Dear Margo: Every Problem Does Not Have a Solution

How do you explain that when a criminal is family, you still love them? Margo Howard’s advice

Every Problem Does Not Have a Solution

Dear Margo: Many years ago, I got a call informing me that my son was arrested and being held on $1 million bail. That was when I first learned that he is a pedophile.

He has just completed his 20-year prison sentence, and during that time I learned a great deal about this insidious disease. Everyone hates a pedophile, and they’re unable to separate the person from the crime. As with any crime, when the person who committed the crime is a family member, you still love him or her. Like alcoholism, no one chooses to be a pedophile. Inside prison, it is awful for convicted pedophiles. Inmates hate snitches and pedophiles. If they are not killed in prison, they are beaten up regularly. Inmates “clean the yard” by beating up a sex offender so badly that the person is transferred to another facility.

There is no cure for this illness, nor has a cause been determined. The only way a pedophile can survive is to hide the fact that he is one. Until society finds a cure for pedophilia, we will create more pedophiles each day, only to warehouse the ones we catch in prison. Do you believe there will ever be hope for this particular mental and behavioral illness? — Distraught Dad

Dear Dis: Pedophilia has the “distinction” of being both a disease and a crime. Alas, I don’t see a cure in the future because it is a mental aberration — much more serious, but on the order of pathological lying. The inclination is just there. The recidivism rate for pedophilia is high, even after therapy. When you consider that so many priests have been revealed to be pedophiles — and they are servants of God, no less — that sort of gives you your answer. — Margo, historically

Spilled Milk and All That

Dear Margo: I’m a recent college grad in an uncomfortable situation. I studied abroad during college and made friends with a large group of students from all over the world. During our time together, seven of us became closer than the rest, and before we left, we all made a pact to reunite at one another’s weddings. I usually don’t put too much stock in grand promises like that, but I figured these were all good people and we would at least extend invitations to one another.

It’s been a few years, and two of the people in the group have gotten engaged. I admit we haven’t been in close contact, but we did keep up with milestones in one another’s lives — birthdays, holidays, deaths in the family, etc. Now I find out that one couple is getting married next fall, and they’re inviting everyone from our smaller group except me.

I am hurt, since apparently the pact was made for everyone but me, and I am unsure how to address it. Should I speak to one of our mutual friends about it? I don’t think I could address the bride without making her feel she has to invite me, and the only thing worse than being excluded is being issued a pity invitation. In the good old days, this would have gone undetected, but with Facebook, I see updates about travel plans, engagement photos, etc. Can I still send them a card wishing them well, or would that seem passive-aggressive? — Disappointed

Dear Dis: I guess you could call this a slap in the Facebook. It is thoughtless, if you’re being exclusionary, to go public with all kinds of details. Their bad … or maybe their dumb. For whatever reason, you were not considered to be a real part of the group, though you thought otherwise. You might ask a mutual friend for an opinion about the situation, just to satisfy your curiosity. And by all means send a card. They will feel awful. — Margo, regrettably

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Dear Margo is written by Margo Howard, Ann Landers’ daughter. All letters must be sent via the online form at Due to a high volume of e-mail, not all letters will be answered.


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129 comments so far.

  1. avatar dcarpend says:

    Re Margo’s comment on pedophilia in the Catholic church being an indication of how common this is:  The clergy is a self-selected group, and cannot be considered representative of the general population.  The Catholic Church, for whatever reason, long ago made giving up a standard, married sex life part of the job description.  It is disingenuous for them to throw up their hands in shock and dismay when they “discover” that, oddly enough, they’ve recruited a disproportionate number of people for whom that was not a priority in the first place. 

    • avatar Lila says:

      dcarpend, you know what gets me about the pedophile-priest scandals, is that unlike OTHER pedophiles, they rarely seem to end up in jail!  They get shuffled around, things are covered up and denied, occasionally there will be a lawsuit payout or an out-of-court settlement.  It’s doubly offensive, because priests are supposed to be among the most trusted authority figures for churchgoers, and yet when they abuse that trust and shatter young lives, there seems to be little personal impact for them.

