Dear Margo: When Not To Sleuth Around

Margo Howard’s advice

When Not To Sleuth Around

Dear Margo: I live in a town of 60,000 people. Many of us know each other because we grew up here. My son, who is in high school, has a buddy who is getting to look quite a bit like the man who is president of one of the banks. I mean, the resemblance is striking. This boy’s parents, the banker and his wife, and my husband and I have all known one another since we were in middle school. I am really curious as to whether it’s possible that this child is the product of, shall we say, a brief indiscretion. Can you think of a way I could delicately solve this “mystery” without embarrassing anyone? — Madly Curious

Dear Mad: You know what? You couldn’t even solve “this mystery” if you did embarrass someone. Come to think of it, the person you could most embarrass by pursuing this matter is yourself.

Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that your suspicions are correct. There would be no confirmation of this on the birth certificate, which leaves you the option of asking friends whether they remember any trouble in the marriages of X and Y. I would not recommend this, however, because your inquiries would become defamatory gossip quicker than you could say “looks-like-the-banker.”

And do remember, many people have doppelgangers. That is the reason we often say to someone, “You look just like so-and-so who’s on television/in the movies/in the Senate, etc.” Please leave this alone and keep your suspicions to yourself. — Margo, prudently

Down, Boy

Dear Margo: My mom came down to visit my sister, her husband and their two sons over Christmas. She brought her dog with her, as he got along with my sister’s dog the last time our mother visited. This time, however, the dogs got into a fight, and my sister was bitten on Christmas Day. My Mom left after my Dad and I showed up to take care of my nephews because my sister had to go to the hospital. Before Mom left, she asked her son-in-law to change one of the boys’ diapers.

At 2 a.m. on New Year’s Day, my stepbrother calls my sister ranting about how dare my brother-in-law kick my mother out of my sister’s house, and how dare my sister then try to get money from my mother for her hospital bill when she has insurance. None of this happened. I think my stepbrother needs psychological help. How do I broach the subject of counseling without implying that he’s crazy? I’m really the only person in the family who can do this, because he’s either angry with everyone else, or they’ve chosen to ignore the situation, hoping it will go away.

And there’s more: Now there’s a rumor going around in the family that my sister intends to file a lawsuit against my mother. Again, untrue, but I’m being called upon to be the mediator and debunker in this dispute between my stepbrother and my sister. How do I do this? I have no background in family counseling. — Frankly Frustrated

Dear Frank: Since your stepbrother is not wrapped real tight, and all the other family members seem to be waiting for Godot, I suggest a short note to the young man saying you want the best for him, and right now that would be to seek counseling. If he declines, or reads you the riot act, forget it; you tried. Skip trying to mediate or debunk anything. If anyone in the family mentions a lawsuit (or rabies, or anything else untrue) simply say: “It never happened.” If you put this bump in the road into perspective, it won’t seem like such a big deal. — Margo, coolly

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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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38 comments so far.

  1. avatar voiceofreason says:

    LW! Why did you mention changing diapers? I thought that sentence was going to be the crux of the letter. I was expecting you to say the the child never got his diaper changed and developed as nasty diaper rash.

  2. avatar A R says:

    LW1: I can only imagine how that conversation would play out. Would the LW ask the mother of the boy over appetizers at a restaurant? Would she ask the father next time he gives her own son a ride home from a game? Would she just cut to the chase and ask the son who his daddy *really* is? LOL! This letter smacks of self-delusion or fraud; who knows which it is.

    Like another poster wrote, I once had a lady repeat to me on several occasions how much I looked like the girl her son used to date. I thought her son was a P.O.S, so I shrugged it off. Whatever. One day she brought a picture in to show me. Darned if the girl and I could not have been sisters. Not twins for sure, but sisters in a heartbeat.

    I mean, there can only be so many codings within the human genome.