Ask Amy: Aunt wants to step in where Dad won’t tread

Dear Amy: My brother has been married twice.

He and his first wife had two children. During the divorce, he tried to gain custody of the children, but she was awarded custody, and he stayed in contact with his two children for a while. But then things turned for the worst when she accused my brother of child abuse. She also physically threatened him.

He decided not to have any contact with her or his children. He told the family that we shouldn’t contact them or their mother.

He had another child in his second marriage, which ended when their child was in elementary school. He hasn’t seen that child in years.

In typical fashion, nobody in our family wanted to talk about it.

When one of my nephews was graduating from high school, he contacted me to ask me why their father wasn’t coming to graduation.

It was heartbreaking to hear the sadness in his voice, but I abided by my brother’s wishes not to connect them.

We are now older, and his children are young adults.

I don’t see my brother often. No one in the family ever mentions these children.

I think about my nephews often and wish that they were a part of the family.

I would like to contact them.

My other siblings do not want to initiate any contact with our nephews.

I also do not want to involve my parents who are elderly, in poor health, and have decided to abide by my brother’s wishes.

I am willing to sacrifice my relationship with my brother to reach out, but should I? What should I say? Should I tell my brother?

— Anguished Aunt

Dear Aunt: You are a thoughtful adult, and you have the right to pursue a relationship with others, based on your own best judgment.

You understand that by doing so, you will likely be sacrificing a relationship with your brother, but from your description it doesn’t sound as if you have much of a relationship with him, anyway.

Nor do I see any reason to inform or ask your brother’s permission.

You don’t seem to have much knowledge of these nephews of yours. I further wonder if these half-brothers know about each other.

If you are able to contact them, you don’t really need to say much. You could identify yourself as their aunt and tell them that you’ve thought about them often. You can say, “Here is my contact information in case you want to be in touch.”

I think it is vital for you to keep your expectations — and theirs — in check. They will have individual reactions to you.

Given that no one else in your family is interested in these men, being in touch with them will not bring them into the family fold.

Furthermore, it is impossible for you to have an accurate picture of their upbringings. You should assume that — like all of us — they carry childhood baggage. You cannot necessarily unburden them, but knowing that you are interested in them might help.

Dear Amy: An ethical dilemma.

My family and I were recently getting food at a drive-thru after our high school softball game. It was a big order.

When our food was handed to us, our mom basically quickly handed it back to us in the back seat and drove away from the restaurant.

We dove in and were helping ourselves to some chicken from a bucket when we noticed that we had been handed part of someone else’s order.

We told our mother that we’d gotten extra food that wasn’t ours, but she said there wasn’t anything we could do about it and that we just got lucky.

We felt bad that someone else hadn’t gotten their food.

What should we have done?

— Hungry

Dear Hungry: Because you had already started eating the food, returning it wouldn’t have been possible. You could have quickly called the restaurant to let them know of the mistake — as a courtesy to clear up any subsequent confusion caused by the mix-up.

Dear Amy: Your response to “Tongue-tied in Denver” brought tears to my eyes. Like you (and Tongue-tied), I have a beloved family member with Down syndrome.

I don’t think most people realize how very special this attachment is. Thank you for recognizing and celebrating this relationship.

— Grateful Relative

Dear Grateful: I’ve learned a lot from my wonderful nephew, who always seems happy to hang out with me. This relationship has brought my life a lot of joy.

(You can email Amy Dickinson at [email protected] or send a letter to Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068. You can also follow her on Twitter @askingamy or Facebook.)

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