Do I Need to Tell My Guests That My Dad Is a Sex Offender?


I don't really know where to begin, or what they even need to know

by Liz Moorhead, Editor, Ask APW

woman standing at the beach

Q: My dad is a convicted felon currently serving probation, and a registered sex offender. He was in prison when I met my boyfriend. I waited until we were fairly serious before telling him about my dad (it’s not exactly great first date material), and he was incredibly sweet and understanding. At the time, I left it up to him if he wanted to share anything, if at all, with his family. As our relationship progressed, we decided we would have to tell them eventually, which really meant when we got engaged. As we approach this next step I am filled with so much anxiety. His family likes me—like really, really likes me. I am not only worried about what they will think, but also that this will prevent me from having a wedding surrounded by the people I love. Because the other complication here is that I love my dad, and he is a big part of my life.

Growing up, my dad was my hero and biggest supporter. He and my mom had a strong marriage and he is equally responsible for raising me to be the strong woman that I am today. He’s the reason I followed my passions in life and the reason I never settled for just any old guy. Since context is important with this kind of thing, I’ll share that he was charged with sexual misconduct with a minor over the age of fourteen and under the age of sixteen. He spent a year in prison, will be on probation for the next few years, and on the sex offender registry for the next several years. By all accounts the relationship between him and his victim was consensual—which doesn’t make it okay, but I just need you to know that he is not a violent predator. The courts, for what it’s worth, have identified him as the lowest-level offender, which means he is not likely to offend again and is not a danger to anyone. My dad has even earned visitation rights with his grandchildren and is allowed more freedoms than some offenders on the registry.

When I found out about what he had done, I was completely devastated, but I chose to love him and to keep him in my life. Choosing to love him was hard at first, but I made that choice because I know that he would have done the same for me if roles were reversed. He would love me, and he would try to help me work through whatever had led me down that path. The past few years have taught me a lot about the meaning of unconditional love. Loving him doesn’t mean that I support his actions. My dad is a flawed human, but not an evil one.

And so to the future wedding, and my future in-laws. I know it will be a big shock, and I want to give them the space to have an honest reaction. I want them to be able to freely decide whether or not they even want to meet my dad. But if they decide to have no part in this, we will likely elope by ourselves. The thought of having a wedding without my dad there to walk me down the aisle is heartbreaking.

Equally heartbreaking is having a big celebration without kids, including my boyfriend’s nephew, whom we are very close with. Additionally, we both love kids. Having a no-kids wedding is just not us. My family is supportive of my dad and would allow him to be around children, so really, the kids ban would just extend to his side of the family if my in-laws do not want to share this secret with the rest of their side of the family. I am also thinking about our future long term. Both of our families live near us, and I’d love to host big family celebrations with both sides. When we have children, I want both sets of grandparents to be able to visit and celebrate holidays and birthdays.

I know I can’t force a relationship between them, but how do I get over it if it never happens? Is there a way to tell my future in-laws about my dad without making it seem like it’s a secret we’ve kept from them for years (even though we have)? How can I give them space and time to process this bombshell? How do we let them know that if they don’t want anything to do with my dad, then there will be no wedding (without pressuring them into making decisions that they are not comfortable with)?

—Anonymous

A: Dear Anonymous,

I’m so glad you see that you should tell his parents because yes, you should. As soon as you can muster up the courage, get on that, if only because you’re reaching a point where you’re feeling dishonest about it. And you also seem clear that any of your partner’s extended family that might bring kids around him will also need to know.

But. Well, maybe not yet.

It’s not often that I offer avoidance as a solution, but here I will (with some caveats). Have a kids-free wedding. Across the board, no kids, both sides of the family (a one-sided no-kids wedding will just make people offended or irritated). Tell his parents, sure. But don’t tell the rest of the family just yet.

I know, I know, you really want piles and piles of kids at your wedding. I can relate! But you also want your dad at your wedding, and unfortunately, he’s made it so you can’t have both. In theory, you could tell your partner’s parents and then find a way to relay this information to the entire rest of the family. But you’re finding it hard enough to tell these two folks. How much harder will it be to take that leap to tell them, and then also let everyone else know, too? And then it’s quite likely that some of these folks won’t bring their kids to the wedding once they know, which puts you in a similar position to having the kids-free wedding, only with a lot more emotional stress.

It sounds like you’re still not used to the idea of telling people yet. Maybe the best way to start is just by telling your partner’s parents, experiencing that process, and leaving it at that for now. And then you can, hopefully, see that other people will not condemn you. Hopefully you’ll grapple with the hard bits, but also see it’s not as bad as you fear. And then later on, when your dad might be around someone’s kids, you can tell people quietly, individually, rather than asking the family to pass the word en masse through the grapevine.

I know. I know that means sacrificing a big part of the vision you have for your wedding. I get that you’re being forced to face this ugly truth about someone you really love, and you just want one nice, peaceful, glowing day of respite from facing it. But your dad’s actions make that impossible, and it sucks that you have to experience the ripple effects. Because sadly, you likely can’t have both. Either your dad comes and kids don’t, or you have all the kids you want running around spilling punch all over the ballroom, and your dad isn’t there.

So, how to tell your partner’s parents? Well, I think anyone would be able to understand why you haven’t brought it up before. I can’t imagine his parents being shocked and horrified that you hadn’t paraded this out sooner. You asked how to give them space to process, and that’s wonderfully thoughtful, but they just seriously need to dump out. This problem more directly affects you, not them. Even though it’s pretty clear, explicitly let them know that this is hard for you to talk about so they don’t bring it up casually. Take care of your own emotional needs and they’ll be fine taking care of theirs.

They might not cozy up to him, honestly. But really, that’s nothing unusual—most parents of a couple don’t get together for bridge every Sunday. Still, I wouldn’t even bring up the possibility of elopement. Drop the bomb, let them know that he’ll be at the wedding if that’s what you guys decide to do, but don’t offer them the out of not coming. It probably won’t even cross their minds. And if it does, cross that bridge then.

And hey. What your dad did isn’t a reflection on you. I’m so, so sorry that you’re nervous that you’ll be paying for his choices (and that in many ways, you already are). But anyone who would think less of you because of this situation is just wrong. Even your partner’s parents, if it comes to that. I’m hopeful that it won’t. They already know what kind of person you are, they have an amazing relationship with you, and they managed to raise a son who handled this news well. I’m hopeful they can do the same.

