The Washington Post Sunday

Her brothers think Dad was a gem, but Papa was really a rolling stone


Hi, Carolyn: I’m the oldest child, with two younger brothers.

My dad passed away about five years ago. My mom told me my dad cheated on her all their married life, until he got too old. She had hinted at that before.

When I asked her why she stayed with him, she replied that he always came back to her. A reply, I think, just as abused women would reply.

My brothers adored my dad and still do. They think he did no wrong and admire his accomplish­ments.

Do I have an obligation to correct the record for them on my dad’s true self, or do I just keep this awful secret to myself? I feel they should know his true character and make up their minds about that.

I don’t know why she told only me. Could it be because I’m a woman? At one time she told me she was a bit annoyed that I was “admiring” my dad and praising him so much. And I don’t know if she’d want me to tell my brothers. She is still living; she almost never talks about feelings, perhaps because, after she lost her dad to the Nazis, she was told to never be sad or cry.

— Torn About the Truth Torn About the Truth: Maybe she didn’t leave him, and doesn’t dwell on her feelings in general, because she had already witnessed what to her were far more terrible things.

Maybe she admired his accomplish­ments, too, even knowing his “true character.”

Staying isn’t only for victims. It also can appeal to pragmatist­s, optimists, cynics, romantics, moral relativist­s, thoughtful parents, loyal partners, next-level compartmen­talizers, cheaters in kind and just comfortabl­y complicate­d people.

I see why you are torn, regardless. Secrets are heavy. Unanswered questions are, too.

You’re looking for an answer between you and your brothers, though, when your mom appears to be the one rich with useful informatio­n none of you has tried, or dared, to harvest.

Be mindful as you proceed of any lasting effects of trauma, of course. But do take your question to her before you do anything else. If she has a nuanced view of your father, then it could do a lot to inform and clarify yours, which would make any answer you come to on the do-I-share-this-truth question a much more agreeable one. Dear Carolyn: For Thanksgivi­ng, I stayed with long-term friends and their family. They had a FULL house, with host and hostess sleeping on recliners in their den. I offered to bring my own air bed. The host insisted on providing an airbed from her daughter.

On the third of four nights, the airbed developed a leak. No jumping, no roughhousi­ng, no sharp objects, no second person on the bed. I refilled it every few hours.

Several days later, my longterm friend advised me she had purchased a new replacemen­t airbed, expecting me to reimburse her for the $300 cost. My suggestion of paying a prorated amount if the bed was not new and under warranty was viewed as rude and insensitiv­e.

Needless to say, my suggestion for the family to send me the leaking bed if I paid for the replacemen­t — since I could possibly patch the leak — was also viewed as rude and insensitiv­e.

If the situation were reversed, I’d feel terrible the bed I provided failed. I’d consider how long I’d owned the airbed and figure out a prorated amount, or just chalk it up to wear and tear.

What to do? — D. D.: Pay the $300 and drop the request for the deflated bed. As in, grab the smallest loss in a nowin situation.

The temptation is great to suggest you also find better friends, because the stoopage to billing anyone for the failure of a non-abused air mattress is so low that I struggle to imagine any kind person who’d do that. Air mattresses eventually fail! All the time. Even the fancy, expensive, guaranteed no-fail ones, even under boring onesleepin­g-person use, I can painfully attest to myself.

This is just the pettiest host behavior in my recent memory — at least. Not even four nights in a recliner amid floors “FULL” of holiday houseguest­s, which gives me an eye twitch just thinking about it, suffices to explain your friend’s astonishin­g lack of grace.

But new friends take time, and maybe you still have hope for these old ones . . . though it could easily be misplaced.

So: Pay this problem away and put some time and effort into nurturing this friendship (if you still value it) and into cultivatin­g others; try not to be a houseguest anywhere past a second night, at least not when your hosts are in the den and can’t escape from you behind their own closed doors; and always, always, from now on, hostly adamance be damned, bring your own inflatable bed.

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Carolyn Hax

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