I discovered my dad’s secret — he’s gay. What do I do now?

Posted April 21, 2013, at 2:24 p.m.
Emily Yoffe
Emily Yoffe

Dear Prudence,

I’m a 30-year-old woman whose parents got divorced when I was 15. My father has never been open about having a relationship since the divorce. I was visiting him a while ago and went to look up something on his iPad. His mail browser was open and I happened to see an email between him and another man with the sign off “love you.” I know I shouldn’t have looked any further, but this was a surprising turn of events. So I scrolled through the emails and I’m quite certain that my father is in a relationship with this man. I haven’t said anything, but I feel burdened by this secret. I love my father so much and I don’t care if he’s gay. I’d actually be thrilled to know that he isn’t alone and is in a happy relationship. I realize I’m getting dramatic, but I dread never talking about it and then at his funeral meeting his male lovers. I’m upset my father thinks this needs to be a secret and I also want to know the person my father is in love with! I’m wondering how to bring this up without it being embarrassing or putting him on the spot. We are close but don’t have the type of relationship where we just talk about everything and he’s always been evasive on the subject of relationships.

— Outing My Dad

Dear Outing,

It’s so true that we now have unprecedented ability to track in real-time our loved one’s secret lives. It will be a little sad to see the end of the box of mementos, found after the death of one’s nearest and dearest, which reveal shocking and unexpected twists in the psyches of those we thought we knew best. But now there aren’t letters and snapshots. Instead practically all of us carry our own dossiers and tracking devices. Sure, you snooped, but I can understand your following the tantalizing clue that Dad’s lonely bachelor persona is just a cover for a fulfilling gay life. How sad that even as the world has changed so dramatically around him, your father apparently feels such a sense of shame that he doesn’t want you to know. All you can do is be brave enough to tell him and assure him you’re happy about this discovery. I’m betting that once he gets over his instinctive fatherly reaction to chide you for going through his things, he will feel an enormous sense of relief that the secret, and he, are out. If he’s able to open up about his life and loves, the next time you visit you must watch together the lovely movie on this theme, “Beginners.”

— Prudie

Dear Prudence,

I’m in my mid-40s and have a relatively successful career. For more than 20 years I’ve exaggerated on my resume, in particular regarding my education. I got comfortable with the lie and no one ever questioned my “degree.” A few months ago a recruiter from a prestigious company reached out to me about a position in his organization. I had multiple interviews and was getting great feedback. Then, they went quiet. I contacted everyone I spoke with and received no response. I was stunned since everyone had been so responsive when I was there. A few days ago I received an email from one of the people who interviewed me. It was just a link to an article about the importance of checking a candidate’s references. I had a scalding moment of humiliation and understood the silence. That stupid lie about my education got me. I immediately removed the lie from my resume. Here’s my problem: My professional network comprises people who are connected to the organization I interviewed at. I’m terrified that this lie is going to follow me to my current position. Should I go to my employer and confess my false education history? I can’t afford to lose my job, yet I know if my company finds out on their own, that’s what will happen. I’m so ashamed and want to learn from this mistake.

— Fraud Revealed

Dear Fraud,

A few years ago the beloved dean of admissions at MIT had to resign when it was revealed she had fabricated her education credentials, ironically proving that advanced degrees were not a requirement for her job. Your success shows that the degree you claimed to have but actually don’t wasn’t a necessity for your job, either. (But please don’t tell me you’re a neurosurgeon or a nuclear engineer.) If you want the catharsis of coming clean with your company, your confession will likely give you plenty of free time to contemplate your original deception. I spoke to employment attorney Philip Gordon, who said that volunteering this information will raise two questions with your current employer: “Why is this person updating her resume?” and “What are we going to do about this fraud?” Flagging for them that you’re likely looking for another job and admitting that you’ve been misleading them for years about your education will force them to act. They cannot afford to set a precedent that misrepresentation of credentials can go unpunished. Gordon says the consequences for you could range from placing a note in your file and putting you in a warning period to firing you.

I’m all for honesty, but in this case I think a more fitting punishment would be for you to keep quiet and simply join the ranks of people with inflated resumes whose eyes pop open from guilt at 3 a.m. some nights. (Gordon points out this calculation is different if you lack a required credential that could create serious liability for your employer.) As for the interviewers at the other company ratting you out, put aside that fear. The person who sent you that note was simply doing you a favor. Everyone knows it is extremely bad form for those reviewing job candidates to blab about who came through the office. Recommit to being an impeccable employee and hold your head high, even if it never did wear the mortarboard you claim.

— Prudie

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

 

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