Dear Prudence

Bloody Relations

My father was murdered when I was a child. Then I found out my uncle may have been the killer.

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photo by Teresa Castracane.

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Dear Prudence,
My father was murdered over 30 years ago when I was 6 years old. His murder was never solved or investigated, to my knowledge, although his death certificate lists his cause of death as a homicide. This was in Detroit during the ’80s, and I was always told it was a robbery gone wrong. Around my 16th birthday my paternal grandmother, on her deathbed, told me that my uncle—my mother’s brother—murdered my father. Apparently, the event that led him to strike a blow to my father’s head was over money. I was shocked at this revelation but powerless to do anything about it, and her confession was a burden I didn’t want since I had mostly gotten over my father’s death after years of struggling with grief. My father, although he was a great man, had a heroin problem. The uncle who supposedly murdered him is a strung-out dope fiend who has had very little to do with our family except for popping up occasionally to beg for money or cause trouble. We’ve had run-ins, and he knows I know what he did, but he just rambles about my father’s drug problem. I’ve learned that my mother and her siblings have known about this. Last week my mother called and said her siblings were attempting to reconcile with this uncle and that she wanted nothing to do with it. She was thinking about going to the police about the murder allegations and asked if I wanted to get involved. This tore open an old wound, and I’m trying to figure out if I want to go down this rabbit hole. I’ve left Michigan and have a very good life. I’ve escaped the crime and poverty that I believe led to my father’s death. I want justice and revenge for my father. I feel as though I owe it to his side of my family, with whom I am very close. But I don’t know if it’s worth pursuing or what damage I may cause to my mom’s side of the family. I need an outsider to bring some perspective.

—I Don’t Know WTF to Do

Dear Don’t,
You understandably want justice for your father. But this is a 30-year-old cold case in a city with huge financial problems and trouble keeping up with current crime. The witnesses to your father’s death are probably either unreliable or dead, so even if your mother—with or without you—were to press forward, she likely would not find satisfaction in the criminal justice system. (And keep in mind that the family legend may not be true.) But there is another kind of justice you have already given your father, and that is the profound way you have redeemed his life. He was a loving man who struggled with an addiction and its destructive effects. Surely the thing that your father would have wanted most was for you to turn out as you have—a resilient and accomplished person.  When you think about him, please be comforted that every day you are living the dream he must have had for you. Right now you are feeling torn apart and thinking about what to do in a binary fashion. But you don’t have to make a final decision to either go to the police with your mother or turn away from the rabbit hole. Before your mother makes this decision, I suggest you and she have a meeting with a criminal defense attorney. This lawyer could give you a read on the possibility of even making a case based on your knowledge of this long ago event. This lawyer could also talk to you about what moving forward would entail both legally and emotionally. At the end of that session, you two would have a better idea about a plan of action—or inaction. Whatever she decides, your mother can also make clear to her siblings that she will not reconcile with her brother and that they need to respect this. And I hope you come to accept that not finding out exactly what happened to your father—and not being able to avenge him—is not only defensible, but maybe even the wise course. You will never forget him, but to honor him doesn’t require you to dwell on the manner of his death. Instead remember the wonderful things about him, and be comforted that you are carrying forward those qualities in your own life.


Dear Prudence,
About a month ago, I went out to dinner with my girlfriend to celebrate her birthday. The restaurant was perfectly fine, but the dinner was a disaster. We spent the entire time in awkward conversation, with occasional jabs and criticisms of each other thrown in the mix. Toward the end, I tried to tell my girlfriend that we got off to a bad start and that I wished that she could have dialed back some of the criticism and hurtful jokes that night. She became extremely upset, asked to leave right away, and then went to the bathroom for several minutes. After telling me how upset she was at me the entire car ride home, she broke up with me two hours later. It turns out while she was en route to the bathroom, our waiter told her that “she should be spending her birthday with someone who cares about you—not that guy,” and that contributed to her breaking up with me. I think offering unsolicited advice to a customer about her relationship is outrageous and unprofessional. If you agree it was wrong, what’s the best way to go about addressing it? A letter to the manager? A Yelp review? Nothing?

—No Tip

Dear No,
If your girlfriend broke up with you because of a comment by a waiter, you two weren’t destined to go back to this, or any restaurant, for your 25th-anniversary dinner. His remarks were intrusive and unprofessional, but your girlfriend apparently found them more illuminating than the list of specials. You indeed could complain and try to get the guy fired. But your girlfriend has already fired you as a boyfriend, and she’s sticking with her zero-star review of your relationship: “Will leave you with indigestion.” You say the birthday dinner was a mélange of nasty awkwardness, and that it ended with your expressing a wish that she had behaved differently. If she was such a miserable partner, then be glad you two are through. However, if the waiter, in addition to filling your water glasses, also provided acute psychological insight, then maybe you need to rethink your approach to birthday celebrations and relationships.


Dear Prudence,
I recently found out that my mother has ordered me an Apple Watch in the $600 range. I do not want it. I am not a tech person, I feel stressed out by social media, and I try to remain as “unplugged” as possible. I do not even own the Apple iPhone, which is necessary to make the watch functional. Most of all, I am uncomfortable with the ostentatious display of wealth that wearing this thing entails. My mother and I have a distant but friendly relationship, and I’m sure she’s just trying to be nice. I feel like a donkey’s rear for complaining about this, but what do I do? Let it sit on my shelf? Wear it only at family gatherings? Try to give it back? Unlike my mother, I am pretty tight financially, and I would love to be able to scalp the thing for the cash. Would that make me a terrible person? 

—Do Not Want!

Dear Do Not,
Right there on the Apple Watch website it says that an iPhone is required to make the watch work. So it seems foolish for your mother to give you one when you don’t own the other, and even more so for you to wear a nonfunctional watch to family events to show your mother how much you don’t enjoy her gift. Getting a gadget for someone who is averse to technology and doesn’t even own the basic equipment to make the thing run is a little like getting a frequent traveler who lives in a studio apartment a Great Dane puppy. In this case, your mother’s generosity is a waste. Maybe this “thoughtfulness” is part of why you’re distant. But since you are at least friendly, and she’s your mother, when the watch arrives thank her sincerely but explain you simply can’t use it. Offer to return it to her, or say you would be happy to find it a loving home via eBay.


Dear Prudence,
There is a question that affects my spouse and me during the allergy season. Suppose your spouse is sick to the point of disrupting the usual nighttime sleeping routine. I am talking about coughs/sneezes/nose blowing/etc. Which spouse should vacate the marital bed for the guest room? Assume that the guest room is equally comfortable and convenient as the bedroom. My first thought was that the sick party should be courteous and temporarily move out but then compassion makes me think the nonsuffering party should let the partner be in the more familiar place. What do you think?

—Sometimes Sleepless

Dear Sometimes,
My husband and I are both nasally challenged during spring allergy season, and it is my belief that the person who is dripping, sniffling, and snoring like a bulldog should vacate the marital bed. This allows the person with the sinus symphony to engage in full operatic repertoire without worrying that their effluvia is impinging on the sleep of their partner—or contaminating the shared space. But this isn’t a blanket rule. If the sick person is recovering from surgery or is dealing with something more serious than seasonal allergies, that person should recuperate in the comfort of familiar surroundings. Your letter points out why it’s worth investing in another decent sleeping surface in the house, be it a bed or a couch, because it’s miserable to start the night with a clogged head and end with an aching back.


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