Miss Conduct

Advice: Grandma thought Grandpa had an affair. Now we know.

A man who says he’s the illegitimate child of my late grandfather contacted me on Facebook. He’s a dead-ringer, but do I tell my family?

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A man messaged me on Facebook to get in contact with my mother. He explained that he is her half brother, and that he is trying to get information about his father (my grandfather), who died more than 10 years ago. I believe him — the resemblance is striking and my grandmother told me my grandfather may have been unfaithful. Should I tell anyone in the family?

I understand this man’s desire to find out about his background, but what he’s asking of me is completely inappropriate. I’m in my mid-20s, no longer a child, but he’s given me a moral quandary that will shake the foundations of my entire family, with possible legal ramifications. I don’t know who else to talk to. Any other adult I trust also knows my mother. If I asked them, it would put them in the same moral dilemma I’m in.

Anonymous / Somerville


Thank you for your trust, and I hope to be worthy of it.

You are a thousand percent right that this man was wrong to put you in the position that he did. The clarity with which you see that makes me confident that you will handle this situation well. Even if his intentions are innocent, his problem is not yours and he was deeply wrong to make it so. Block him everywhere and don’t engage with him.

Your primary responsibility is to your family — not genetically connected strangers, but your actual family whom you’ve grown up with — and yourself. If you need to process this emotionally, find a counselor or friend who doesn’t know your family well to talk to. You don’t have to carry this alone.

Next, talk to your family lawyer, if you have one. Tell him or her about the call and ask that the lawyer let you know about any suspicious messages . If your grandmother is in a retirement community, speak to the management. If she’s aging in place, this would be an excellent time to get to know her neighbors. Meanwhile, make sure that wills are in order and that you know what various accounts there are and who has control of them. The most street-savvy and book-smart lawyer I know says you should “raise the alert level to the people with the purse strings and door locks” and let them know you want to be contacted about anything unusual.


All of this is good family management and life hygiene in the first place. Your mid-20s is an excellent age to sit down with parents and grandparents and make sure passwords are updated, beneficiaries named, powers of attorney granted, and all of that. Frame it as you taking your full place as a grown woman in your family — you have my blessing to use the word “adulting” if you choose.

During these conversations, you’ll probably get a better sense of what, if anything, you should say to your mother and grandmother. And if you don’t — write back. We’ll figure out the next step together.

Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.