My sister divorced Jake over ten years ago, and I have since repaired my relationship with her. Jake never apologized, and he instead continued to be emotionally manipulative, telling his children and my family I was a slut. I have vowed to keep him out of my life after these incidents. This has been fairly easy until relatively recently.
Now Jake’s and my sister’s 20-year-old son Zak needs help moving. I like spending time with Zak, and I thought I would let him discover his father on his own adult terms. Therefore, I have not explicitly told him the history with Jake or my vow to keep his father out of my life. I have a truck and I volunteered to help Zak move, but I just found out Jake will be there as well. Is it time to tell Zak? What do I say? Do I just tell him I don’t want Jake in my life, or do I also tell him why? Or should I suck it up and avoid Jake but still show up for the sake of Zak? (The thought of him still makes my skin crawl after all this time.) — Supportive but Anxious Auntie
Your inclination to let Zak discover his father on his own adult terms is right, and Zak isn’t quite an adult yet, is he? He’s at an age where, teetering between adolescence and young adulthood, he may still be particularly susceptible to his father’s manipulation and lies while also looking for a male role model to guide him through the transition and to perhaps even help out a bit financially. Weighing all that and the fact that Jake is Zak’s dad, plus the fact that for years your own family didn’t believe your claims about Jake’s advances toward you (ugh, and double ugh), there’s a high probability that Zak may choose not to believe you either if you were to tell him the truth about why you avoid his father. That shouldn’t be reason enough not to tell him, but I don’t think you have reason enough to tell him either.
Your main reason for telling Zak about your feelings toward his father is to not look like the bad guy when you back out of helping him move after telling him you would. You’re still going to look like the bad guy. Worse, you’re going to be the woman who tried to turn a young man against his father for her own benefit. Don’t be that woman. Let Zak discover how crappy his dad is without your help. Even if it means moving without your help, too.
It would be easy enough for you to come up with some excuse for why you suddenly can’t help your nephew move that won’t alienate yourself from him (like telling him his father is garbage would). Is it possible to even let Zak use your truck without your help, letting him come pick it up at your place and dropping it off when he’s done? If you have the means, you could even offer to rent a U-Haul for him for a few hours. I’d think either of these options — or simply apologizing about your sudden unavailability and offering to take him out shopping in your truck for furniture or supplies he might need after he moves — would be better than telling him you can’t help him anymore because his dad’s a major creep you’ve vowed never to see again.
You may see Jake again one day anyway — at Zak’s wedding or something like that — but any special occasion that would have you and Jake in the same place would also have lots of other people to buffer you against him. That won’t be the case on moving day, where it sounds like it could even be just you, Zak, and Jake. You’re a supportive, loving aunt, but that doesn’t mean you have to spend an afternoon with a man who turned your whole family against your for years and punched your sister in the face. Just make up some excuse for why you can’t be there and try to make it up to Zak in a different way. He’ll be much more likely to forgive you for flaking on this than for telling him how shitty his father is.
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