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Bintel BriefI’m afraid the news of my divorce — and new love — might kill my ailing father

Bintel advises: ‘Honor thy father and mother.’ And that means telling the truth

Since 1906, the Forward has been answering reader dilemmas about daily life in “A Bintel Brief,” Yiddish for a bundle of letters. Send your queries to [email protected], and listen to a podcast version of our signature advice column.

Dear Bintel,

After more than 25 years of marriage to a non-Jew who my parents truly love, we are getting divorced. They are both old, hate change, and my father is very ill. I feel an obligation to share the reality of my situation with them, yet fear my father’s heart cannot withstand the news. 

On a brighter note, I’ve fallen in love with a Jewish woman of appropriate age who I’m sure they will adore. Should I let my dad die in peace? If not, which news should I lead with? 

Signed,
Reveal or Conceal


Dear Reveal or Conceal,

It sounds like you see two alternate paths to “honor thy father and mother”: Tell them the truth or tell them nothing. But the second path is unrealistic, unless you never plan to see your parents again.

If your father’s death is not imminent, aren’t he and your mom going to ask why your ex, whom they adore, never comes with you to visit? How is your new partner going to feel about being hidden from your family? If I were her, I’d be hurt, angry and wondering if you’re ashamed of her. 

Which begs the question: Are you ashamed? You seem to fear that your parents will be utterly shocked by “the reality” of your “situation,” which makes me wonder if there’s something more to the situation than a divorce and new love. Did you and your girlfriend start canoodling before the breakup was official? Is your new love a different gender than your ex? Is there something else about her, or about the “situation,” that you’re worried will upset your parents?

My advice about truth-telling stands regardless. But if you’re delivering news about your sexuality, I absolutely get why you’re stressed, and I’m genuinely sorry we live in a world where that’s so hard. Still, you never know: Your parents might not be as surprised as you anticipate. After all, they probably know you pretty well, and they may have had an inkling that your marriage was on the rocks. Either way, I sincerely hope they accept your news with grace and love.

Because hiding your news — whatever that news entails — is really untenable. I hope your father makes it to 120, and lives out his remaining time left pain-free. But aren’t people (like your mother) going to wonder why your ex was a no-show at the hospital or hospice, funeral and shiva? Isn’t it wrong to exclude your new partner as you cope with your father’s decline? Were you thinking it would be cool for her to show up at the funeral and tell your truths then? Um, nope.

Then there’s that pesky world of social media, where there are no secrets. Maybe your mom and dad aren’t on Facebook and Instagram (though all my elderly relatives are). Surely there are others, whom you both know, who will see the pics you inevitably post of good times with your new love.

Even if you’re not posting selfies, don’t you ever go out to dinner? To shul on the holidays? Maybe you’ll get invited to a simcha — cousin Eli’s wedding, your niece Ella’s bat mitzvah. Unless you’re planning to hide your true lifestyle like a Jew in the Inquisition, eventually someone else will tell your parents your news. 

You can’t live this lie. It’s too complicated, and it’s disrespectful to everyone — your ex, your new partner, your parents and yourself.

Your fear that the news could kill your father is almost certainly overwrought. I don’t know your parents, but I’m sure they’ve lived through worse. You can’t make it to old age without experiencing loss and challenges harder than someone else’s divorce. My sister is on her fourth husband (he’s wonderful!) and we’re fine with it. 

As for which news to tell first, are you kidding? How could you tell them about this new woman if they think you’re still married? Unless they’re up on polyamory, aren’t they going to think you’re two-timing your spouse?

When you do tell them, don’t set it up like this: “I have terrible news.” It’s not like you’re admitting to some heinous crime or you lost your life savings in Atlantic City. So be matter-of-fact: “I have something important to share. I know how fond you are of (name of ex), but our marriage hit some rough spots and we’re getting divorced.” Give them a few beats to absorb that and let them ask questions before you spring the new romance on them.

You don’t have to divulge anything too personal about what led to the divorce. Maybe end the conversation by offering to have the new partner drop by. Bring bagels and lox when you do; say it was her idea.

And if they don’t become besties right away, that’s OK. You’re allowed to love someone your parents don’t, and they may be so overwhelmed with their own problems that they don’t have the bandwidth to appreciate how great she is. But at least they won’t be wondering why your ex ghosted them at this difficult point in their lives, or feel hurt if someone else breaks the news that you got a divorce and a new partner.

Difficult conversations are part of life, and part of families. I’m a parent of grown humans. Sometimes they have to tell me difficult things … just like sometimes I have to tell them difficult things … just like sometimes I had to tell my parents difficult things. Being a grown-up involves taking responsibility for your actions, coping with the vicissitudes of life … and honoring thy father and mother.

Signed,
Bintel

Engage

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