Those are the answers you came here for, to varying degrees. But there are two main things I want you to take away from this post. I can feel you trying to protect your dad from people’s opinions, trying to protect his reputation from their judgment. I feel you rationalizing what he did, that it’s not really all that bad. But your dad can have done an awful thing, and still be loved. What I mean is, you’re still allowed to love him, without trying to make what he did less terrible than what it is. He raised you. You love him. That’s okay.

The other thing is, he’s not the one who needs to be protected here. There’s a reason this is illegal. What he did was very wrong.

Those truths can exist simultaneously. Your dad did something awful, full stop, no rationalizing, no excuses. But you’re also still allowed to love him. It’s maybe counterintuitive, but if you really look that in the face, really acknowledge that what he did was awful, then maybe you won’t be so afraid of anyone else’s reaction. Maybe it won’t be as hard to hear someone else say, “That is absolutely terrible,” if you’ve already acknowledged it yourself.

And of course, of course, if you’re not already in therapy and working on this, please find an awesome professional to help you. Having someone to listen, help you heal, and just navigate this difficult situation will do more good than some lady on the Internet ever could.

IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO ASK APW A QUESTIONPLEASE DON’T BE SHY! IF YOU WOULD PREFER NOT TO BE NAMED, ANONYMOUS QUESTIONS ARE ALSO ACCEPTED. (THOUGH IT REALLY MAKES OUR DAY WHEN YOU COME UP WITH A CLEVER SIGN-OFF!)

Liz Moorhead

Liz is an illustrator and writer who paints custom stationery and types up impassioned opinions about weddings, etiquette, feminism and motherhood (usually while shaking a fist and mumbling expletives around mouthfuls of cheese fries). Her spare time is spent sipping bourbon with her husband and playing Don’t Throw That in the Toilet with her sons.

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  • Amy March

    I agree with Liz that you need to tell your in-laws, but disagree about an on-going duty to warn anyone with kids who might be around him about his past. There is no reason to believe a child at your house for a birthday party, for example, is in any danger from him. He will have served his time, and assuming that he complies with probation and any registration requirements, I don’t think you have an obligation to tell every parent of a six year old coming over for 4th of July about his past.

    But I do think you need to keep working on your understanding of the situation. In order to be making a judgment call about who you are going to tell, you need to really really get that an adult man having sex with a 14 or 15 year old girl is a predator, and that absolutely no part of that relationship was consensual, because children cannot consent.

    I think as you open up about this, it’s going to be important to present the situation to others in a way that doesn’t make excuses or let him off the hook. He is a grown man who raped a child. I get that it is not what you want to hear or how you describe it, but it’s also true. I think people will be much more understanding if they don’t feel as an initial reaction that you’re minimizing his conduct.

    • emilyg25

      I agree with you, but just want to point out that sexual misconduct is a very broad term and doesn’t necessarily mean rape.

      • Amy March

        You’re absolutely right, I should have been clearer, and I will edit that in case it is disturbingly inaccurate to anyone else.

    • Natalie

      “There is no reason to believe a child at your house for a birthday party, for example, is in any danger from him.” This. As you say, an adult man having sex with a 14 or 15 yo girl is a predator. But he is not a child molester. Children at parties and weddings are not in danger from him. I don’t think that LW needs to warn people with kids about his past. I’d feel very differently about the situation if he had gone to jail for sexual misconduct with a 10 yo. But that’s not what happened and there’s no indication that he has any desire for children. Maybe a warning for parents of teenage girls is called for, but not for the parents of young children.

      • CP2011

        I feel the same, but I can’t really put my finger on a good justification for why. As LW says, context is key in these scenarios. If I’m going to be around a man who has served jail time for sexual misconduct with a woman, I want to know every detail possible before I can make a judgment about my (or my hypothetical children’s) safety. In this case, I’d want to know (and I’m not actually asking the LW, just explaining my thought processes) if this misconduct was full on intercourse vs groping (which is still horrible, but still), sending a dick pic but no physical contact, grooming over the course of many years vs jumping out of the bushes, etc. I feel like the reasons people become sex offenders are so varied it’s really hard to make a sound safety determination without a ton of backstory.

        • MTM

          “Sexual misconduct with a *minor” — there’s a difference. 14/15 isn’t a woman, she’s a teen. And we should consider that this guy actually served a year of jail time. I’m guessing it was more than just a picture.

    • Meg Keene

      My first response to this is YES.

      My second response is… I think it depends with kids. If I was at a party and it was a one time thing, with my four year old, fine, it’s not my business. But if this guy was going to become part of my family, and my kids were going to be around him regularly… and I didn’t know and later found out, I’d be REALLY upset. Because you’re right, his behavior is still predatory. And among other things, 4 year olds grow up to be 14 year olds. And if someone had a chance to groom my kid without me knowing, long term? JESUS TAKE THE WHEEL, because I shouldn’t be allowed in that room, I’d be so angry.

      • Roselyne

        THIS.

        And someone telling me ‘well, I judged that your kids weren’t at risk so I didn’t tell you’? Fury of a thousand suns.

        • Amy March

          I don’t disagree regarding kids with whom he might have regular contact, but I don’t think parents are entitled to disclosure about everyone their kids come into contact with, and they shouldn’t expect that they would be told if there were anything to know. If you want to know, it’s on you to look it up.

          I just think there are too many circumstances for me to be comfortable with a blanket “you know a sex offender you must warn all children” rule.

          • Roselyne

            I was mostly referring to the OPs’ comment of wanting to host kid’s parties at her house, and getting the impression that these kids would be involved in their lives on a regular basis, overlapping with her parents. 1-time event, sure, but if I think someone has promoted a regular relationship between my kid and a sex offender without acknowledging the issues, that’s something else.

            Like, realistically and objectively, you’re right, but I still wouldn’t take it well.

            … maybe it’s just ringing too many bells of university parties, having a guy keep refilling my glass and try groping me after I turn him down and later finding out that, oh, yeah, B has a history of that, and been accused of rape 3 times, but no one says anything because they find it uncomfortable and they have no duty to say anything. Fury of a thousand suns.

            It’s not the same situation, but damn if it’s not hitting the same emotional chords.

          • Liz

            I agree with your last statement, which is why I think it’s pretty important for OP to just avoid the issue for now and figure out who needs to know what at a later time, when it’s clear who’s going to be around him extensively.

            But I cringed a little at your first point that it’s “on you.” Oof. Parenthood is just continuous vigilance, constant worry. Could you imagine if something happened and a friend said, “I didn’t tell you because it’s your responsibility to look it up.”

