Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“Should I Tell My Nephew What a Creep His Dad Is?”

About fifteen years ago, my older sister’s husband Jake cornered me in my own house and asked me to comfort him by hugging and kissing him after a fight between him and my sister one night. I refused and told him to get out of the house; I went to a hotel for the night because I felt unsafe and I called my sister the next morning. My sister believed Jake, who portrayed me as the one flirting with him. My family treated me like a pariah over this incident until several years later when Jake punched her and gave her a black eye in front of her three children and our entire family at a family reunion. Then they realized his true nature.

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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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy@dearwendy.com.

26 comments… add one
  • avatar

    artsygirl August 30, 2016, 8:26 am

    LW – Wendy’s advice is great. If it is not feasible, perhaps you can find a guy friend to also help you and Zak move. I have found that people like Jake tend to be cowards so if you have another man with you who can keep an eye on Jake, he is much less likely to make a scene. Sorry that you have to deal with all this but hopefully after getting over the first meeting, it will be easier to ignore him at future events.

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  • avatar

    Fyodor August 30, 2016, 8:31 am

    There is no “time” to tell him. Unless he’s a danger to Jack, stay out of this. It’s the mom’s/sister’s role to tell him, to the extent anyone is going to do so.

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  • avatar

    Brise August 30, 2016, 8:41 am

    Anyway, I wouldn’t let down Zac. He is probably aware of his father’s violence if he saw him hit his mom. You don’t have to say anything: it is bad enough like this. Find a way to avoid Jack, (I thought also of an other male presence by your side), don’t stay in his presence, but remember that more than 10 years passed and he maybe improved. The fact he wants to help his son is good. But prepare for the worst just in case, with a male guy your age who has your back and will prevent any problem before it happens.

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    • avatar

      Wendy (not Wendy) August 30, 2016, 11:46 pm

      Oh, hell no! The LW doesn’t sound like she’s physically afraid of the man, or if she is, that’s the least of her worries; she doesn’t need a bodyguard. She plain doesn’t like him, doesn’t want to be around him, and especially, doesn’t want to have to play nice with him in front of her nephew. There’s no sign that he’s “improved” over the last 10-15 years based on what’s written here; helping his son move is a pretty basic thing, not some kind of laudable action. Your response hints of “LW is overreacting”.

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  • bittergaymark

    bittergaymark August 30, 2016, 9:47 am

    Eh, I would go and simply ACT surprised that the father is still out to get you. (There is a chance that this won’t even come up on the day of the move.) If he does dredge up the past and trot out the old Auntie-is-a-slut saga — Just shrug. Shake your head and say with strong conviction and mild annoyance. “Oh, please. We BOTH so know THAT isn’t true…” And then simply leave it at that. Silence and resolve can speak wonders…

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    • bittergaymark

      bittergaymark August 30, 2016, 9:56 am

      Also, honestly? If this was 15 years ago you have to be nearly thirty now if NOT more so. You’re a grown woman! It’s time to act like it. Enough with society encouraging the whole shrinking violet act. Because — frankly — that’s about as disempowering as things get.

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      • avatar

        Kelly L. August 30, 2016, 11:06 am

        Shrinking violet act? I’m disappointed, BGM, and my standards for you were already pretty low. What on earth is she doing that’s not adulty enough for you? She doesn’t spend time with someone she can’t stand. That’s fair, I think.

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      • bittergaymark

        bittergaymark August 30, 2016, 12:47 pm

        Bailing on helping her nephew simply because she is afraid of possible confrontation with somebody fifteen years after the fact? Um… I dunno. Sorry, but yeah — that is just a wee bit shrinking violet for me.
        .
        And frankly, it’s also letting the ASSHOLE win. NOT seeing/dealing with the asshole by bailing on her nephew makes it look like SHE’S the one with something to hide. Confront. Be dismissive. Hold your ground. That will send a clear message to the nephew about who is in the right here…

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      • avatar

        Kelly L. August 30, 2016, 1:06 pm

        She didn’t bail. If you’re saying *don’t* bail, fine, but you’re acting like her bailing is already a foregone conclusion.

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      • redessa

        redessa August 30, 2016, 9:32 pm

        Unless you have been cornered with unwanted advances from someone who is bigger and stronger than you are, you have no inkling how she feels. Women are conditioned our whole lives to be on alert for men who are not safe. Most of us cannot physically overpower most men so we try to avoid being in vulnerable situations. This man has already shown himself to be unsafe. I don’t care how much time has passed, he has made no attempt at apologizing or making ammends. She should not have to supject herself to being around him just to prove some kind of point.

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      • avatar

        Boosker August 30, 2016, 3:44 pm

        He punched her sister in the face. It’s not empowering to spend time around someone you don’t feel safe with; it’s dangerous.

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    • avatar

      Stillrunning August 30, 2016, 10:06 am

      Exactly, say exactly this once and loudly in front of other people. Wave him off and walk away if he keeps running his mouth.

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      • bittergaymark

        bittergaymark August 30, 2016, 10:51 am

        However did I leave off the great dismissive wave-him-away gesture? 😉

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  • Amanda

    Amanda August 30, 2016, 10:14 am

    In the last paragraph you mention that Zak’s dad has been telling his children that you’re a slut. Zak already knows what his dad is. And if his dad is that manipulative – you need to show up since you said you would. Somebody like that will pounce on the chance to say, “See? She backed out. She’s as awful as I told you.” Just keep being there. People like this only need a small sliver to wriggle their way in.

