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My husband is a loving man, a wonderful father, and a sex offender. Before you or your readers assume the worst, when he was 16 years old he had sex with his 13-year-old girlfriend. Despite his girlfriend’s pleas, her parents got angry, he was convicted, and now his life is now ruined. I knew all this when I met him and I thought I could make things better. It happened 17 years ago and was his only offense, yet it is destroying us on every level. He cannot find work. Anytime he gets a job, someone finds the sex offender registry, complains to management, and he is fired. We recently moved because our neighbors were threatening us and our children. Our children are mocked and rejected at school and our home has been vandalized. We have been married 10 years and I am no longer the strong woman I once was. I am tired of struggling to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table because he cannot find work. No lawyers will help us, no lawmakers, representatives or senators, ever respond to my pleas for help over the last seven years of writing to them monthly. My conclusion is a harsh one, but I see no other way to help my family. Secretly, I have purchased a life insurance package on myself. And once I have paid for the allotted time, I plan on wrecking my car in a way that could never be described as suicide. The money will provide my family with a decent life. I am tired of drying the tears of my children. If my sacrifice can make their lives more stable, it is a small price to pay. If you can see any other option for me, please tell me.
—Rendezvous With Death
If your children are crying now, imagine what happens after their beloved mother dies, the insurance company investigates—and given the timing of the purchase of your policy and your accident, they will—and your death is declared a suicide. You will be leaving heartbroken, and broke, children haunted by their mother’s abandonment to the care of a father who cannot provide for them. Imagine you don’t die, but survive but in dire shape, leaving your family in an even more desperate situation. I understand the agony of the terrible and unfair ostracism you describe, but suicide will only compound the despair of the family you love. Please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline to get help for these dark thoughts. You’ll also find understanding and support regarding your family’s particular hardship by calling the hotline of Reform Sex Offender Laws. This organization makes the case that increasingly punitive and expansive sex-registration laws ruin the lives of people on the registry without improving the safety of the public. This New York Times article about youthful offenders illustrates this point.
I am going to take your account of the circumstances of your husband’s conviction at face value—that he himself was a minor having sex with a girl too young to give legal consent, but who was a willing participant. I spoke to Nina Ginsberg, a Virginia criminal defense attorney, and she says getting legal relief for your husband is indeed a daunting task. But she pointed out that given your husband was a juvenile at the time of the crime, some states might allow him to come off the registry 15 years after his conviction. Instead of writing fruitless letters to uninterested legislators, you need to be investigating this possibility. After you do your research, look at the appropriate state or local bar association for a criminal defense referral. Sometimes a short conversation is free; some bar associations have programs or referrals for reduced fee or pro bono legal services. You once thought love would solve all problems. Now you just as naively think money will. But imagine that you had married a man with an unblemished legal record who died when your children were young, leaving you as their sole support. I’m sure you would have risen to the occasion. The additional burdens caused by your husband’s status may seem insurmountable, but your children need the love of both their parents. Their father committed a regrettable act long ago. Don’t commit a more devastating one now.
Dear Prudence: A “Painting Party” Is No Party
I am the female manager of a small sales team. Recently one of my reps left, and for purposes of keeping up with his contacts I was given access to his email account as well as his old instant messages. As I went through his IMs I discovered something upsetting. My former rep and one of my current reps spent an awful lot of time talking smack about me. I get I’m the boss and I won’t always be liked, but as I sat and read the conversation history, I could feel my face burning in humiliation and my stomach twisting in shame. It was like high school. He and she discussed my hair, my body, the sound of my voice, what I wear. I hate to admit it gutted me. I’m having a hard time even looking at the rep who did this. My sister says that I should make an announcement in my team meeting that I have access to the former rep’s emails and chat sessions in an offhand manner to let the remaining rep know I know. I can’t come across as weak or sensitive, so my instinct is to suck it up and pretend I never read the poison. What do I do?
You have been subjected to the technological equivalent of being in the last bathroom stall when a couple of classmates come in and proceed to rip you. You have also experienced why “like high school” is such a common reference to people behaving badly: because people, no matter what their age, often behave badly. Your visceral reaction to this pile-on is perfectly reasonable. Now you have to decide what you do with this information. If there is anything useful for you in it, such as complaints about your being too indirect, then ponder the critique. But if this is nothing but misogynistic commentary, then of course that’s going to color your feelings about the perp—I mean rep. I think you should deal with this head on. At the next group meeting, tell the assembled that you have been going through the departed rep’s communications to make sure all his contacts are up to date. Remind everyone that when they use company-issued devices, what they write is not confidential and should be kept professional. Then you should have a brief, private meeting with your mean girl. You’re right you can’t seem weak or sensitive, so practice having a small, scary smile on your face when you tell her you just wanted to reiterate that you have gone through the departed rep’s electronic exchanges, including those between him and her, and you want to make sure she understands that these communications are company property. Do not be surprised if this results in this rep soon notifying you that you now have two positions to fill.