          • Amy March

            Oh, I mean I don’t think its a good thing! But you just never actually know. You can’t rely on other people having the same views about this issue as you, or viewing offenders in the same way. That’s why the registries purportedly exist, so that if you really do want to screen every person your child meets, you theoretically can.

          • La’Marisa-Andrea

            Yeah. I DO think, however, that people are entitled to ask info they think is important and in the interest of full disclosure, either answer the question or say none of your business and then parent can go from there. I would want to know if I was bringing my kid to your home even once if you had a gun in the house for example. And yeah, any sex offenders gonna be there? But I agree you don’t have to lay it all out there unprompted just because kids might be around. And you also don’t have to tell me if I ask. But I’m not necessarily gonna know everyone who will be at your home and around my kids and would not be able to look them up if I wanted.

          • Amy March

            Oh yeah, completely agree re: honesty if asked!

          • Meg Keene

            Yeah I don’t think parents deserve full constant disclosure. (And I think our sex offender laws are awful, and the way we treat people as monsters is super not helpful, but that’s a story for another time). I do, however, expect disclosure from a family member who knows, about someone my kid might have regular contact with. In this case, I wouldn’t ban my kid from seeing him, but I’d have regular age appropriate conversations with them, checking in on the adult’s behavior. And, I might not go in for one on one time.

            Most kids who are molested, are harmed by friends and family, and… I try to be really mindful of that.

    • Sarah

      LW provide context didn’t rationalize her dads actions

    • Gina

      I just don’t think that it’s the letter writer’s call to decide whether a child “is in any danger from him”. Especially given the way she frames her dad’s crime as consensual. I think she’s got a serious conflict of interest there. I think she has a moral obligation to tell the parents, and then they get to decide if their child is in danger. I wouldn’t want someone else making that call for me.

  • La’Marisa-Andrea

    I kind of feel you trying to almost defend why he’s in your life and why you love your dad and would want him present at your wedding. And I don’t think you have to do that. I don’t think that should be emotional labor that is required of you. This is your dad. However you feel about your father is between you and him and no one else. And so when you tell people this information (because I do agree that you must), I don’t think it needs to come dressed in this defense of him. If someone has a problem with you loving your father, that’s their problem. Sometimes people we love do really horrible things. They’re still the people we love. That doesn’t change. That said, I would be inclined to tell the bare minimum with no rationalizations or defenses and if people want to know more, I presume this is public info (at least what he was convicted of) and they can find out on their own.

    As far as moving forward with the big family celebrations etc, my advice would be to continue your life and those who want to be a part of it with all that you come with will be there. While this is a huge thing in your family, lots of families have huge things that make it hard for everyone to come together. You’re not alone in that. If you want to throw those celebrations, throw them. Just as you’ve decided to continue to love your dad, others can decide if they want to interact with him or not. You make YOUR home as open and inviting as you want. All you can do is extend the invitation on your end. You can’t force anyone ever to have a relationship notwithstanding the circumstances here. You just do you, enjoy doing you and hope for the best. The only person who has to sleep at night with your conscience is you. I wish you the best of luck.

    • Meg Keene

      I love this.

    • Julia Monaghan

      These kinds of comments are why I read APW. Thank you.

  • janon

    My impulse is just the same as Liz’s. Don’t announce it to the whole family, if you can have a wedding without everyone knowing.

    Also, since you have a great relationship with your dad, is there any chance you can run this whole scenario by him to see if he has any suggestions? In other words, since he’s the one who made the choices that make you have to deal with this, let him carry some of the emotional weight and decision making. Yes? No? Just a thought. Maybe he’ll have ideas you haven’t thought of yet?

    • Amy March

      I think this is a great suggestion. I would also hope that if fiance’s parents refuse to attend a wedding with him there, that he would insist you go ahead with your plans without him, that he completely understands, that he will be there with you in spirit and hopes to FaceTime with you before you walk down the aisle. Even if ultimately you’d still rather elope than get married without him, to me that generosity of spirit in wanting the best for you, even if it is sad for him that his actions keep him from participating, is what you should be looking for as you evaluate how your relationship looks post-prison.

      • LJ

        Yeah. He screwed up, so he may not be at LW’s wedding – it looks like LW won’t be able to have their cake (big family wedding) and eat it too (dad walk down the aisle), so to speak….. their dad effed up and his price to pay may be not being at their wedding, if his presence upsets half of the guests because of his preventable actions. Tough choices and it sucks that someone else’s mistake is LW’s cross to bear… but it is HIS mistake and he is the one who needs to acknowledge that missing out on important life events can be the cost.

        • Emily

          I in general agree with this sentiment, however I don’t think that is the point of the LW’s contention. It doesn’t matter if Dad completely holds himself accountable to his actions and their unintended consequences;it matters that the LW WANTS him there and if his presence upsets half of the guests it will also upset the bride-to-be. I also disagree that he should necessarily be involved with the telling of the future in-laws. I that dropping this kind of bomb, and then forcing to unsuspecting people to handle the perpetrator they’ve never met before all at once is rude, and ultimately will hurt the chances for everyone to come terms with things before the wedding.

          • LJ

            I maintain that it depends on the type of people and how they tend to deal with events like these as each family functions differently – my family would appreciate the honesty and humility/ownership that comes from admitting it themselves and that would be helpful, as opposed to what my family would see as more of a coward’s perspective if the LW does all the social-engineering on his behalf without him introducing himself and providing ownership of his mistake. Of course, all families are different, so I don’t think there’s a one-size answer. We are both just providing options, and both could be considered rude from different families or social groups.

    • LJ

      Yeah, this is his cross to bear not yours. I would make any introductions or “coming-out” conversations involve him since it IS he who screwed up initially. Amy March has some on-point advice about this in the couple of her comments I’ve read here.

      • janon

        Maybe. Again, dad might have a better sense of how this would go (since presumably he’s had to tell other people before, himself).

  • Anon for this

    I am empathetic to your pain and situation, but I am also close to this issue and I have to say, full stop? A relationship between a victim minor and an adult can NEVER be “consensual.”

    • emmers

      Yes. I don’t want to pile on to the LW, but I was in a relationship at aged 16 with a 24 year old, and even that wasn’t really consensual, looking back on it. There are power dynamics that you just don’t realize when you’re underage, even when you feel like you’re making a decision to be in a relationship, which is why there are those laws.

      • Anon for this

        Look, I get why LW wants to frame her dad’s crime in the best light possible (it’s her DAD) and I’m not saying she has to renounce him as a monster forever and ever Amen. She loves him. That’s understandable and I do believe in growth and change and redemption, especially after proper rehabilitation and punishment.