  2. avatar UPSTARTER says:

    LW#1:The recidivism rate for pedophilia crimes is not higher than it is for other crimes, violent or not.  This is a rumor that had legs and took off that is simply untrue. Rather, therapy and support systems are what matter.  The reoffending rate for pedophiles tends to include whether they have committed any other crimes, like burglary, or smoking marijuana, that might violate their parole.  However, if you look at how many convicted-for-pedophilia individuals re-commit pedophilia, that number is smaller than it is for other career criminals.
    Loving and supporting your son, in spite of what happened, might be one of the most important things in his road to recovery.  Good luck!

  3. avatar JoJo55 says:

    Letter 1# Your behavior is typical. I know people are trying to feel bad for pedophiles, but I lived with one around growing up, he molested anyone he came in contact with. You wouldn’t have felt bad for him, he was an adept liar and manipulator. Everything about him was a mask, and it was always someone else’s fault. When confronted for molesting my sister, this 70 year old man blamed her and said she seduced him. He went to church every sunday, and prayed before every meal. He would pretend to be a “model” husband while he cheated on his wife with grown women as well as molesting children. I’ve also seen how hard families try to cover it up, excuse it and somehow make it okay, this is just another example of it. I don’t believe it’s a sexual orientation, pedophiles enjoy hurting people and there is a reason that many serial killers start off with sexual assault and child abuse before escalating into killings. Or is sexual pleasure from murder and torture an orientation now too?

    • avatar Cindy Marek says:

      Good answer. My major issue with labeling pedophilia a “disease” is that automatically evokes a sympathy response; as if the victimizer is a victim; as if THE victims should shelve their pain and humiliation, to be considered “equally a victim” of the person who harmed them. That is wrong, imo.

      If some man were to rape me, we are NOT “equal victims.” He’s a victim, I’m a victim. No, *I* am the *victim.* He’s the PERPETRATOR.

      But nowadays everything’s “a disease.”

      BTW, alcoholism is also not a “disease” in my books. Nor is obesity (I’ve struggled with weight issues throughout life, continually work to keep it off – and succeed).

      Some things are out of people’s control, other things are NOT. Our society suffers from too much excuse making.

      The lines are getting blurred as to who is the VICTIM and who is the PERPETRATOR. That’s a big big social mistake. If we take that mentality to its logical conclusion, we may as well close down all prisons and simply send them to hospitals instead (right?)…

      • avatar Frau Quink says:

        Thank you, Cindy Marek!
        I definitely share your opinion.

      • avatar David Bolton says:

        I know, right? 

        Personally, I’m tired of hearing about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or as it used to be more accurately known—cowardice.

        And postpartum depression? Puh-leeze. That’s just jealousy over the fact that the new baby is getting all the attention, and pure laziness. Don’t have a baby if you don’t want to do the work that comes with it. You can’t be pregnant forever, you know.

        And don’t even get me started on Austism—aka “Spoiled Brat Syndrome.”

        Why, in my day… 


      • avatar Briana Baran says:

        PTSD is real. Imagine getting a kiss from a man you love, and having your mouth flood with the taste of tobacco and rotten teeth, and your throat close and your stomach rise. That’s PTSD at work…reliving a terrible, life-destroying experience through triggers. The response is unexpected, and, at first, not controllable. It can be extremely destructive. It can also be helped. My much-loved husband never smoked, and has no bad teeth…I spent a year learning to kiss him without being triggered by memories of being sexually assaulted when I was 16. It was real. I had no doubts about our marriage. Sometimes you pay a heavy price for being a victim.
        Post-partum depression is also real, and it is not the same as the “baby-blues”. You love your child, you aren’t “just jealous”, you’re actually confused about the feelings of hopelessness, inadequacy, misery, and anxiety you are experiencing. You worry that you’re not doing enough for the baby, that you’re failing, that he’s sick, that he’ll die in his sleep. You check him to see if he’s breathing…every fifteen minutes, and can’t sleep when he does for fear he’ll need you. If he cries, it’s because you did something wrong. You begin doubting you will ever be a good mother, or that any child could love you. In my case, you become suicidal, and it’s no bid for sympathy. I was almost committed. PPD is due to chemical imbalances from hormonal changes after the baby is born, and it can be extremely severe in some people.
        I agree about autism. My son is high functioning on the autism spectrum…when he was very young, life was very challenging. He couldn’t tolerate loud noises, certain colors, images, tones or movements. He had repetitive behaviors and engaged in a certain degree of OCD behaviors as well. It took a long time to get him past those things…but twenty one years ago, there weren’t nearly as many diagnoses of autism. His present circumstances have little to do with autism with one exception…in adult autistic males there is a trend toward obsession with violence, aggression, manipulation and an unwillingness/inability to grasp reality. He lives with his father, who refuses to build any sense of responsibility or accountability in him (he really wants that disability check…I’d sooner have my son working for a living and understanding life…), and so he’s displaying all of the typical, and dangerous behaviors of a potentially dangerous autistic adult male with co-current behavioral/personality disorders. Nothing I can do…he’s 21 and listens to dad, and dad alone.
        But for a lot of parents, how simple it is to say a child has ADD, ADHD, autism or some disorder to excuse wretched behavior. We wouldn’t allow this even when we knew I. was autistic.