A close cousin has recently been diagnosed with a terminal illness, and it has turned him into a complete bully. Family members, cashiers, wait staff—no one is immune. He expects better, faster, and more from everyone and has even announced loudly in public that he could be dead from this disease soon and we will all feel awful that we didn’t treat him better. To make matters worse, he is completely insensitive to the troubles of others, either reminding them that he is dying or one-upping their issues with one of his own. We’re a close family and I’m retired so I’ve agreed to drive this cousin around, take him to appointments, get his meals, etc. But I’m so embarrassed by his complete lack of grace that I dread each day with him. At the same time, I’m feeling guilty because his days really are numbered. Am I awful? Is there anything I can say to him?
—Dying of Embarrassment
Those dealing with life’s most difficult circumstances deserve sympathy, understanding, and sometimes a pass. But what it doesn’t allow is for someone to take a dire prognosis and use it as carte blanche to pummel everyone around him. For one, your cousin knows nothing about the service people he’s excoriating. If only he could think, “Maybe that cashier has a disabled daughter and every day is a struggle to care for her child on a minimal salary.” But since he’s not thinking this, you need to say exactly that. Preface your remarks about his current behavior by saying his illness is devastating to all of you who love him. Then you need to tell him you’re concerned that he just doesn’t seem like himself. Say you’ve never known him to be rude to strangers or family members, and you think he could really benefit from the services of someone on the hospital staff—a social worker or therapist—trained to help patients work through what is happening to them. (You could also suggest he discuss with his doctor if his illness or medication is causing a personality change.) If he refuses to hear your message, then sadly you need to deliver a different one. That is, you will be happy to help him, but that’s going to mean restricting the time you take him out on errands or to restaurants because you are too uncomfortable having to apologize to people who are being mistreated.
My boyfriend of six years and I are in our 50s and since I’ve met him he’s always worn a baseball hat. I mean always—at restaurants, social events, our dinner table. This bothers me so much that have considered breaking up with him but he has so many other wonderful qualities it seemed like a small concession to make. We now live together and—you guessed it—the hat thing drives me crazy. He is handsome and in great shape, but he hates his thinning hair, even though I have assured him that bald men are sexy. I want to free him (and myself) from this ridiculous attachment. What should I do?
—Hoping for Hatless
This reminds me of one of my favorite jokes whose punch line is, “He had a hat.” I understand why this small thing would make you want to flip your lid, but he came with the hat, you now live together, and your leverage is limited. You also know that if you broke up, most of the available hatless men you would be dating would make you cry yourself to sleep holding your ex’s favorite Yankees cap. But there is breaking news on the balding front you could use to your advantage. David Gergen (yes, David Gergen!) has ditched his comb over and looks light years better. Watch CNN with your guy, and after Gergen comes on, tell your love you want to see his handsome face shine, too. Suggest you go together to a high-end hairdresser and get a consult about a cut that would let everyone know you’re with the best-looking guy in the room.
More Dear Prudence Columns
“The Only One—Or Else: My girlfriend has a fit whenever I mention my late wife. What should I do?”
“Bed Bug: My husband invited a homeless woman to live with us. Should I divorce him?”
“My Mother the Identity Thief: My mom has been running up credit-card debt in my name. What do I do?”
“Confessions of a Favorite Daughter: My parents’ blatant favoritism made me a narcissist and my sister depressed. Is it too late for me to stop it?”
More Dear Prudence Chat Transcripts
“My Life as a Sugar Baby: In a live chat, Prudie advises a woman on whether to stay mum about having dated rich men for money.”
“Tongue Oppressor: In a live chat, Prudie advises a woman whose boyfriend obnoxiously licks her face.”
“My Creepy Keeper: In a live chat, Prudie advises a woman whose brother-in-law “watches over her” by peeping through her bedroom window.”
“Don’t Look, Ma!: In a live chat, Prudie advises a man whose wife refuses to hide a nude print the next time his mother comes over.”
Check out Dear Prudence’s book recommendations in the Slate Store.