        But at the same time, language like she used contributes to the idea that children (and often, especially young girls) can be an equal party in sexual situations with an adult, or even seduce said adult. And that contributes to rape culture as a whole (and I’ve dealt with this firsthand, like I said above). I almost always call out language like that and I think it’s especially necessary on a highly read publication like this one, even though the LW is well-intentioned and sympathetic.

    • Meg Keene

      Yes.

    • K.

      YES. One of my sisters is 14 and SHE IS A CHILD. I was really disturbed by LW’s characterization of her father’s crime. He is 100% responsible for what he did.

    • saywhatnow

      Yes, that part of the letter made me cringe as well. Liz has it right: any disclosure will be made so much worse by her attempts to rationalize and justify what happened, esp. in a situation with *such* a disparity of power and knowledge. Let it be what it is: a crime, for a reason.

  • Katelyn

    I have a completely less consequential but a “cat out of the bag” related dilemma. My boyfriend and I are going to get engaged soon – but this isn’t my first engagement. My ex (we were together 9 years) dumped me less than 2 weeks before our wedding a few years ago. My current boyfriend is very familiar with the situation because he has been a close friend for several years.

    My boyfriend’s sister has been clued in – but should I (and how and when should I) tell his parents? It very much will affect how I go about planning and my emotions around it. We have dinner together frequently so I am thinking about bringing it up during one of those – but is this pre-engagement or post-engagement?

    I can pose this at tomorrow’s Happy Hour if this isn’t the right place to discuss.

    • LJ

      I can see this coming up as a “here is an event that happened in my past and it’s good that you know it” topic, that would be absolutely a valid thing to share…

      BUT if this happened only a few years ago and you’re with your boyfriend, not your fiancé/you’re not engaged, then it seems like you’re REALLY putting the cart ahead of the horse by framing it as “when your son and I get married despite us only being together a year this will influence my wedding planning”…… that just seems weird to me…. it’s not at all relevant to the current situation.

      • Katelyn

        Sorry for taking so long to reply! When I say “going to get engaged soon” I really mean we are kind of unofficially engaged. We have a joint savings account specifically for wedding expenses, we have been talking about some wedding specifics (where/who), etc. He has not formally proposed and we haven’t told our parents, but it’s not going to be a huge surprise for anyone.

        I think everyone is right about finding an organic moment to bring it up. And if that organic moment never happens, then it doesn’t get discussed.

        Thanks for the thoughts!

        • LJ

          That all sounds really reasonable :)

          I honestly have a really hard time with the idea of “pre-engaged” because a lot of people who self-label it are setting themselves up for SUCH disappointment and heartbreak because mentally, they’ve already gotten into the “feeling engaged” mindset….. and if they’re not actually engaged….. who knows if their partner is on the same page? The “being engaged” is how you know, in my experience…. so I just worry/marvel at the amount of “pre-engaged” comments I see around various wedding boards….. I want to scream LIVE IN THE MOMENT not being engaged is FINE, just enjoy your life!

          It sounds like you’ve actually had the talks/are the most honest definition of it though :) Congrats and good luck :)

    • emilyg25

      I really don’t see how anyone needs to know this! If it happens to come up organically, you can be open about your experience, but you don’t need to specially tell people.

    • Alex K

      I have experienced this as a somewhat outsider. My SIL married someone who was married very young, and divorced quickly. She did not tell her parents until they had already started the wedding planning process. She waited because it wasn’t a big deal to her- when they met, he told her about, they talked, she was OK with, and then went on with their lives. Her parents (my ILs) were really upset and the rest of the family got this information through them. The rest of us didn’t care- SIL was happy. Basically, after my ILs had a little freak out they were fine- especially once husband and his brothers pointed out they had not told them about their SOs dating history.

      As for the advice- I would let him tell his parents if he wants to. I don’t think you need to say anything, but if you do it should be pretty casual. The point that should come across is that it is not a deal breaker for y’all, so they need to be cool with it.

      • Katelyn

        Thanks for sharing the situation! I don’t think they’d be upset if it gets communicated casually. But I’m sure they’d be irked if some nosy relative makes a snarky remark about it for them to overhear. I have a couple people in mind who I wouldn’t put it past them to do.

    • Liz

      Agree that this doesn’t seem NEED TO KNOW info.

    • Ashlah

      I agree with Emily and LJ. I don’t think it’s something you have to tell them. Of course, it doesn’t have to be a secret either, but I wouldn’t make a point of having a conversation about it now. I certainly wouldn’t bring it up pre-engagement as an “I have something to tell you…” sort of conversation. If it comes up in naturally, by all means, go for it. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. Maybe I’m missing some cultural context about your partner’s family, but this just doesn’t seem like it should be a big deal to them? I can understand, if you feel like your in-laws will be heavily involved with wedding planning, wanting to give them a heads up about how your experience might be shaping your feelings and expectations. Have that conversation if it feels right, but wait until you’re actually engaged.

      • Katelyn

        Thanks for the thoughts. I do expect them to be very involved with planning – they’re local to us (unlike my parents) and we get along tremendously.

        You’re right about waiting until afterwards – and only in a situation in which I would have to lie/evade the truth.

    • JC

      I really don’t think you have to tell anyone about this, but you might want to think about your responses to standard questions before your dinners so that you have some language down. For example, if your FMIL learns that you’ve been dress shopping, you might want to be prepared to say enthusiastically, “This is what I’m looking for!” and hold yourself back from “This is what I’m looking for because I hated X, Y, and Z last time.”

      • Katelyn

        Yeah, regardless of their knowledge I will need to actively work to say (and think!) things in a positive light.

        • JC

          Absolutely! It will make you happier to do so. I’m also notorious for word vomit. (I’ve told my future in-laws far more than I actually want them to know.) If I were you and I thought I could anticipate a little more, it is a good chance to practice controlling the amount of information that is available for comment!

    • Roselyne

      I was engaged prior to my current marriage – to a man I now refer to as Abusive Ex-Douchebag, so you can imagine how well THAT went.

      Genuinely… my husband knows, obviously. My friends who knew me at the time. Beyond that? I don’t think many people do, unless it’s relevant to the situation (like here, for example). Really, though, it honestly doesn’t matter. If it comes up organically, cool, it’s not something you need to hide, but I don’t see why it’s something you’d need to bring up.

      To put a blunter point to it: you have no obligation to disclose prior relationships to ANYONE (barring maybe your spouse, if that’s how you roll, but even then). My wedding to my husband included, among the guests, people I’d slept with (erm, more than a few), people he’d slept with, people we’d had threesomes with… Let’s just say NONE of that was ‘disclosed’ to my in-laws OR my parents prior to the wedding. Your personal relationship with them concerns you and them, and perhaps your spouse insofar as it affects you currently, but you have nothing to announce to anyone else.

