and stepmother’s combined five children. My husband and I have both been very lucky to do better financially than all the rest of the family. My husband loves Christmas. Every year he gets excited about the gift that he picks out for one of my family members—we each draw a single name and exchange one gift. He usually remembers something that someone has mentioned being excited about over the course of the year and spends a couple hundred dollars. Every year, we get pressure from my father to purchase less expensive gifts. But I haven’t heard that pressure from any of the siblings. They have always expressed appreciation at my husband’s thoughtfulness. Our gut feeling is that my father feels insecure that he can’t compete with my husband’s income. Is it reasonable to put a somewhat arbitrary price cap on everyone’s gifts? My husband puts a lot of thought into gifts and just wants to have the freedom to express his love of Christmas.
—Who’s the Scrooge?
I bet your siblings don’t want to put the kibosh on your husband’s generosity. The participants in this lottery are limited enough that sooner or later each one is bound to be the winner of your husband’s largesse. But it usually is the case that when there’s such an unbalanced gift exchange—someone gets an iPod Touch but gives a CD—people generally feel awkward. That’s why it’s standard for families that institute these round-robins to also put a range on how much people should spend so no one feels embarrassed or cheated. It’s too bad if your father is speaking up out of his own insecurity. But I agree with the suggestion that your husband should put a lid on these displays. Surely his pleasure in making other family members happy doesn’t have to be limited to a single day. If you two are so flush, then treat your siblings at some point over the course of the year to a meal at a good restaurant, or remember them with generous birthday gifts. That way there will be fewer fervent prayers over who picks the rich Santa.
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More Dear Prudence Columns
“Weapon of Choice: My husband insists we buy a gun to protect our family, but I disdain firearms.” Posted Oct. 13, 2011.
“Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places: My wife doesn’t want sex frequently, so I visit prostitutes. Should I stop?” Posted Oct. 6, 2011.
“Surviving Mommie Dearest: My abusive mother haunts my dreams. How can I move on?” Posted Sept. 29, 2011.
“Once a Cheater: My husband says he had a one-night stand with a co-worker—but she called it a torrid affair. Who can I believe?” Posted Sept. 22, 2011.
More Dear Prudence Chat Transcripts
“Who’s Your Mommy?: Dear Prudence advises a man whose wife doesn’t want their twins to know they came from donor eggs—during a live chat at Washingtonpost.com.” Posted Oct. 17, 2011.
“Start Spreading the News: Dear Prudence advises a woman whose boyfriend revealed he had herpes only after they had unprotected sex—during a live chat at Washingtonpost.com.” Posted Oct. 10, 2011.
“Don’t Tell Dad: Dear Prudence advises a woman whose friend won’t tell her one-night stand she got pregnant—during a live chat at Washingtonpost.com.” Posted Oct. 3, 2011.
“Life or the Party: Dear Prudence offers advice on a woman self-destructing with sex, drugs, and alcohol—in a live chat at Washingtonpost.com.” Posted Sept. 26, 2011.