      • avatar KL says:

        Briana — I may be giving David too much credit, but I thought he was be sarcastic, not really implying that such things are not real.  Perhaps I’m wrong, but I didn’t think he was intending that to be taken at face value.

      • avatar David Bolton says:

        Thank you. My point was to illustrate that one person’s disease is often another person’s soapbox fodder. 

      • avatar Briana Baran says:

        Hard to tell on this thread, as previously, David has stated that both pedophilia and alcoholism were diseases.
        As for “soapboxes”, having knowledge of something is not the same thing as being on a soapbox.
        If I have a “soapbox” stance about anything, it’s persistent ignorance. I am not being superior. Anyone can do the same thing I do…the Internet is a marvelous invention. Research, and learning to critically analyze what you find through it, and determine what is sound, even if it is disgusting or frightening, and what is garbage, is astounding. I’m sick of being trashed because people skim my comments and take offense.

      • avatar David Bolton says:

        Briana—every post does not have a theme or a message (hidden or otherwise) directed at you, necessitating your reply.

      • avatar Briana Baran says:

        Considering the degree of crap I’ve been taking on this site for making intelligent commentary, I have begun having a sort of knee-jerk response to anything that appears after one of my posts. I replied to your post because it seemed a bit peculiar after you insisted on labeling pedophiles as “diseased”, whether the comment was meant to be facetious or not. KL replied to me, chastising me for not “getting it”, and you came in after her. I’ve already been called “sick” on this thread because of people who either can’t or won’t read an entire comment. I might be sick…of the unmitigated BS.
        Beyond that, I’m finished on this thread. Perhaps Margo should stick to emo teenagers and insecure spouses. And the horrors of not being invited to a wedding. Feh.

      • avatar KL says:

        Uh, I wasn’t trying to chastise you, Briana.  Just offered a different perspective.  Don’t you think chastising is a little harsh of a characterization?

  4. avatar CRH216 says:

    I empathize with letter two. A few years back a friend of mine was to get married and she wanted me to be in the wedding party. Well she broke up with that guy and started dating the man that’s now her husband. We would connect every now and again, and she told me that she picked out a date and a place…..told me all about it. Now we were not as close as we were a few years back, as I had moved, but we weren’t enemies either. Even if I wasn’t considered for the wedding party, I thought I would at least get an invite/announcement. When I asked her about it, she gave the excuse that her fiance had a large family, and blah blah blah.  To be honest, all of that was understandable. But why would you discuss it and gush and tell me all about the planning only to not invite that person? I think I would have understood more had she told me that and not waited until I asked.  

  5. avatar Cindy Marek says:

    L #1: I’m very reluctant to call pedophilia a “disease.” That automatically insinuates it’s worthy of sympathy (i.e., excuse making). I don’t view rape as a “disease.” In your situation (father), I’d NOT go around apologizing for my son. Nor would I try and “educate” people that it’s a “disease.” You wouldn’t win me over with that, and I reckon that’s most people’s responses. You are his father, you love him despite what he’s done. If you’re put on the defensive about it, simply reply “He is my son and I still love him.”  

    L #2: Send a card, by all means. BTW, you all are very young and idealistic. There are plenty of disappointments down the road (sad to say). This is the first indication you’re growing apart. You need to being adjusting *now* … because soon children will be on the way (which tends to further distance people). Your friend will definitely now be dealing with in-laws. It’s nice you all made this pact, but you’re also very young and idealistic. Keep your sight on your own life and goals, move forward (again — people WILL disappoint you).

    • avatar David Bolton says:

      This is the last comment I’m making on this topic. 