    • FM

      I find people’s answers to this interesting. I have been the in-law in this situation. My brother in law was engaged to someone who had been previously married and didn’t want us to know or at least didn’t want to talk about it (he told us before he knew she didn’t want to share it with us and I think she ultimately knew we knew but…it was still the big elephant in the room). From my perspective, I found it really, really awkward that it was a big secret thing that she didn’t want to discuss. I just constantly wished it would be ok to acknowledge that this wasn’t her first rodeo. Maybe it’s too painful for you to talk about and you want to discourage casual reference to it, but if not I think you should just treat it like any other part of your life that you might bring up when relevant. I don’t think you need to have a sit down about it, but I think it is only helpful to ultimately feeling like you have an open and genuine relationship with these folks (and for them to feel the same) if you can casually refer to that prior major experience that is (if you get engaged to this guy) relevant to the new experience you are having. It will come up at some point organically if you give people permission to speak about it, either from you, your boyfriend or his sister.

      • Katelyn

        Thanks for the comment. It’s not traumatic or painful – at least right now. I don’t know how it will affect my feelings throughout an engagement. I just need to find that organic moment because it’s kind of a debbie downer story. I’m actually hoping his sister spills the beans before I get a chance…

        • FM

          Yeah, I think I would feel the same way in that circumstance! If that’s what you want, you should expressly tell your boyfriend that you don’t want people to be secretive about it and you’d rather his parents just know from them or however. Also you shouldn’t feel like you have to tell the WHOLE STORY in order for it to slip the fact of your previous engagement into a conversation. And if you want them to know the rest of it and you give the impression that you are willing to talk about it if they are interested, then that will come up organically over time.

        • Well, I recently met my boyfriend’s dad and his wife for the first time, and they know that I am divorced (for a couple of years now) and why (my ex left me for someone else, and I share that because it seems it was your ex’s one-sided choice to call off the wedding and it could potentially play a role in how they feel about it, especially if they are more conservative or cautious). In my experience, the whole thing went really well. Better than I would have imagined. I guess my boyfriend already explained at least some minimal info before I met them because I didn’t need to explain anything. It also helps, I’m sure, that this is a second marriage for both of them. My boyfriend’s stepmom told me that sometimes it just takes two tries to find the right one. So, I wanted to share that as a positive story of how people might respond. Perhaps they will be incredibly thankful you narrowly dodged a bullet and that instead of you marrying the other guy, their son could later date you and the two of you could have the opportunity to spend your lives together? Good luck!

    • quiet000001

      Older comment but I wanted to share that I think this comes up some in various situations. I’m a widow, my first husband died when we were both young. I will likely get married again, and I will likely have some opinions based on the first time, but addressing that can be tricky because I don’t want to seem like I am talking too much about/dwelling on my first husband, either. And some people can be really weird about that sort of thing.

      So I assume it has already come up for you if it is going to, but if not, try not to think about it as a thing only people with a failed engagement have to deal with? Sometimes that helps me unpack some of the emotions associated with a thing, if I remember that the thing happens to people for a whole variety of reasons?

  • Kalë

    Oh, LW. I don’t have much to add except that I really feel for you. This letter made me tear up – what a difficult, heart-wrenching, uncomfortable situation to be in during such a happy time. So sorry that you are dealing with this. Big hugs.

  • AnonymousAttorney

    For what its worth, I’m an attorney, and I really don’t think you have any obligation to tell anyone about your dad’s criminal history, from a legal perspective. As you said, he’s on the registry and complying with the other requirements of his probation. Assuming that none of the conditions of his probation require him to inform every parent of a minor child who may be in his presence at any time of the exact nature of his criminal history, then he, and certainly you too, are under no obligation to share that information, which is available to the public, with other members of the public. The fact that he’s on the registry means that the extent of his criminal history which should be public knowledge for reasons of safety already is. Your dad, while a convicted felon, has not lost all of his right to privacy. And you, as his daughter, not convicted of anything, certainly haven’t lost any of your right to privacy. If you aren’t comfortable telling people this intimate detail about your dad’s past, I honestly can’t think of one legal reason why you should have to. Of course, I don’t mean to be making any judgments or giving opinions on how open and honest of a relationship to have with one’s in-laws, but to the extent you are feeling guilty about keeping a “secret” from them, I have a hard time seeing this as a “secret” when his criminal history is a matter of public record.

    • LJ

      Very, very good perspective. Is there a possibility that this could be different between jurisdictions? e.g. if LW is from UK or otherwise and the legal perspective you gave is American or Australian?

      • Amy March

        It’s unlikely. Certainly all three of those countries have the same basic legal concepts, which include guilt attaching only to the person who committed a crime and a lack of affirmative good Samaritan legal obligations.

        • LJ

          The American legal system differentiates quite starkly from the common law/British-derived systems in the commonwealth…. So although England/Oz/Canada may all be similar, I would be very surprised if it was identical in the USA.

          • Amy March

            The US legal system is explicitly based in the English common law tradition. Certainly the specific laws and procedures differ, but the fundamental concepts don’t really, especially regarding criminal issues.

          • LJ

            Aren’t we specifically talking about specific laws and procedures (legal obligation to declare etc)? The overarching themes are much less relevant to this than the supporting regulations to the Acts.

          • Amy March

            I’m not. These obligations all stem from a broader conceptual understanding of liability, and anonymousattorney’s statement was a general perspective. At the level of detail she gave, the answer to your question is no, it is unlikely to be different in those countries.

    • Liz

      This is great info.

      Where it gets hairy for me, is that I would feel misled and betrayed if a friend knew this about their parent, and my kids were around this person, and they didn’t let me know. Maybe that’s different from person to person, maybe I’m alone in that feeling.

      • Genuine question: would you feel that way knowing all the facts of the case though? Like if your kid was 9 and you just heard “sex offender,” I can see feeling betrayed. But if your kid was 9 and you then learned that this case involved a 15 year old, would you feel the same? They kinda feel like different things to me and so I don’t know that betrayal is necessarily warranted/a given.

        • BSM

          And, knowing Liz has sons, that it was a 15 year old girl? Also, genuinely wondering if the type of interactions matters, i.e., are you and your children a few guests out of 100 at a wedding vs. friend is babysitting your kids while dad is also hanging out? Like, what does “around my kids” mean? I realize this must vary a ton from person to person and situation to situation.

