Can I Ask My Mother-in-Law Who My Wife’s Biological Father Is?


Ever since my wife was a girl, she was close to her stepfather, a lovely man who has now passed away. She always said he was her one and only father, and she had no interest in knowing who her biological father was. Recently, though, she hinted to me that she would like to know her biological father’s identity. But time is running out: We are in our 60s and her mother is approaching 90. Her mother is a forceful woman, and she has always been frank that it was her intention to become a single mother. She never mentioned the biological father’s name — not least because it was a badge of honor for my wife to proclaim that she had “only one dad.” I intend to ask my mother-in-law who the man was, but I worry about upsetting the family narrative. Thoughts?

HUSBAND

I urge you to take a big step back and to consider the difference between supporting your wife and taking the reins on an issue that doesn’t remotely concern you. I am sure you mean well, and I have no idea how your wife “hinted” that she wanted to know who her biological father was. But a hint is not reason enough to make yourself a catalyst here.

A better move would be to invite your wife to explore her feelings. Start by acknowledging her longstanding credo that she had a good father, and then ask if knowing the identity of her biological father would help or hinder her: Could it be useful information? Or does she worry that it would be disloyal to the memory of her stepfather — or upsetting to her mother — to ask about him?

Your role is to help your wife make the best decision for herself — not to make it for her. Questions of biological parentage can be loaded for people who don’t know who theirs are, so your wife may also benefit from speaking to a therapist about this. I understand your concern that time is running out, but that’s no excuse for rash — or possibly undermining — behavior.

A distant relative sent a group text announcing a GoFundMe campaign to help her daughter take art classes. The campaign describes her daughter, a recent college graduate, as a “starving artist.” I don’t know whether the daughter is employed or what the family’s financial circumstances are. My initial impulse was to ignore the request. It seemed trivial, and I wouldn’t want to encourage young people to beg — instead of work — for what they want. Then, it seemed possibly rude not to make a small donation. Advice?

DONOR

Charity is not about good manners. A charitable gift is a voluntary act of assistance to someone in need. So, if you are making a donation to be seen in a certain light — as generous, for instance, or polite — I would skip it. That’s not charity; it’s peer pressure at best, or possibly vanity.

Here, if you are moved to help a young person study art, give. Obviously, it’s not hard to envision more catastrophic need: in war zones, for instance, or arising from medical crises. But there’s no need to characterize a young person asking for help as begging. (You’ve admitted you don’t know her circumstances.) Give or don’t give; it’s your call. But try to be generous in spirit either way.

I have a longstanding no-shoes rule in my house. Still, my mother — with whom I’m close — walks in and leaves her shoes on every time she visits. She has told me she thinks my rule is weird. And I find it a bad start to our weekly visits to have to remind her to take off her shoes every time. She can’t have forgotten given the number of conversations we’ve had about it. Recently, I told her I felt disrespected by her behavior and asked if she would like me to put up a sign to remind her. Then she said she felt incredibly hurt. Help!

DAUGHTER

Welcome to the petty wars for dominance that are not uncommon among parents and their adult children (in my experience, anyway). This can be especially true when the adult child introduces a rule that was not in place in the parental home. I’m sorry for the aggravation, but I wouldn’t blow up a close relationship over this. Just keep reminding your mother about her shoes — or buy her some chic slippers that she might like changing into. No relationship is without friction.

We have a friend who is desperately lonely and wants to re-enter the dating world. The problem: Her rescue dog is hyperactive, barks incessantly and ruins any social interaction. But our friend is besotted and refuses to manage the dog. Should we tell her what a turnoff this is?

FRIEND

Frankly, you seem more motivated by your dislike of the dog than by any interest in improving your friend’s dating prospects. (I’ve never brought my dog on a date.) So, why not be honest with her? When she invites you over, tell her that you love seeing her but that her dog’s unruly behavior is unpleasant. Then suggest a dog-free alternative — and perhaps some additional training.


For help with your awkward situation, send a question to SocialQ@nytimes.com, Philip Galanes on Facebook or @SocialQPhilip on X.





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