My cousins and I were raised as best friends. Every weekend was spent at their house or ours, with our parents/grandparents/everyone talking, laughing, and us kids playing games and sports.
Suddenly, it all stopped when I was 15. We never learned why, but there was angry talk overheard about my uncle (my father’s brother-in-law) having “cheated” him in their business dealings.
Each family believed only their side. Visits immediately stopped. We kids couldn’t call or see each other.
Years later, I asked my father why he hadn’t sued my uncle in court. His answer: “You don’t shame the family. You handle it privately.”
I thought, too bad about children losing aunts, uncles, cousins... and not one adult tried hard to resolve the problem and maintain ties.
Also, with no proof of who did what, those cousins and their parents just dropped from mention and sight.
I’m 30 now, a junior lawyer in a commercial firm, and I think of all the families like mine that may be ashamed to reveal nasty family secrets.
So instead, they risk naming the wrong person as an outcast, young people from previously supportive family circles, possibly creating far more mental health harm through false accusations, than any good from “protecting” the family.
Your advice in such cases?
Lost Family and Friends
You’re an independent adult and can re-connect with any of your once-close relatives/friends, who share that goal.
Also, as a lawyer you can explore what you know of the original break-up, and learn whether it was a mistaken belief of your father’s, a personality clash, or an intentional split for desired control.
Tread carefully. Your parents won’t appreciate your search for a different “truth.” Also, if you discover facts uncomfortable for your parents, you still have a moral and possibly legal duty to reveal it... or you end up with the same cover-up your father might’ve created.
Reader’s Commentary Regarding the wife who felt her husband was having an emotional affair with a female friend (March 30):
“Too many men view women through their role as "the wife," "the secretary," etc." and not as friends with whom they might discuss politics, world affairs.
“The letter-writer, her therapist, and you, all seem to agree that a husband cannot see a woman as just a friend.
“But if you can't accept that without labeling it an "affair," then you don't see men or women as whole, fully-functioning human beings who may become friends. And the existing dynamic giving men more power in our society, will keep women from attaining equality.
“You characterize the husband as selfish. But the only problem she raised was that he wasn't spending as much time with her as she wanted.
“If she resented that time being taken away from her, it’s up to her to take action to address that problem. As you suggest, she could’ve gone on ski trips with them, whether skiing or not.
“But objecting to the friendship simply starts conflict without any hope of resolution. I suspect there was lots wrong with this 30-year marriage.
“I generally like your analysis and enjoy reading your column. But I’ve had far more (non-sexual) female friendships than male friendships and strongly advocate equality.”
Ellie - Your case for equality is right on... but you’re wrong about my believing women and men can’t be just friends.
It’s this man’s disinterest in his wife feeling lonely that’s somewhat selfish.
FEEDBACK More on “Mean Girls” (April 1):
Reader - “I lived in a middle-to-upper class neighbourhood for over 30 years and learned how to deal with all kinds of women. I mostly learned that teachers only socialize with other teachers; rich people prefer to socialize with others in the same financial bracket. And exclusive country-club members in my community are best friends with other members. And their children don’t talk to non-members’ children.
“My daughters already knew mean girls or “snobs” in Grade 6 who thought they were better than everyone else. Those girls, now in their 30s, are still snobs and don’t speak to my daughters at funerals.
“My daughters have been hanging out with some of the same true girlfriends since grade school.
“I also have many good friends, and have done a lot of volunteer work over the years.
“Stay true to yourself and consider what you can do for others. Mean girls don’t change and you can’t buy class.”
Tip of the day:
When family members clash in a shared business, an equitable, legal solution is better than ending all family connections.