          • Exactly.

          • anon

            I agree – which is why I think Liz’s original advice to have a kids-free wedding is so wise. You don’t know where other parents draw that line so the safest way is to eliminate that variable from your wedding equation.

            For me, personally, knowing the facts of the case, i.e. a 9 year old or a 15 year old would not change much. As others have said, it is still a crime, and the fact that a crime can seem slightly less alarming in comparison to something even more disturbing is just noise.

          • stephanie

            Exactly this. For me, I would absolutely, 100% want to know if I was attending a wedding that a convicted sex offender is also attending, because I assumed I’d be bringing my child. The age of the victim doesn’t change anything for me.

          • Sarah

            How would knowing some rando at a party win whom you not even interact is an offender affect your behavior? Asking as a fellow parent who thinks it’s none of my business. Interested in your rationale.

          • Liz

            Yeah, I agree that it does. I’m thinking longterm, family stuff, this guy sees my kids at every birthday and holiday, that’s enough to warrant being told. But like you said, maybe folks would have different limits there.

          • BSM

            Yeah, I think the distinction that others are making regarding LW’s dad being part of their family and in their (and their kids’) lives in a significant way vs. telling your 2nd cousin you never see but who is bringing their 6 year old to the wedding makes a lot of sense.

          • Jess

            The age of my kid wouldn’t matter so much to me (kids grow up to be 15 year olds), but the type relationship they would be having with that person would really influence my opinion on whether or not I would 1) need to know and 2) plan to introduce my child to that person.

          • Lisa

            (Not an actual parent) I feel like knowing the nature of the crime and how long ago it occurred could also have an impact. Sex offenders end up on the list for a whole host of reasons because it’s so generalized. There are a lot of problems with the list itself.

          • idkmybffjill

            (Also not a parent) – I agree this is really important.

          • Sarah

            I feel the same as a parent. But my kid is 8 months so who knows if I’ll be the same several years from now.

          • Jess

            That too! I have a lot of problems with the list and it’s implementation.

          • Greta

            If you’re interested in the sex offender system and whether or not it works – Freakonomics did a super interesting podcast on sex offenders and how much they pay. I found it super interesting! http://freakonomics.com/podcast/making-sex-offenders-pay-and-pay-and-pay-and-pay-a-new-freakonomics-radio-podcast/

          • tr

            ^So much this!
            I mean, the unfortunate reality is, we’re all around sex offenders from time to time. When you go to a crowded mall on Black Friday, or the grocery store the week before a holiday, I can absolutely PROMISE you that there are at least two or three sex offenders in there with you, due to the sheer numbers.
            Would I want to be told about a person’s past when deciding whether to have the guy over for a dinner party at my house? Yes. Would I want to know before letting him babysit my kids? Of course. But in a crowded space like a wedding? As long as he’s not a legitimate threat, and he’s not like, sitting at the same table as my family, I don’t really need to know that.

        • La’Marisa-Andrea

          I personally wouldn’t. I used to be good friends with someone who turned out to be into child porn (teenage girls). Still wouldn’t want my daughter, who is 4, around him.

          • That’s totally fair! My point was that I don’t think we can definitively say that not telling people is a betrayal because it’s not a given that everyone would feel that way. It’s more about knowing your people and being very, very honest with yourself and your reasoning when you’re considering not saying anything.

          • La’Marisa-Andrea

            Well I think that depends on the individual. People can decide if not being told this info is a betrayal. But I also think fairness requires they make people in their lives aware of this fact. Hence my disclaimer above that my friends know this about me. But I agree I don’t think there’s a universe where not telling always =betrayal.

          • Yep. And even if it was with an older teen and my kid was going to be around this person long term, that’s even more important. The kid(s) will grow up to that age, and then what? Warn them when they’re 13, but not 12? I’d want to know, period.

        • Liz

          I think it just gets hard to know where to draw the line, so I’d prefer over-telling, and letting the parent make an informed decision (which is easier for me to say than for the LW, I realize). My kids are 5, 2, and 6mos, so you’re right- this guy probably wouldn’t pose a threat to them. But where do you draw the line? Someone mentioned if it had been a 10yr old it’d feel different, so what about a 12yr old? Etc.

        • AnonForThis

          My husband’s uncle is a sex offender, and I did not find out until after we were married (he was at our wedding) and after we had our first child (who he held and played with at my MIL’s house). When I first found out, I was PISSED and flabbergasted that I had never been told. In fact, it turned out my husband didn’t know the full story (he thought the reason his uncle was in jail when he was a child was for a lesser crime). It is still so bizarre to me the extent to which this was hidden from the family. He was convicted of rape of a neighbor when he was a teenager, 30 something years ago. Since being released from jail he has gotten married and had children of his own. His crime is horrifying to me, and since I found out I can’t look at him the same. But knowing what I know now, would he still have been invited to our wedding? Yes. Would I still have let him hold my child? Yes. We don’t see him often, but when we do I make sure myself or my child are never alone with him, but he is also a human being who has a semi-close relationship with my MIL, so I have decided to be polite. Very cautious, but polite. I’m not saying everyone would feel the same as I do, which is why I agree with Liz’s “no kids” wedding advice, to be safe. But from personal experience I do know that there is some…gray area, I guess you would say, when it comes to convicted criminals in the family.

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        • saywhatnow

          But this is a slippery slope, honestly – “Oh, she was 15, that’s totally different than being 9!” 15 is still a minor, still lacking the maturity and wherewithal to enter into a sexual relationship with an adult old enough to be her father — not to mention, 15 is below the age of consent. If we start nit-picking about age, we run the risk of minimizing the victim’s perspective, which is one we can’t possibly know – one that maybe she won’t fully understand until later herself.

          • Margret

            It is not a slippery slope. An adult attracted to a 15 (adolescent, possibly fairly advanced) year old *is* a whole different thing than an adult attracted to a 9 (child) year old. A 15 year old still cannot consent, but there is a reason the law treats these crimes differently–they are different crimes with different issues behind them, and the perp poses a very different set of risks. The law recognizes this, the research recognizes this.

          • NotMotherTheresa

            Yes!!!
            Both crimes are wrong. Both potentially do irreparable harm to the victim. But ultimately, they stem from two very different types of problems, and as such, the perpetrators pose very different types of risks! That isn’t to in any way diminish the danger posed by an adult who has sex with a 15 year old, but he does pose a very different kind of danger than the man who fondles a 9 year old!
            In some ways, comparing the two is like comparing a person who went to prison for DUI manslaughter with someone who went to prison for robbing a convenience store–one of those people isn’t inherently “better” than the other, but the two people do pose two rather different sets of issues.

