Dear Prudence

Found and Lost

I finally met my biological father, but my mom wants me to forget him.

Mallory Ortberg
Mallory Ortberg

Sam Breach

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Dear Prudence,

This spring I found my biological father and his family for the first time. The man I thought was my father died when I was 13, and he obviously preferred my half-brothers to me. I also didn’t get along with my stepfather when my mother remarried when I was a teenager. When I was 19, I went through some of my mother’s papers and found my real father’s name. I found him, and he and his wife were both wonderful. My father told me that he dated my mother long ago, but after she left, she lied to him about me. A DNA test confirmed we’re related, but my mother continued to lie to me after I confronted her with the truth. She finally admitted it but accused me of invading her privacy and going “behind her back.” She asked me to lie to my brothers, but I refused.

I moved out. I refused to stop seeing my new family, even though my mother told me I was embarrassing her. I see my father, stepmother, and sisters regularly. It is such a relief to have them in my life. My father has offered to pay for my school, and my stepmother has invited me for the holidays—they are welcoming, warm, and kind to me. Now I don’t know how to forgive my mother. She keeps lying and saying she did what she thought was best for me and that my stepfather loved me like I was “his own.” When I tell her how cold he always was to me, she tells me I am remembering wrong. I miss my brothers, but I can’t see my mother without seeing red. She wants to play pretend again, and I won’t do it, but I don’t know what to do.

—Lying Mother

You get to keep taking as much time and space as you need. Try to remember that you have only very recently, and at a very young age, learned a life-altering truth about your own family. If your school offers counseling services to students, take advantage of it and see a therapist. Anger is a completely appropriate response to what you’re going through, so give yourself permission to be angry for a while. If your mother pushes you to agree that she acted in your best interests, refuse. If you keep your mother at arm’s length for a while, especially if she continues to insist that your childhood was a happy one and ignore the very real hurt that she’s caused you, then you should do that without guilt or hesitation. If your brothers still live with your mother, you can let them know that you love them and miss them. Call, text, or email them—keep in touch in whichever way doesn’t require you to go through your mother. Continue to cultivate a relationship with your father and his side of the family as you make up for lost time. You don’t have to do anything right now besides focus on going to school and doing what you need to do in order to take care of yourself.

* * *

Dear Prudence,

My husband died unexpectedly a week ago, shortly after I discovered he’d been having an affair with his boss, “Laura.” I never got the chance to confront him about it, and my grieving process has been complicated by my sense of betrayal and because I’ll never get the answers I’m desperate for. I’m focusing on caring for my two young children. Laura began a fundraising campaign without consulting me, not that I would have taken a call from her in the first place. I can’t deal with her now or ever, although I’m not in a position to turn down money. I also don’t want her at the funeral. What’s the most concise way to excise this person (who begged my husband to leave me) from my life?

—Mistress Won’t Leave Me Alone

What a jarring and destabilizing one-two punch. I’m so sorry for both of your losses and that one followed so quickly on the heels of the other. If you can’t turn down the money but don’t appreciate collecting it from your husband’s mistress, consider asking a trusted friend (possibly someone else at your husband’s office) to take over the administration of the funds on your behalf and to act as a buffer in case Laura tries to get in touch with you. If even that sounds like too much interaction, you can also set up your own request for donations—you never agreed to Laura’s arrangement and are perfectly free to set up an official funeral fund, since you’re the one who’s actually going to be paying for it.

When it comes to the ceremony itself, you can speak to the funeral director or clergyperson (if applicable) beforehand about how best to handle the situation. Odds are this won’t be the first time something like this has come up, and he or she will be able to help you prevent a graveside scene with tact and discretion.

* * *

Dear Prudence,

One of my colleagues, “Amanda,” recently left our company. Amanda and I worked closely over the past few months, as I’m relatively new to this position. “Rachel,” our manager, said that she thinks I’d be a good replacement and that Amanda had herself suggested me before she left. Rachel emphasized that I shouldn’t feel pressure to accept, that the position wasn’t even posted yet, but that I should think about it; I said I appreciated it and wanted to discuss the idea further. She said it was a role they had made specifically for Amanda and that the position could be reshaped.

The problem is that Amanda was almost always the first one in and the last one out. Other colleagues have said things like, “It was only a matter of time before she burned out” and joked that I’m “smiling now” but won’t be once I’m staying at the office every night until 9 p.m. I’ve already been given a lot of Amanda’s old tasks while we search for her replacement, and it’s become clear that a lot of her time was taken up by project management (as opposed to the creative title in her job description). The good news is that we’ve recently hired a new director, and they are looking to add a project manager.

What is an appropriate way and time to bring up my many concerns about Amanda’s workload? Should I do that with Rachel, the new director, both together, or both separately? Additionally, I’m not sure that this is an official promotion, since both Amanda and I reported to the same person. What’s the best way (and time) to discuss a raise? I don’t want to seem presumptuous, since it’s not like I have the job already. I want to create a document that lists some of the pain points in the new position and a corresponding list of solutions I propose. However, is that information I should only present once I have the job?

