September 20, 2023

‘Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive’

The Atlantic has a regular advice column written by psychotherapist Lori Gottlieb, the author of Maybe You Should Talk To Someone and co-host of the Dear Therapists podcast. In a recent issue, she handled a very difficult question about paternity. Her expertly-crafted response was: tell the truth, gently but clearly. Secrets poison relationships.

How would you respond? It’s a very thorny and contemporary conundrum: a divorce, a blended family, a vasectomy, a desire for a child from the second marriage, anonymous sperm donation … and more.

Dear Therapist,

When I married my husband, he had two adult children, and I had none. We both wanted to have a child together, but my husband had a vasectomy after his second child was born—too long ago to get the procedure reversed.

We didn’t want to use a sperm bank, so we asked my husband’s son to be the donor. We felt that was the best decision: Our child would have my husband’s genes, and we knew my stepson’s health, personality, and intelligence. He agreed to help.

Our daughter is 30 now. How do we tell her that her “father” is her grandfather, her “brother” is her father, her “sister” is her aunt, and her “nephew” is her half-brother?

My husband and I are anxious, confused, and worried about telling her. This is also hard on my husband, because he wants our daughter to know that he will always and forever be her father.

Thank you for any advice you have to offer.

Anonymous