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    • avatar

      blink14 August 30, 2016, 10:42 am

      Completely agree with this! Show your nephew you’re committed to helping him, don’t give his father any reason to comment on your absence. I’m sure he realizes his father has got some serious issues.

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  • avatar

    Stillrunning August 30, 2016, 10:59 am

    LW- You had the guts to call him out 15 years ago and protected yourself by leaving what you believed was a dangerous situation. You’ve also put up with your family members thinking you were in the wrong.
    You’re the strong one here.

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  • avatar

    saneinca August 30, 2016, 11:42 am

    LW, I am all for plain speaking in this case and no need for hiding fats from adult children. Just tell your nephew that if his father is coming, you would rather not see his father, and will not be able to help him. But do offer to rent him a uhaul ( it costs only 20 bucks for a short rental) if he needs it.

    Also you could offer to bring over food/take him out to dinner once his father has left.

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  • avatar

    va-in-ny August 30, 2016, 12:52 pm

    Honestly, I think you should “suck it up and avoid Jake but still show up for the sake of Zak”. If you bail (even with good reason!) the person that will suffer will be Zak. You told him you would help and backing out now may hurt him.

    Allowing this man to continue to manipulate you after all of these years only perpetuates the cycle. If he makes you uncomfortable, don’t allow yourself to be alone with him during the day. Avoid him, stick with Zak, bring a buddy, etc. Whatever makes you feel secure. But, don’t back out on the commitment you made to your nephew. You’re the one that will come out looking bad in this case.

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  • FireStar

    Firestar August 30, 2016, 1:14 pm

    Recruit someone to help on your behalf? Moving isn’t really a bonding thing. Really anyone just needs some muscle power and a van/truck. Do you have a guy friend/brother/boyfriend/husband/other nephew/son/strong woman that you can ask a favour from? Just tell Zack “Sorry Kiddo – something has come up and I can’t help move but I’m sending guy friend/brother/boyfriend/husband/other nephew/son/strong woman with my truck to push work on my behalf. I’ll come up next weekend for some auntie tlc and organizing.”
    There are assholes and there are assholes that act that way in front of kids. Since he punched their mother in front of his own kids I assume all bets are off with this particular asshole. You acting in Zach’s interest in not saying anything provides space for him to make comments and antagonize you. It, of course, would be easy for you to launch back at him – but not in Zach’s interest. And why should you have to tolerate it? It isn’t Zach’s wedding day – it’s a moving day. So skip it. Find a replacement helper so he isn’t short handed and go about your life.

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  • findingtheearth

    Findingtheearth August 30, 2016, 2:17 pm

    Zak probably knows how his dad is. He may not have severed ties for his own reasons. You are there for him, not his dad. Ignore his dad and if it comes up, say it’s an inappropriate issue to discuss in front of others.

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  • avatar

    dinoceros August 30, 2016, 5:19 pm

    I think the nephew already knows plenty about his father that would make good reasons for the LW to decline. She could say, “Your father doesn’t like me.” “Your father calls me names to the whole family.” “Your father punched my sister/your mother.”

    I don’t have an opinion either way of whether you should go or not. But if you choose not to go, none of those reasons should be new information for the nephew, based on what you told us. Surely he knows the two of you don’t like each other.

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  • avatar

    ele4phant August 30, 2016, 6:22 pm

    LW – why is your responsibility to tell or not tell your nephew about his father’s behavior? I realize you were early to realize what a creep he was, but now everyone knows.

    Don’t you think your nephew knows something is up, if his entire maternal family keeps their distance from his father? I don’t see how you’re the only one in your family that thinks poorly of this man.

    Regardless, unless you feel you would be physically unsafe (and you think you can hold it together and act civilly), I might suggest you still help. Either Jake will behave himself and put on a show in front of his son; or he won’t and will provide a perfect illustration to your nephew of why his maternal family thinks his Dad is a POS.

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  • avatar

    Another Jen August 31, 2016, 5:11 am

    I say be direct and honest and don’t put yourself in the same place as an abusive creeper. Just tell him you and his dad don’t get along and you’ll sit this out and let him enjoy the day with his dad. You can offer to lend him your truck or chip in for a uhaul if you don’t want to leave him hanging, but don’t build it up into a bigger deal than it is. He’s a 20-year-old guy…I’m sure he has friends who can help with the heavy lifting. Take him out for shopping or bring over a housewarming gift. But don’t ever apologize or second guess yourself for putting your wellbeing first!

    AJ

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  • avatar

    Andrea G August 31, 2016, 11:50 am

    I’m sure your nephew has a clue about his father’s bad behavior (he saw his mother get punched in the face) he’s probably also well aware that no one from his mother’s family wants to be around his father. I’m assuming that you have seen you nephew on numerous occasions (birthdays, holidays, etc.) and his father was not invited. He most likely doesn’t need an explanation around why you don’t want to be in his father’s presence. Either lend him the truck to use, offer to rent a U-haul for him or bring someone along with you.

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