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Dear John: Do Promises Outlive the People We Make Them With?

Tuesday, April 29, 2014


 What’s your problem? Write to John at [email protected].

Dear John,

An uncle I was very close to passed away recently. Many years ago, he confided in me about something (and me alone, as far as I know). Since then I have honored his request not to share what he told me with anyone. But now it seems to me that I have a dilemma. Now that he is no longer with us, am I free to share what I know? I don’t mean share it widely or without good reason, but I know it’s something my aunt would like to know. For your information, it’s nothing that would lessen her opinion of my uncle – nothing to do with an affair or anything like that. It has to do with the source of the money my uncle used to start up his business decades ago. It has been a mystery that was never explained to my aunt’s satisfaction, and my uncle had his reasons for keeping the information from her. But, long ago as it was, I still think my aunt would be interested in hearing the story. So as a general guideline, are people obligated to keep their word to someone even after that person has died?

Right To Know Or Wrong To Tell?

Dear Right To Know,

I think when someone tells you something in confidence, there’s an understanding that your pact will be honored until you’re explicitly released from it…which obviously will not happen in your case. And you seem to imply that a person’s death makes it a bit more defensible to share previously secret information about him – after all, what does he care now? – but I look at it the opposite way: when he is no longer able to respond or defend whatever he did, posthumous revelations can be the most damaging.

Of course, if withholding the information in question could harm someone in some unforeseen way, you should divulge what you know. But that would hold true if the source of this confidential information were alive, too.

In general, I would be extremely reluctant to go back on my word in a case like yours. You say the knowledge is “nothing that would lessen her opinion of my uncle,” but I suspect you’d be surprised at the unforeseen ways in which such things can blow up. If you promised your uncle you would never tell anyone what he told you, I’m afraid “never” means just that.

Dear John,

My husband and I have a 5-year-old son. As the parents of a young child, we could really use an occasional night out to get re-connected with each other, but a difficult problem is making time together especially hard to come by. The problem? My husband was molested more than once by a relative when he was a small boy, and now he is very, very reluctant, almost to the point of flatly refusing, to leave our son alone with anyone. Believe me, I am sympathetic to how he feels and even without this added factor, I would never leave my child alone with anyone I didn’t 100% believe was trustworthy. I know how cautious you have to be. But there’s a difference between being cautious and being held hostage by the things that happened to you, horrible as they were. I try very hard to be understanding and not let my frustration about this show because I know why he feels this way and he is only trying to protect our son. But with so much of our lives already revolving around him, we need time alone together, too, and we are going to have to get used to the idea of leaving our son with a babysitter for the night eventually. And the longer this goes on, the greater our need will be. What can I or he or we do to help him take this very difficult step?

95% Mother, 5% Wife

Dear 95% Mother,

It goes without saying that you and your husband should do everything possible to become comfortable with your babysitter before actually allowing her (or him) to babysit. The four of you should probably go on a couple of outings together to give your husband (and you) an opportunity to see how the prospective sitter interacts with your son, how she (or he) responds to various situations, etc. If doing so enables your husband to get to the point where he is willing to leave your son alone with his sitter for a couple of hours, technology offers a couple of ways to prevent him from feeling completely cut off. Assuming you both own cell phones, perhaps one of you could leave yours with your son so your husband could call him midway through your date to reassure himself everything’s okay. Reasonably affordable camera systems are available that let you check on things at home while you’re away; these may also afford him enough peace of mind to go out for the night.

Don’t be surprised, though, if nothing works. Ultimately, the two of you may need to see a therapist together to give these issues the thorough exploration they deserve. Your husband undoubtedly wants what’s best for your son – and a fearful, overprotective father is not what’s best for him, regardless of how entirely understandable his fear may be.

Dear John,

I have to ask – what is up with the old guys who think it’s okay to hit on women literally young enough to be their daughters?? For the third time in less than a year, a person I used to have nice, pleasant interactions with has made all future encounters with them awkward by asking me out on a date. I am 28, and all these guys (one’s a neighbor, one was a gym acquaintance, and one was a co-worker) are well over 50 – either that or they have aged extraordinarily poorly! I don’t get it, and I kind of feel like this type of thing used to not happen so much. I actually feel sorry for single women these guys’ age – who asks them out, 80-year-olds?? John, if you have any insight into this, I’d love to hear it, but mostly I am writing to say guys, get a grip! You may think otherwise, but a dude in his 50s with a woman under 30 is not a sign that you’re youthful and virile (or whatever you think); it’s a sign that the woman is slightly to seriously messed up! And we’re nice to you just because we’re nice, NOT because we’re interested…at all!!!

Want A Date, Not A Dad

Dear Want A Date,

Even as I write this, a news story is blowing up involving the elderly owner of a professional sports team and his young girlfriend. And I have yet to see a single mention of how tawdry these relationships are. That’s the world your “suitors” inhabit – one in which it’s easy to forget that well-adjusted young women generally aren’t attracted to lizard-y old guys who DON’T own a sports team. Toss in the occasional hour spent watching 20-year-olds having sex online, and it all starts to seem fairly normal. Thanks for reminding us that it’s really not. And yes, I’m well aware that there are exceptions to these sweeping generalizations, but that’s exactly what they are: extremely rare exceptions.


Related Slideshow: Family Events in Central MA: May 2014

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image via thejbird/flickr


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