How do I convince my arrogant father to keep his mouth shut?

By Emily Yoffe, Slate
Posted Oct. 13, 2012, at 5:03 p.m.

Dear Prudie,

I am the mother of 14-year-old twin girls. It took three torturous years of infertility treatment for me to get pregnant. Then my husband and I were told that I was carrying quintuplets! We explored all the ramifications of this pregnancy and got wise counsel from our doctor and our spiritual adviser. Because we feared total miscarriage or severe disability for one or more of the babies we decided on selective abortion and reduced the number of fetuses from five to two. This too was a torturous process emotionally and physically. Our families were very supportive and after our daughters were born we asked them not to share the fact of the selective abortion with them.

Everyone agreed except my father, who says family secrets are unhealthy. I told him that whether to tell the girls and when was up to my husband and me. He responded that he couldn’t promise that he would not tell, which is typical of his insensitivity and arrogance. He lives quite a distance away and I’ve had limited contact with him ever since. Now he plans on moving closer, and the issue has come up again. I don’t think the girls are ready to hear this, and part of me doesn’t ever want to tell them. They do know I had infertility treatments. What should I do?

— Enraged Daughter, Protective Mom

Dear Mom,

For every (Jon &) Kate Plus Eight with their thriving sextuplets, there are terrible stories about the consequences of “high order” multiple births. You made a painful but medically sound choice. As far as family secrets are concerned, often the corrosive nature of keeping them can be as damaging as the secret itself. However, your father sounds like a selfish blowhard whose motivation is not that he fears an important truth is being withheld from the girls, but that he enjoys the power to make you squirm. Refuse to squirm, but reiterate to him that the medical issues around your pregnancy are a matter for you and your husband to discuss with your children. Say that since he doesn’t trust your judgment, you can’t trust his. So despite his moving closer, you’re going to keep your distance unless he accepts he’s not entitled to overrule your parental prerogatives.

I understand your feeling that this news would deeply distress your girls to no good purpose and that you want to wait, perhaps until they are young adults. (I know you’re considering not ever telling, but since a number of people know, it’s probably better for you and your husband to be the ones to inform them some day.)

You must be prepared, however, for your father to carry out his threat. If your daughters come to you having heard this revelation, put aside your rage and be calm and factual. Tell them what their grandfather said is true, and that you’re very sorry they found out this way. Say that and you and their dad have discussed telling them many times, but concluded that this hard and sad fact is a burden you didn’t want them to bear right now. Since they do know, say you are ready to discuss the reasons you made the most agonizing decision of your lives, and that you want to hear how they are feeling. Tell them that if you could have safely carried more children you would have, but that every day you are grateful that you were able to become mother to the most precious people in the world to you.

— Prudie

Dear Prudence,

I have a haunting problem. My father-in-law brought back two unusual souvenirs from his WWII days: two Japanese skulls. After he passed away we ended up with them. I refused to have them in my house, so my husband and I gave one to a friend, and the other to our brother-in-law. We feel guilty about this and would like to send these “guys” home for a proper burial. Also, since coming into possession of the skulls, both of these people and their families have suffered bad luck and ill health. I feel they are being stalked by vengeful spirits! Should I risk being thought crazy and tell them my concerns? And if I do get the skulls back, how do I send them home? My husband is worried about any legal ramifications of having them, and he doesn’t want to damage his dad’s reputation. What should we do?

— Skulls in the Closet

Dear Skulls,

As the World War II generation is passing and passed, you and your husband are not the only ones to find yourself with gruesome relics disinterred from a veteran’s attic or basement. As Jack Shafer wrote in Reuters in April, many such souvenirs made their way here from the Pacific theater, despite our military’s orders against such desecration.

You’re right to want to return this pair to their homeland. Instead of mentioning to your friend and brother-in-law that you’ve cursed them with your largesse (which you haven’t), show them this article about a similar situation. Say you want to take responsibility for the repatriation of the skulls and you will contact the nearest Japanese consulate to get things started. Certainly, this can be handled quietly and the skulls eventually buried, along with the story of how your father-in-law came to possess them.

— Prudie

Please send your questions for publication to prudence@slate.com. Questions may be edited.

http://bangordailynews.com/2012/10/13/living/how-do-i-convince-my-arrogant-father-to-keep-his-mouth-shut/ printed on April 16, 2014