DEAR AMY: More than 50 years ago I met a girl, and we started dating. A few months later she told me she was expecting a baby, but she said the child wasn't mine. We got married and had two more children and a nice life but divorced after 15 years.
We stayed in touch until her death. All three children have also passed away over the years. The oldest son died three years ago. This son was married and had a family, but they didn't include me in many family events. These grandchildren are young adults.
His widow wants me to be a grandfather to people I really don't know and who are not actually related to me (genetically). I guess I need to keep it to myself, but I'm not their grandfather and really don't want to become one at this stage in my life. I don't want to tell them why because it will cause them pain, but this secret is a problem, emotionally, for me. I think about it every day.
How do I come clean about this and not affect his family? I have already affected them by keeping my distance, but I just don't feel like a part of them.
— Struggling Grandfather
DEAR STRUGGLING: I suspect this is not really about genetics. You sound very sad and alone. You seem bitter about the estrangement from your children — and perhaps this son in particular because you were a generous presence in his life. This family — his widow and her children — is already hurting. Their husband/father is gone, and now you are rejecting them.
The truth could not hurt them any more, and it might hurt them less to know that you have this incredibly burdensome secret that causes you pain and confusion.
The moment you disclose this, you will discover why you needed to. The burden will be lifted, and then you can commence the discovery of what a family really is. If you want a family, you may find this one waiting for you.
DEAR AMY: Several months ago, a colleague I've worked with for many years verbally invited my wife and me to her daughter's wedding and reception.
We agreed to attend. However, recently she stopped by my office and told me that the reception would be semiformal requiring a full-length gown for my wife and equally appropriate attire for me.
My wife and I are casual people. The cost of a substantial gift (they are requesting money for their new house) together with semiformal wear we'll never use again, is more than we want to invest in this function. We have no problems attending the wedding if we are not expected to wear semiformal attire.
Can you suggest some words I could provide to the bride's mom to bow out of the reception gracefully without damaging our strong working relationship?
— Casual Colleague
DEAR COLLEAGUE: It sounds as if all the communication about this wedding is being done verbally, and so the best thing to do is to quickly approach your colleague to say, "We would love to attend your daughter's wedding ceremony but unfortunately can't attend the reception. I know you need to get a firm head count, so I wanted to let you know quickly. Is this going to be OK?"
DEAR AMY: I can't let your response to "Heartsick" regarding her rekindled relationship with a French man stand without a challenge.
Her daughter, who said, "Follow your heart," gave better advice than your callous remarks about cheating on her husband and putting her long-lost love "in perspective."
I know your advice is wrong because I was in the exact same position 16 years ago. I followed my heart, and as a result I am happier than I ever thought possible. It isn't an easy road, but it is one that has transformed my life.
The only positive comment you made was to work with a counselor.
— Happy in Portland
DEAR HAPPY: "Heartsick" thought her life was happy before this rekindled relationship threw her off course. Perspective is definitely called for, and counseling — not cheating — is the best way to gain it.
Send questions via e-mail to email@example.com. Amy Dickinson's memoir, The Mighty Queens of Freeville: A Mother, a Daughter and the Town that Raised Them (Hyperion), is available in bookstores.