Tell Me About It: Parents should reveal secret of paternity

Published April 12 2018

Q: My nephew doesnít know that his "dad" is not his biological dad. My sister birthed my nephew out of wedlock and met the man she married years later. For his whole life, my sister has allowed my nephew to think his fake dad is his real dad. She divorced his fake dad five years ago but still hasnít told my nephew, who is in his mid-20s now and about to get married.

Ironically, my nephew didnít invite my sister to his wedding for various reasons and now his fake dad will be at his side.

My sister doesnít intend to ever tell her son about his real biological father.

Am I complicit because I havenít told him myself? I would love to tell my nephew because I believe this lie has created a family system of secrets and opaqueness. But is that my place?


A: Itís not your place to stir this pot for reasons less open to debate: Youíre not this manís parent. As long as his mom and dad are mentally and physically present, they make the call. Even a terrible call like the one theyíve made to this point.

Are you complicit for helping them to keep the secret? A little. Not for failing to tell your nephew yourself, though. Youíre complicit for the extent to which you made it easy for your sister to lie to her kid.

This is obviously a gray area. One person might read this as a responsibility to frown -- really hard! -- in disapproval when your sister disclosed her intent not to tell, and another might take it as a mandate to badger your sister at every opportunity for the past two decades. I think decency splits these two extremes -- where you calmly, discreetly express your discomfort with being a party to this secret, and do so whenever the topic comes up organically.

Due to circumstances, you can also make a onetime foray into raising the issue yourself. Like anyone else at the moment, your nephew is one bout of curiosity ó or, seriously, just one oblivious gift-giver ó away from sending his spit to a lab just to see what turns up.