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Annie's Mailbox

Ask Amy column

Q. My first husband was abusive to me during our marriage, to the point that even after he was escorted from our home by the police and given a restraining order, he continued to stalk and threaten me.

I remarried a wonderful man who adopted and raised my children.

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My (now-adult) children recently reconciled with their biological father. They say that unless he is drinking, he is OK. They admit he is an alcoholic but claim he “only gets drunk a few times a year.”

I have not seen him in 20 years and am still afraid of him.

They want to invite him to their family events, stating that they can keep us on opposite sides of the room.

I still have nightmares about him and would prefer to absent myself from these occasions rather than risk a confrontation with him. Am I wrong?

A. Given the circumstances, nothing you choose to do is “wrong.” It is not only logical, but an important, potentially lifesaving human response to stay away from an individual who is dangerous to you.

There is an argument to be made that you may reclaim your power in some way by confronting this fear, but this choice is not for anyone but you to make. The opposite side of this argument is that you are plenty powerful by choosing to stay away from someone who has abused you. I give you credit for reclaiming and rebuilding your life.

Your kids are in no position to gauge this man’s behavior or the effect of his alcohol use. The idea that you would somehow be safe if he is kept on the other side of the room is bunk. It simply discounts the very rational fear response toward danger.

Your children have every right to have a relationship with their father, but you have a right to keep your distance.

Let them know that you expect them to notify you if their father will be present at a family event.

Q. I hope you can help regarding a recent altercation I had with another woman. Recently my husband and I decided to take our two young boys (ages 4 and 5) to our local museum.

When we arrived, my husband dropped the three of us off at the entrance of the building while he parked the car.

Once inside, my boys needed to use the restroom, so I took them to the women’s room with me. Afterward, we began to exit past a long line of women. One of them, a lady perhaps in her 70s, made a loud comment regarding how inappropriate it was to have boys in the ladies’ room. My temper immediately flared, and I countered by telling her that you don’t send a 4- and a 5-year-old into a men’s public bathroom by themselves.

As a mother, I am not comfortable with the idea of such young boys using urinals alongside strange men without a parent present, nor am I comfortable leaving them unattended outside the ladies’ room when I need to use it.

When there are family restrooms available, we always use them, but many places don’t offer this convenience.

Was I wrong? I can’t possibly put my children in what I consider to be a potentially risky situation at their ages?

A. You educated this older woman about appropriate and safe behavior regarding your children. You only need to forgive her for being intolerant and rude toward you.

Send questions by e-mail to or by mail to Ask Amy, Chicago Tribune, TT500, 435 North Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL 60611.
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