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Carolyn Hax: Daughter ends visits when told of grandfather’s past abuse

(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)
3 min

Dear Carolyn: So my stepfather was physically and psychologically abusive when I was growing up. My mom didn’t have the strength to leave him. She had three young children with him, no job, no skills, and so she put up with it.

Decades later he has mellowed somewhat, and my kids have a cordial relationship with him. He isn't abusive anymore. But my teen daughter asked me why I keep him at arm's length and if I don't like him, and I told her the truth about my childhood. I just don't want the information vacuum to lead her to think I am some standoffish, bratty stepdaughter.

I stayed as unemotional and factual as I could and told her that because he was no longer like this, she was free to have whatever relationship she wanted with him, and I didn’t want to get between her and him.

But now she wants nothing to do with him, and my mother is asking why she won’t visit them. What can I do? Was I wrong to tell?

— Anonymous

Anonymous: No. Not even a little bit.

Actions have consequences. His consequences are simply coming to him over time and across generations for his actions when you were a child.

Telling your daughter the truth was your prerogative and in the best interests of your family. You certainly put more thought and compassion into recalling your childhood than he did into terrorizing it. You have nothing to apologize for.

Not even to your mom. Tell her the truth with the same measured, factual delivery you used with your daughter. “I told [daughter], in the same tone I'm using now, why I kept [stepfather] at arm's length. I also said he was no longer like this and she was free to have whatever relationship she wanted with him. This is what she chose.”

This may cost you dearly in your relationship with your mother; your actions will have consequences, too, since that bit of natural law doesn’t spare people who act in good faith.

However, you are simply making what you believe are the best choices for your child under circumstances no one should have to face. Of all people, your mother owes you a pass for that.

Dear Carolyn: Here is something that puzzles me. A gal who wrote in about a co-worker who made unwanted sexual advances sounded like she didn’t do anything about it in the moment.

What happened to the good old slap in the face like you used to see in the movies? I think we have gotten so passive that we don’t stick up for ourselves, then we stew about it and go all “#MeToo” years later.

— C.

C.: Wow.

If you really believe there was less sexual harassment in the cinematic-slap era, then I don't know where to start. Maybe with the deleterious effects of internalized misogyny.

And that’s assuming on-screen life reflected real life. Which I tend to doubt, just based on my [hitches up stretch-pants] half-century of pre-"#MeToo” girl- and womanhood.

A typical response to shocking behavior is … shock. And while nonconsensual touching and other flexings of patriarchal entitlement over female bodies are not shocking at all, sadly, in the sense they happen with some frequency, when it’s your body, it’s shocking as hell. And often the closest you come to a face-slap is wondering why, instead of delivering one, you panicked and froze. It’s a known problem, by the way; I’m not just riffing.

If anyone out there didn’t slap a sexual harasser, any gender combination, because complacency or #MeToo coddled the slap right out of them, I’ll gladly hear them out.