      • Kelly

        I agree- while legally in this particular case LW is under no obligation, it would very much be an omission of significant info depending on the circumstances of an interaction.

      • La’Marisa-Andrea

        I would want to know if I was going to be around a convicted sex offender. Full stop. But ppl who are my friends also know this about me.

    • Roselyne

      Legally, sure.

      That said, if it comes out after 10 years their family allowing their children around him with little to no precautions, there’s likely to be some family throwback of a fairly serious nature, especially if it seems like she hid the information. It sucks, but…

      • Meg Keene

        That’s my concern. Ethically, I don’t think you have to tell people if it’s not their business. Inter personally, I think if family are going to be around him long term, keeping a secret could blow up in the worst way.

        • Amy March

          Yes, I think there’s a big difference for me between kids who are going to be around him, potentially, often, and random friend who might see him at one large event.

    • Keri

      I agree, that if this is going to be a one-time interaction, that information does not need to be shared. It’s not like he has to wear a sign around his next while he shops at the grocery store announcing his criminal history, just because there are kids there at that moment. If you are trying to bring together sides of your new family and want them to have a relationship, then you should begin to share that information. If in all likelihood they will never meet again, don’t. (And if things change and it looks like you will be in regular contact, consider sharing then).

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  • Anon for this

    I know I’m doing the “here, let’s make this about me!” thing, even when this is SO not about me. But, just to offer an example of a vaguely similar situation with a happy ending:

    Back when my siblings and I were younger, like elementary/middle school, my dad cheated on my mom with other men and contracted HIV, putting my mom and, to a muuuuuch lesser but still present extent, my siblings and I all at risk.* After she kicked him out, he went on a decade-long bender and sunk deep into crack addiction. It was really bad, and us kids got dragged into the thick of it. (But that’s a story for another day!) He was never in jail, but only because he was lucky and never got caught. He did really bad, really wrong things.

    Time has healed a lot: my dad’s now been sober for 5+ years, and has a lovely partner who he’s lived with for several years. Flash forward to my recent wedding. I was, same as you, worried about what our guests – specifically my husband’s family – would think. Even without sharing the details, there was no way to avoid a certain level of questioning. Like, something obviously went down in my family’s past that resulted in my (biological) mom and my (biological) dad (aka they were together when they had me), coming to my wedding BOTH with gentlemen on their arms, ya know?

    The way we handled it was:

    –We made sure his parents knew – like, pretty sure they had picked up on it (had never met my dad before the wedding), but my husband directly addressed it with them. He explained that everyone is friendly and loving, my mom and HER partner are totally fine being around my dad and his, and everyone loves us and can’t wait to celebrate with us. We said that they could pass that along to anyone who asked. We didn’t share his addiction past, because they didn’t need to know that for our wedding specifically (this is where we differ, I know, and I can’t imagine how hard it is to cope with this additional hurdle of yours). It might come up in the future, and thank god we can cross that bridge without the extra-heightened emotions surrounding families and weddings. We certainly didn’t share his status, because that’s just not okay.

    –We made sure the members of my husband’s family, who we sat at the table with my dad and his partner, got a quick and private FYI with the same info as his parents did.

    –We asked my dad what we could do to make him and his partner feel comfortable and welcomed.

    –Then, on our actual wedding, I just made sure that I hugged my dad and his partner the same as my mom and hers; I introduced my dad’s partner proudly and with a (genuine!) smile on my face, etc etc. We had specific language in our programs to acknowledge everyone equally: Thanks to our loving families… [husband’s mom & husband’s dad], [my mom & her partner], and [my dad & his partner]. It went wonderfully, and if anyone had a problem, they kept their mouth shut around me. (Bye haters!)

    All of which is to say: there IS a way to do this. You CAN have a sordid family past and a happy, loving, emotionally honest, bountiful wedding. Your in-laws will take their cues from you and your partner – if you communicate and demonstrate how much you love your dad, they’ll follow suit. They know there’s pain there, too, but we made it clear that we didn’t want to focus on that part, on that day.

    I was really proud of my dad for being there. It was really brave of him to show up with his partner, especially to see my mom’s side of the family who he hadn’t seen in over a decade, and to meet his future in-laws for the first time at the wedding. He missed important milestones in my life because of his addiction, and he made it to this one. THAT’s the energy that I focused on cultivating, and as a result, his presence felt like a gift, rather than a burden. And that’s the energy that everyone else picked up on and ran with, too.

    Good luck, and good wishes!

    *Not trying to insinuate that a person living with HIV automatically creates a dangerous environment, by any means–the secrecy was what created the risk here. Many ways to have a close and loving relationship, sexual or otherwise, with someone living w/HIV. Including my dad. :)

    • Anon for this

      (I realize I was a bit unclear – we didn’t put my dad and his partner at a huge table with all of my husband’s family! Just gave the FYI to the people they were seated directly next to/across from.)

    • Anon for this

      (Oh god also, therapy. Yeah. So much therapy. Years. A++++++ 10/10 highly recommend for situations/families like this!)

    • My first thought reading this post was actually my own experience with a gay father who died of AIDS, and just how hard it is to manage the reactions of those around you when you have a parent with a secret that is just beyond what most people expect/can relate to/etc.

      Also virtual fist bump from one member of this very strange club to another.

      • Anon for this

        Oh, Rachel! I am so sad to hear about your story, and your loss. At the same time, I admit it makes me feel a lot less alone. I don’t think any one flavor of trauma is *worse* to experience than another, but when you have such an uncommon/surprising/etc element (or, especially, several – undisclosed sexuality! HIV! addict! 3-for-1 dad trauma!), it’s certainly an added layer of loneliness to navigate. In fact, I think you’re actually the first person I’ve ever spoken to outside of my siblings – online or irl – who’s been through this specific family secret. YAY, HI. Fist bumps, indeed!! <3

        • Danielle

          My husband’s father was gay, a drug addict, and eventually died of Hep C. Husband is fairly open about the first part, less so about the latter points. Why? Guess that’s just not that relevant or necessary to share with most people.

          This club is probably larger than we think! Because so many men of that generation were closeted, and engaged in self-destructive behaviors to deal with not being accepted, or being able to accept themselves. It’s really painful to think about, and I’m glad society has come so far in the past few decades.

          Fist bumps all around <3

      • Anon

        My husband is part of this club, though his father is still alive. Knowing others are out there going through a similar experience as him, I don’t know… it helps. And makes me emotional. Thank you.

