DEAR MISS MANNERS: My husband of 42 years received a phone call from a man 45 years old saying that his mother had passed away four months ago. She left a picture of my husband (we haven't seen that picture) and wrote that he is his real father. He sent a picture of himself, and there is a resemblance.
His mother married before he was born but claims that the one she married knew he wasn't his biological son. The man that raised him has passed on, and that is one reason he decided to pursue this.
My husband admits dating this woman for a while but says that he had no knowledge that he is the father.
I have been so sick ever since we heard this, and my husband thinks I'm ridiculous, as this was before we even knew each other. But I just can't control my emotions. My husband and I have had a very happy married life.
This man wants to be a part of our family because he's big on family. My husband wrote him a letter and said that after all these years, he should be considered a sperm donor, not his father. This did not go over very big.
We have two daughters that he wants to get to know. They do not want to know him. They say they don't need another brother. I was a widow with five young children when my husband and I got married, three boys and two girls. We haven't told them of the situation, as we are afraid it will hurt the relationship he has with them.
My husband did say that we would visit with him and his family, when and if we ever get back to that part of the country. Possibly this summer. I have agreed to this.
My question is this: Do we have an obligation to accept this and tell the rest of our children? They are all in their 40s now.
GENTLE READER: In the quagmire of moral and possibly legal questions this unfortunate situation presents, Miss Manners has been searching for problems that would be within her purview.
She does not feel that the decision about telling your children from your first marriage is one of them. No one else can perform the difficult task facing your husband and you, presuming that this claim turns out to be true. You must weigh how much information you morally owe your children, how this is likely to affect each of them emotionally (not just in regard to their opinion of your husband) and whether they are likely to hear it anyway from other sources.
However, you do face a major etiquette problem, which is that of getting your emotions under control. Etiquette's toughest requirement is that one must sometimes overcome, or at least disguise, one's feelings out of consideration for others.
This means you must not treat your husband's son as if he were some sort of stalker. You hardly have child-rearing responsibilities, as he is 45 years old, so you needn't clasp him to your bosom, literally or figuratively, but you have an obligation to be courteous and respectful in whatever relationship your husband establishes with him.
Then there is the matter of how you treat your husband. Miss Manners is hardly predisposed to regard careless parenthood lightly, but it does strike her that by your own account, you brought this gentleman five young children he had not fathered, and he seems to have earned their and your trust and love and made you happy.
Therefore, although it may not be ridiculous for you to be upset, it is unseemly. If Miss Manners may stray ever so slightly into the area of morality, she would say that you owe him the acceptance he so generously gave you and yours, and that you should emphasize this to them as a mitigating circumstance if the decision is made to tell them.