Dear Prudence

Sins of the Father

I’m Mexican American. My dad is a white supremacist. Do I have to talk to him?

A young woman covers her ears as an older man snarls behind her.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Thinkstock.

Dear Prudence,
My biological father was emotionally and verbally abusive to my sister and me when we were young, and my mother divorced him. Therapy helped us repair the relationship somewhat, but it’s become increasingly clear that my dad is a white supremacist. He makes comments to strangers like “This is America. You speak English here. If you’re coming here, at least have the decency to learn our language or go back to Mexico.” What kind of a father says these things in front of his Mexican-American daughters? (My mom’s family came from Mexico.) I’ve also heard him say “Black lives don’t matter” and “Homosexuality is wrong.”

I stopped talking to him last year. My sister still talks to him—they seem to have an agreement not to talk politics. My mom and sister understand why I refuse to speak with him. The last time we texted, I told him that I had recently been asked if I was “legal.” His response was simply, “Rights change.” That is the message I have had burned in my mind since June: “Rights change.” I’ve washed my hands of him, but he still wants to talk to me, I hear. Should I?
—Can’t Talk Now, Dad

You say only that you “hear” your father wants to talk to you. Not that he’s directly gotten in touch with you, or apologized for hurting you as a child, or disavowed his white supremacist beliefs, or even acknowledged the ways in which he’s hurt you as an adult—just that through the grapevine, he’s possibly signaled to someone that he’d be open to talking. That’s not much of a foundation for a real relationship, I fear. There’s nothing in your letter that suggests you think your father is willing to consider ways in which he has failed you as a parent, or that he’s open to reconsidering his racist ideas (or just minimizing his racist behavior). You don’t even say that you miss talking to him. The last time the two of you spoke, he implied that he envisioned a future in which your citizenship could be stripped from you on the basis of your heritage. I don’t think you have any reason to trust him, and if you can’t trust him, you can’t safely re-establish a relationship with him. This realization sounds like it’s been extremely slow-moving and painful for you, and I hope you’re able to work through some of the grief and loss with other friends and family—just not him.

Dear Prudence,
I am a straight woman who recently moved to the U.S. In order to make friends, I joined a softball team. I found a team that was described as “feminist”; I later found out that it was a lesbian team. (I don’t mean that it is gay-friendly, I mean that it is specifically for lesbians and bisexual women.) I am wondering if I need to tell my teammates that I’m straight. I don’t want to take the spot of an actual gay woman, but I feel like if I leave, I am letting the team down and it could be perceived as homophobic. I like the women on my team, who have all been very friendly to me, but I worry they might be angry that I am taking the spot of a bona fide lesbian or bisexual woman.
—Vexed Straight Woman

If the team wasn’t advertised as gay-only to you (and no one tried to confirm your sexuality during tryouts), I have a strong feeling that lesbianism is not a requirement for membership. And I can’t imagine any of your teammates getting angry with you, given that you’ve never claimed to be gay when you aren’t or misrepresented anything about your sexuality. But you can certainly clarify this! Talk to the coach or whoever’s responsible for securing new members—you don’t need to make an announcement during a team dinner. Keep your tone friendly and casual—don’t make it sound like you’ve got a terrible confession to reveal. Tell them you’re straight, and that when you joined the team, you didn’t realize it was organized at least partly around sexual orientation. Say you’ve enjoyed getting to know the other players and that you’d love to keep playing if they’ll have you, but that you don’t want to do so on the basis of a misunderstanding. My guess is they’ll be happy to keep you on. If they don’t, leaving the team will feel better than trying to practice under a cloud of anxiety.

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Dear Prudence,
About six months ago, I moved in with my friend “Jenny” to save on rent. Jenny owns a two-bedroom townhouse, and I pay her rent and utilities each month. We each have a bedroom, bathroom, and separate living room; we share the dining room and kitchen. We drew up a lease agreement using an online template. Jenny is much closer with her family than I am with mine, and they often visit. Recently her mother stayed with us for two weeks after Jenny lost her job. Immediately afterward, her father visited for two weeks and helped repaint the downstairs. While I understand having your family close during a difficult time, a full month of hosting family members felt excessive to me.

Her family members have been sleeping in my living room (which is rented to me, per the lease), and I’m concerned that the electric and gas bills will be significantly higher this month. I feel that it’s unfair to expect me to pay rent for space that I couldn’t use for an entire month and to pay higher utilities bills for someone else’s guests. What’s more, Jenny has frequently stayed with her boyfriend during this period, leaving me at home alone with her parents. I’m especially uncomfortable being home alone with her father. He has done nothing untoward, but I don’t like to be alone with men I do not know. How can I address these concerns with her without damaging our friendship? Am I overreacting to this situation?
—Roommate, Not Hostess

So far, it seems like you haven’t had any conversations about overnight guests, so it stands to reason that you’ve run into conflicting ideas about what’s reasonable. If you’re paying rent for the full use of your living room, then you have the right to decline to host her guests there. She’s got her own living room; she can put her relatives up in it. Since you haven’t mentioned any of this to Jenny yet, I think you should do so as soon as possible, before the rent and utilities are due. The two of you can come to your own agreement about overnight guests (the duration of visits, where guests can stay, who will shoulder increased utility expenses, etc.) so that you have a clear sense of what to expect from one another. You may not be able to agree on everything, but it’s not at all an overreaction not to want your roommate’s relatives staying in your living room, especially when she herself is spending the night at her boyfriend’s. As long as you have this conversation calmly and frankly, it’s not “damaging” to your friendship to be specific about what you expect from one another as roommates.