—Jumping the Gun

Since you’ve already been given a significant portion of Amanda’s former workload, the time to bring up those concerns is now. It sometimes happens at work that one absorbs extra duties after a colleague leaves, and it’s often an opportunity to demonstrate new skills, but it can also be overwhelming and get in the way of one’s own job description. Get a sense for how much time each day you’re spending on your own work as well as Amanda’s, present the breakdown to Rachel, and ask what she wants you to prioritize. It’s fine to want to spend a little more time at work to prove yourself, but you shouldn’t get in the habit of staying at the office until 9 every night.

As for the rest of your concerns, I think it’s best to wait until the job is actually posted and you’ve decided to apply before bringing them up. If at any point Rachel or the new director asks for your input (given that Rachel’s encouraged you to apply and has stressed the flexible nature of the position, I think that’s fairly likely), you can share your list of problems you’ve identified and their corresponding solutions. Once the opening is posted, ask yourself if the job description seems reasonable, well-defined, and suited to your professional interests. And if you decide to apply, do some research about the compensation other companies offer for similar positions, decide what you think would be a reasonable amount of money to ask for, then bring that up during the interview process. Good luck!

* * *

Dear Prudence: Yes, I survived cancer, but can we please stop talking about my hair?

Hear more Prudie at

* * *

Dear Prudence,

I just found out my brother-in-law is a racial separatist. I knew he was a big Trump supporter but didn’t know why. As it turns out, he sees supporting Trump as the best way to avoid the “inevitable race war” that will occur when whites are no longer a numerical majority. He argues that history proves the races cannot peacefully coexist and is “interested” in whether all races have the same IQ. I love my wife’s family and spend a lot of time with them. How do I move forward?

—Racist In-Law

You reject it. When you find out a member of your family believes that national peace is only possible with a white majority, you have a moral obligation to oppose the sort of world he is trying to bring about. You make it clear that you find his beliefs racist and unconscionable. You do not seek to keep the peace by only talking about sports or the weather or chuckling uncomfortably and changing the subject when he talks about things like the “inevitable race war.” Implicit in your aside about spending a lot of time with your wife’s family is the fear that if you actually acknowledge your brother-in-law’s white supremacist beliefs, you will be pushed aside or blamed for making a scene. This is worth being blamed; this is worth drawing a line in the sand. If the amount of time your wife’s family enjoys spending with you is predicated in even a small part on your overlooking virulent white supremacy, then it is better for you to know now so you can make it clear that bargain is not worth it to you.

* * *

Dear Prudence,

I got divorced last year and have been happily single since then. I plan to stay that way for a while. Recently I’ve had a couple of old guy friends get in touch and ask to get together to catch up. In both cases, there was potential for romantic relationships many years ago, but we ended up just being friends. I’d like to get together with them but worry that they’re really just looking for hookups. How can I make clear that I’m only interested in friendship without coming off as obnoxious or presumptuous?

The same anxiety often comes up if a new male acquaintance asks to go to lunch or for a drink. How do I clarify that I’m not interested in anything but friendship without giving the impression that I walk around thinking every man in the world must want to have sex with me?

—Just Friends

There are plenty of indirect ways to communicate that you’re not on a date with someone. You can show up in sweatpants, avoid dimly lit restaurants, open with a bear hug and “How the hell are ya?” or whatever other methods you use to telegraph a lack of sexual intrigue. You can also accept these invitations at face value and operate with the assumption that they were offered platonically, but also mention your present happiness at staying single and out of the dating and hookup game. That’s both a natural point of conversation (presumably you’d at least mention your recent divorce and subsequent status during any chats with friends, whether you were worried about their intentions or not) and a way of making it clear that you’re not looking to reignite any old flames. It’s also fine to be direct with new male acquaintances, since there’s not the same history of friendship: Ask to invite other co-workers, or say, “I’d greatly enjoy getting a drink as friends. Does Thursday work for you?” That’s neither obnoxious nor presumptuous.

* * *

Dear Prudence,

I was diagnosed with Celiac disease a few years ago. Typically, everything is manageable, although I sometimes struggle to afford food, since gluten-free food is more expensive, and I am seemingly always hungry. The problem is the social aspect. When I have people over, I feel I do not want to offer them my food, which is expensive and sometimes hard to find. They can eat anything! Why do they have to eat my food? I have offered non-gluten-free food that I had on hand, but they wanted my food. If I cook something for myself, and I have a guest over who has leftovers from a restaurant that I can’t eat at and it’s better than what I’m cooking, the guest still wants what I have!

I am starving, going without meals sometimes, and poor, but I’m trying to be a good host. I appreciate when people cater to me and my food needs, but I never expect it. What should I do in these situations without being rude?

—Stay Away From My Food

If these are guests you’re inviting over specifically to share a meal, then part of being a good host means making sure you provide them with something to eat. That doesn’t mean you have to let them rummage through your fridge and pantry and help themselves to whatever looks good. If your guests decline what you’ve prepared for them and want some of your more expensive, less-filling, specially prepared foods, you should say, “Sorry, but that’s for my lunch at work this week. Can I get you some more pasta/meatloaf/funeral potatoes?” Hopefully they wouldn’t press the issue, but if they do—since your friends are already being unusually pushy—just reiterate what you’ve told me, which is that you’re restricted in terms of what you can eat, and what’s available to you is often expensive and difficult to find, so you can’t spare any as a snack. If this is a problem you’re encountering frequently, you might also consider having friends over outside of traditional mealtimes for tea or a drink or suggesting you meet at their places instead.

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