      Again, don’t confuse sympathy (feeling sorry) with empathy (the ability to understand the justification of another person’s feelings). You can empathize with someone and not agree with them, or their actions. Just because something is labeled a “disease” does not make the person with the disease blameless. My mother developed lung cancer as a result of her smoking. I did not feel sorry for her for having cancer, because she brought it on herself. I did however, understand why she was upset, scared, ashamed and depressed for having done something dumb that ended her life prematurely. I felt empathy for Tonya Harding—who threw away her career and years of practice and training as a figure skater out of fear, uncertainty and doubt of her own abilities. I felt empathy for Susan Atkins, who allowed herself to be used as a tool to kill Sharon Tate and others, and spent the rest of her life in jail as a result.

      It’s not blind or weak or a betrayal or an insinuation of wrongdoing on the part of the victim to feel empathy for someone who does something shocking or heinous or stupid. I don’t have to agree with what the person did, but I can certainly identify with making a wrong and irrevocable choice that affects the rest of your life. 

  6. avatar Baby Snooks says:

    There are some things in life that simply are not nice as my grandmother would say about things that in her time you didn’t really talk about except to say they weren’t very nice. Pedophilia is one of those things that aren’t very nice.  Disease, addiction, choice.  Maybe all three.  My heart goes out to the parents. They carry the shame as well. As does the rest of the family. Even though they are helpless to do anything other than love them. The only thing that seems to work is keeping them away from children.  Which in our times of “civil rights” becomes increasingly more difficult. Listing them on public lists probably doesn’t help. I have always opposed that. People often become what they’re told they are. And often remain what they’re told they are.

    It is interesting that some have commented on the fact that few of the priests were prosecuted and sent to prison.  As if it is somehow less a crime because a priest committed it?

  7. avatar K C says:

    What?  Pedophilia is a “disease” with no known cause?  Are you kidding?  Shame on you, too, Margo!  You should not help him feel better about what his son is nor perpetuate the myth that there is no known cause.  The cause IS pedophilia!  His son was sexually abused and then went on to sexually abuse.  This is documented and has been studied.  90 percent of abusers were abused themselves.  There’s actually a good chance this father who still “loves” his son was the one who abused him, statistically speaking, since most sexual abuse is committed by family members.  Thank goodness one of them was caught.

    • avatar wendykh says:

      NO. While most pedos were abused, most people who were abused, the overwhelming majority, do NOT go on to molest others!

  8. avatar Noonatic says:

    Pedophiles deserve to be beaten to death, weather in prison or by the parent of the child who was mauled.  I am speaking of course, as the mother of a child who was abused.   Personally, mother of pedophile, your son should be dead in prison and if he EVER touches any of my kids, I will shoot him to death.   I don’t care how hard YOUR life is, think about my (then) 7 year old boy who has to live with this for the rest of his life.

      So, all you liberals who are going to bash me, go ahead.  Pedophiles should die the moment they are convicted, or if I saw it happening, by ME.   

    • avatar R Scott says:

      You had me in your corner up to your last paragraph.

    • avatar Briana Baran says:

      Noonatic; I’m a liberal, and I support the Death Penalty, particularly for those who hurt children. I’ve been “bashed” plentifully on this thread already. Are you going to start “bashing” people for being “liberals” even if they agree with you?
      Good grief.

    • avatar Carib Island Girl says:

      I agree with R Scott and Briana, liberals????  Really?  All are agreeing with you, WTF is wrong with you that you drag politics into it.  The only bashing you will get is because you’re an idiot.

  9. avatar WideAwake says:

    Re. LW#1: I don’t agree that pedophilia fits the label of a disease. I also don’t agree with equating addictions as diseases. Some people’s brains are predisposed to having addictions, but that doesn’t make it a disease, nor excuse any addictive behavior, particularly those leading to criminal activities. 

    I strongly believe people who have inclinations or impulses which may cause them to do something illegal, owe it to themselves to get help for their impulses. People need to take responsibility for their actions. If a person feels they cannot control themselves and may cause harm to another person, they should surrender their freedom to get properly evaluated and treated. Who wants to live with the conscience of having harmed someone else or committed a crime because they did not step up to get help? I think those who do not, are simply selfish and/or do not have a conscience. Of course, family of the perpetrators end up being the ones suffering in shame and denial, per LW1.  

    • avatar Carib Island Girl says:

      The family is part of the problem, making endless excuses and in many cases enabling the behavior.