Dear Prudence,
My girlfriend of eight years had an affair with a married acquaintance of ours, “Konstantin.” They both claim it never got physical but promised me and Konstantin’s wife that they’d stop seeing each other, then continued to do so behind our backs. After I broke up with her, my ex tried unsuccessfully to get Konstantin to leave his wife for her (Konstantin and his wife have two small kids).

I have avoided talking with friends about this—partly due to shame but mostly because we share many close friends. I do not want to burden mutual friends with this dirty laundry and make them feel like they have to choose which of us to invite to parties. I don’t need them to dislike Konstantin on my behalf—he has some good qualities, although for obvious reasons I resent him. Konstantin and I avoid each other socially, and I don’t think anyone has noticed, but it has gotten to the point where I feel like I am telling a lie by omission to my friends. Which course of action causes the least harm?

Your inclination not to ask friends to choose sides is an admirable one, and is likely to serve you well as time goes by and the pain of your breakup eventually fades. You’re not lying, by omission or otherwise, if your friends know that you and your girlfriend have split. There’s no reason you have to tell them why you’re not especially close with someone who was only ever an acquaintance of yours. But if you feel like you’re withholding important information from your friends and it’s making you feel isolated, you can certainly tell a few friends whose discretion you trust that you broke up with your girlfriend because she was having an inappropriate relationship with someone else and kept seeing him even after promising to break it off. That doesn’t unnecessarily drag your circle into an embarrassing turf war, but it might make you feel less like you’re carrying a secret around and pretending things are fine when you’re actually dealing with pain, betrayal, and resentment.

Dear Prudence Uncensored

“This is all very, ‘The others must never know, doctor. It would be too much for them to bear’ Victorian stalwart concealing their tuberculosis diagnosis.”

Mallory Ortberg and Nicole Cliffe discuss this letter in this week’s Dear Prudence Uncensored—only for Slate Plus members.

Dear Prudence,
I work in a small office of about 30 people. Recently a woman who is a bit of a prankster has moved into our office suite. It started off with small things like moving chairs and silly threats, but this week it escalated. While working through my lunch hour I received a call from a man telling me he was delivering 30 pizzas to my house.
I tried to explain that he had the wrong number, but he got increasingly agitated until I finally had to hang up. It turned out that the call was a recording and a prank by our office jokester. I laughed it off.

My boss (who is away on holiday) told me that she was very unimpressed with the jokester but that I handled myself professionally. She also added that she could tell “by the look on [my] face” that the call was a little upsetting. I asked how she knew I looked upset and discovered that the jokester secretly videotaped me while I was on the call and sent the footage to my manager. I am unsure how to handle this. I like a good joke as much as the next person, but I cannot help feeling as though this prankster crossed a line by videotaping me. The prankster does not report to my manager but is a close friend of hers, so I feel like my hands are tied. I did express to my boss that I was upset that I was videotaped, but that is as far as it went. How do I keep this from happening again without putting my professional relationships, or my boss’s friendship with the prankster, at risk?

Your boss’s response was underwhelming! It was sympathetic, which is a start, but she didn’t offer any reassurance that she was taking steps to make sure it didn’t happen again. I realize this woman doesn’t report to your boss, but your boss should be actively seeking ways to help you feel safe and comfortable in the workplace, including taking this up the chain of command and making sure her friend is reprimanded, apologizes to you, and can commit to behaving more professionally in the future. Go back to your boss with a specific request since she failed to respond appropriately the first time: You’d like assurance from the prankster herself that she won’t do this to you again and that she’ll stop playing jokes on her co-workers, as well as a guarantee that she’ll delete any copies of the recording she made of you. That’s a reasonable request, and not one that could imperil your boss’s friendship with this woman (which frankly isn’t your concern).

Dear Prudence,
“Kirk” works for a company that’s a customer of my company. Before I was promoted into my current job, I worked closely with Kirk’s company, and I still maintain a friendly relationship with many people there. Kirk and I have had a friendly sports rivalry for the past few years. He regularly texts me, sometimes including others, when our two teams play. These smack-talk sessions have become increasingly rude on his part. He criticizes the place I come from and describes us as inbred. He’s called me an idiot for liking my hometown team. He calls the team captain a sissy and a girl (I’m a woman). He made disparaging remarks about a bus crash involving several players.

I don’t say much back except “Go [team]!” and reaffirming my love for my hometown. I sometimes ignore him, but he still sends me a ton of messages. Now our teams are facing off in the playoffs, so I expect a lot more of this. If my company didn’t need to have a good relationship with his, I would have blocked him by now.
—Enough Already

You have room to say something directly about the tone of these messages, since he hasn’t picked up on the very obvious hint when you haven’t responded in kind. You can ask him to tone it down and explain that you’re not interested in exchanging aggressive put-downs every time your teams play one another. Hopefully he’ll get the message. If he doesn’t, and you feel like you can’t block his number without risking damage to your company’s relationship with this client, you can at least set him to “Do Not Disturb” (or the equivalent for whatever phone you have) so you won’t receive alerts or notifications when he does text. Since you two don’t have a working relationship, there’s no risk you’ll miss the occasional relevant message if you do.

Classic Prudie

“When he was 18, my brother tearfully confessed that he is gay. Our parents sent him to a ‘conversion therapy’ camp. Since then, he has gone out with a series of young women and is planning on proposing to his current girlfriend. She doesn’t know that he’s gay—my brother told me he’s never told her. Should I say something to his girlfriend?”