Adapted from a recent online discussion.
When I was about 20, I got my girlfriend pregnant. She was 23 and wanted the baby whereas I was not ready to be a father, so she broke up with me and had the baby pretty much on her own. Her family helped her, and she didn’t ask me for child support until I graduated college and had a steady job.
Still, it was a burden on my entry-level salary and I resented both her and my daughter, so I wasn’t an involved father. To explain myself to my family and others who knew I had a daughter I hardly saw, I made up stories about how horrible and crazy my ex was and how it was all her fault.
I know that was cruel and cowardly, but it was hard to backtrack.
My ex contacted me last year to let me know she had a terminal illness. As a new father to a year-old son, I saw I couldn’t let my 18-year-old daughter, “Lynn,” go through that alone, so I reconnected with her, made peace with my ex and have been trying to make amends.
Lynn naturally resents and distrusts me, but she is slowly becoming a part of my life. The problem is that my wife, my parents and my friends think the worst of her late mother. No one would be cruel enough to speak ill of her late mom to Lynn, so I could let sleeping dogs lie, but my conscience says I should set the record straight. I just don’t know how to begin to do that.
I don’t see what would be gained, too, while a lot could be lost by doing so. Must I confess, or can I just make it up to Lynn by being the best dad I can now? The truth could really ruin our fragile relationship.
— Truth or Not
Tell your wife, parents and friends what you did. Immediately. Anyone who received your bad information.
When Lynn is older, more mature, and not freshly grieving, tell her, too. Admit that your choices surrounding her birth were almost uniformly terrible, and beyond checking the box, “Didn’t dodge support payments,” you had many opportunities at decency and you passed on virtually all of them.
Repeat: Save the specifics for when it’s useful and better for her. What’s better for you is something you forfeited the right to consider when you chose to act so selfishly at 20-plus, and then doubled down well after immaturity expired as an excuse.
And if you can’t see any gain by telling your people now, then you’re not looking hard enough. I can think of three off the cuff, and we can all can quit counting after No. 1 anyway:
(1) Clear your ex’s name.
(2) Allow your people to know the truth about you. You’ve misrepresented yourself to everyone.
(3) Dare to live a life of real trust. That’s when you carry yourself with integrity and find out whether your people are still your people when they know the real you. All of it. The ones who stand by you will represent a higher order of intimacy that’s worth the risk to achieve.
I’m grateful to you for being honest here. Keep going.
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