Ask Amy: DNA disclosure disrupts extended family
Dear Amy: A couple of years ago there was a divorce in my extended family.
After the split, my ex-uncle (my aunt’s former husband) discovered that my aunt was fathered not by my grandfather, but by another man (this was unearthed through a DNA genealogy site).
He told my aunt. My understanding is that she reacted with extreme anger, and told him never to repeat the information. My ex-uncle has not told any of their children.
Unable to carry the burden, he let it slip and now I am in (arguably, wrongly) possession of this information. I’m looking for ethical guidance.
My mother now knows that her sister is in fact her half-sister, but she has not told her sister that she knows this. My mother has other siblings as well, and we have reason to believe that one of them is also likely fathered by this other man.
I have cousins who are unaware that they are not genetically related to our grandfather.
I feel I am not rightfully in possession of this information. I believe that my aunt should inform her children, as well as the other sibling.
It seems that people have a right to know who they are related to, especially considering potential health issues, etc.
Is it appropriate for me to just sit on this family secret? — In a Tough Spot
Dear Tough Spot: Of all of the people you mention, you are the least connected (or directly affected) by this news. Because of that, I don’t think you have the right to share it.
All of your information is indirect. Since this information is from your aunt’s ex-husband, and because his motives are suspect, I don’t think you should even assume that it is true, until someone with direct knowledge confirms it.
You and your mother seem to have developed a complex set of theories about other family members based on your mutual and indirect knowledge of this DNA test. However, because you both believe this to be true, your mother (not you) should talk to her sister about it.
She should lay the responsibility for this knowledge with her sister’s ex: “I wish Stan had not violated your privacy and disclosed this, but he did.”
Your mother could also take a DNA test, which would reveal the extent of their chromosomal sibling connection. Then it WOULD be her business (and, to a much lesser extent — yours).
Given how family secrets sometimes circulate like a game of “telephone,” I think there is some likelihood that your former uncle did tell his children (and probably others), but they are all sitting on this because they don’t realize that anyone else knows.
Dear Amy: My girlfriend, “Jean” asked my advice.
Her friend, “Pam” (age 64), is divorced. Pam is throwing a 40th birthday party for her daughter. Pam’s ex-husband has not spoken to their daughter in about 10 years.
Pam feels there should be some contact between the two. She wants to invite him to the 40th party, along with HIS girlfriend.
Pam wants to have her daughter to become part of her father’s life but, we’re not talking about a teenager daughter here — the girl is 40 years old!
Jean told Pam not to do it! If the ex wants to do something nice for their daughter on her birthday, he should do it on his own.
She thinks that Pam will be miserable at the party, because the ex-husband and the girlfriend will be there!
When Jean asked me about it, I said, “I don’t know. Let’s ask Amy.” — John
Dear John: I understand all of the points “Jean” is making, but it is not Jean’s party — plain and simple.
My main piece of advice is that “Pam” should definitely ask her daughter if she wants her father to be invited to this gathering.
Celebrating your 40th birthday is challenging enough. Being surprised by your estranged father and his complete-stranger of a girlfriend brings this challenge to a whole other level — for everyone involved.
Dear Amy: Thank you for reminding folks to purchase books through their local independent bookshops. These small businesses need our support, especially now.
My own daughter — age 24 — is a partner in a cooperative bookstore in Asheville, N.C., called “Firestorm Books & Coffee.” They have closed their doors to the public, but the business has survived because people are ordering books through them and supporting the shop in other ways. — Jen, in Boulder, Colorado
Dear Jen: Independent booksellers are vital literacy champions.