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Dear Joseph,
My father-in-law has forgotten my husband's birthday every year since we've been married. One year I couldn't stand it, so I called my father-in-law on the eve of my husband's birthday and reminded him. I tried to do it in a gentle way, but I sensed that he was furious that I had "shamed" or "corrected" him. Our relationship has never been very warm or loving, and incidents like this just seem to add to the coolness between us.

My husband's 40th birthday is coming up. I know that he'll be terribly hurt if his father doesn't acknowledge it. On the one hand, I almost want the inevitable to happen and for my father-in-law to be revealed as the self-involved, careless parent that I think he is. (Believe me, there's much more than forgotten birthdays to make me feel this way.) On the other hand, I want to protect my darling husband from any further hurt. What should I do?
Unhappy Daughter-in-Law

Dear Unhappy Daughter-in-Law,
You don't mention if you have a mother-in-law who can run interference, so I'll assume you don't.

The first thing I'd suggest is not speaking to your father-in-law about this matter again. Clearly, the experience was unpleasant for you and caused a further deterioration in the already troubled relationship between you and him. Instead, I'd recommend that you drop your father-in-law a note, worded as sweetly as possible, with a message like: "As you of course know, February 25 is Jim's birthday, and this year is a particularly significant one, his 40th. I know how much his thoughts and feelings turn to his family at this time, as I trust yours turn to him. With warmest best wishes." And add, if you feel you can, "with love."

A note will be less likely than a conversation to provoke a defensive response. It will also underscore how important your father-in-law is to his son. Either your father-in-law will come through or he won't, in which case he'll be revealed as the self-involved person you believe him to be.

I wish you a happy resolution to this painful issue. Please write and let me know what happens.


Dear Joseph,
I'm in my late 60s, and I have terminal cancer. I'm also carrying a terrible secret. My husband and I have two children, a girl and a boy, both in their 30s. Our son, though, is not my husband's. It all happened during a brief affair at a time of bad tension in our marriage. The affair turned out to be inconsequential, and the man I had it with is long dead. I love my husband, yet the thought of dying with this lie between us gives me no peace. I feel that I should speak to him and tell him, and my son, the truth.
In Deep Pain

Dear In Deep Pain,
My heart goes out to you, both for the pain of knowing that you have terminal cancer and for the painful secret that you're carrying with you. But I plead with you to say nothing. What is this great truth that you wish to bequeath to your son? That the man he thinks of, and loves as, his father is biologically not? What good can come from telling this truth at this time?

Imagine how you'll feel going to your grave knowing the pain you've left behind, and how both your husband and son will eventually go to their graves with this sense of pain and betrayal. In the distant past, you did something wrong, and now you want two innocent victims of your wrong act to be the ones to suffer. You must ask yourself why you didn't tell the truth to your husband so many years ago, when he could have acted on this truth (perhaps by divorcing you). To have chosen to live with him all these years, and to unload this truth on him now, would, in my view, be a worse betrayal of him than was your earlier act of adultery.

My thoughts and prayers are with you. And for your husband's and your son's sake, be fair. Please, please say nothing.



Send your questions for Joseph Telushkin to: columnists@staff.beliefnet.com. Please include "Telushkin" in the subject line.

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