        • Anon for this

          Fist bumps to you and your husband too, Anon! <3

      • Lisa

        Thank you for sharing your story. I’ve known two people who were also in similar situations so I think the club is larger than others might expect.

  • janon

    Also! In the letter, you increasingly refer to this as something you (the LW) have to tell your boyfriend’s parents/family. Don’t forget your boyfriend can (should?) do it with you, right alongside, and maybe even helping you navigate the communication styles and dynamics since he knows his family better than you do. This is a huge early test of your relationship and ability to stand as a team, which is just to say that though it may not go perfectly, think through/talk through with him how you want to handle big things like this together, as opposed to feeling like YOU have to “come out” with this secret to his family.

    • emmers

      If this were me, I’d probably have my boyfriend/fiancé bring it up with my parents when I wasn’t there. That would protect me from any initial reactions that they had, until they’d had time to collect themselves and process.

      • Ashlah

        Same. If I were in this situation, I think I’d prefer to have my partner tell his family, and let them know I’m available to talk about it if they want to. It’s obviously s a very personal choice, though.

      • Yep, same.

      • Jess

        Yup. They hear it from someone with less emotional stake in the situation who can tell it clearly and concisely, process it, and come to me with any follow-up questions.

        Personally, that would work way better for me, but if it’s not comfortable for someone else, I get that.

      • Larkin

        Yes. I 100% agree. This will allow them to express their initial shock/horror/disgust/etc. without directing it at LW. Then they can talk about it with LW later once they’ve had some time to process it.

      • Danielle

        YES. Speaking from experience (different topic, similar level of shocking information), this is a good strategy.

    • Liz

      This is something to really weigh with consideration. When I’ve had big, personal, not-great news and someone told family on my behalf, it felt more uncomfortable- almost like everyone was talking about me behind my back (even though it wasn’t in secret).

    • CP2011

      I think this is huge. Seems to me like the best way to do it would be to have your fiancé tell them without you, so they can have their initial shock without you feeling attacked or getting on the defensive about your dad.

  • anon.com

    My husband’s uncle went to jail for sexual misconduct with minors, his ex-wife’s children (not his bio children). No one has ever, EVER, told me what happened straight out. They use euphemisms like “He went away for awhile,” or “He did this when he had a lot of time on his hands.” They say “he did something bad, he did the time and lives with it.” They love him, and that is great. I get the feeling that they can’t think about it too much.

    I do know that my SIL let’s him watch and play with her children, and that he has many good and not-great qualities, just like all other people.

  • Margret

    Hey, so, criminal defense attorney here with two incarcerated parents who are getting out soon. I have thoughts. And so much sympathy. All of this sucks. And we can find a way to talk more privately if you want.

    Who you tell is totally up to you. You do not owe anyone this information.
    I would start with just his mom and dad unless you’re especially close with someone else on his side. Spreading the information to the rest of the family isn’t really relevant right now.
    When I tell people, I try to be very matter-of-fact and give a broad outline. What they’re convicted of and the sentence. I let people know it’s not off-limits to ask more questions if they want to, but I don’t offer up the whole long story either. Some people want to know more, some don’t. In your case, I would emphasize that he is NOT a danger to children. Because he isn’t. Your father had a relationship with a teenager, which by definition is not consensual (and for good reasons), but that is not the same thing as a child molester.
    I remember feeling like it would reflect badly on me, no one I’ve told has had that reaction. Everyone has been supportive and only wanted to know if/how they could be helpful. I assume his family loves you and will have the same response.
    Be sure you know his probation conditions before writing off children at the wedding. It might be totally fine, he might have to disclose to other people, he might not be allowed if there are minors there. The advice above that it is definitely one or the other may very well be incorrect, we just don’t know. And even if those are the conditions, a PO could grant a limited exception for your wedding.
    You absolutely have no obligation to tell people about this for the rest of his/your life. At all. You can fell out who you want to know (no one “needs” to know) and go from there. Or there may be requirements as part of his probation, but that’s on him.
    And also, I’m so happy for you to be getting your father back. I’m sending love your way.

    • Larkin

      “Be sure you know his probation conditions before writing off children at the wedding. It might be totally fine, he might have to disclose to other people, he might not be allowed if there are minors there.”

      This. This was the first thing that came to mind for me. LW mentioned that her dad has “earned” visitation rights with his grandchildren, which implies to me that he is not allowed to interact with most children. If that is the case, he may very well not be allowed to attend an event at which he knows children will be present. You don’t want him violating his probation to be at your wedding.

      Personally, I’m with Liz. Much as you love kids, I think you need to opt for a childless wedding. Even if it’s OK with his probation, and even if you did tell everyone beforehand, do you really want everyone in the room side-eyeing your dad all night? That sure doesn’t sound fun to me. Tell your future in-laws, but then tell other people on a need-to-know basis (e.g., people whose kids are going to be around him regularly, family members who will see him a lot, etc.).

      This situation blows, and I’m sorry you have to deal with it. Good luck, and I hope you have a wonderful wedding!

    • Lawyerette510

      Thank you for pointing out the difference/ nuance here related to LW’s dad’s conviction for sex with a minor teen, compared to pedophilia. That stood out hugely to me. If they want a wedding with pile of little kids, assuming there is no parole/ probation issue, I have a hard time seeing the actual risk to said kids.

  • Sarah

    reminds me to not pass judgment on folks’ wedding choices (kids free, etc) as there may be a story that is non of my bidness and painful for folks to talk about. Good luck, LW.

  • NolaJael

    I feel like there are other possible solutions here too (besides dad+kids or eloping). What if you dad came to the ceremony, walked you down the aisle, took family pictures and graciously exited prior to the reception? Or some other such arrangement where he wouldn’t be milling around with tweens and teens but also a part of your big day…

    • Z

      +1. Or a no kids ceremony, then kids at the reception?

    • Jess

      I really like that this solution enables the LW to have the things she wanted most (or at least told us she wanted) like having him walk her down the aisle and having memories of him being there, enables fewer potential hurt “you endangered my child” moments, AND puts the responsibility on him to leave gracefully rather than on the LW to leave him out.

    • I like this idea! I think the most problematic part of the day would be the post-dinner part of the reception. We’ve talked about how parents have different levels of comfort in regards to knowing who is around their kid, but I gotta think that a pretty big % of parents would be uncomfortable with their kids dancing (an activity that is sometime sexualized, sometimes not) in the presence of someone on the sex offender registry.

    • MTM

      Yep, agreed. I think I’m in the realm of having dad walk her down the aisle (or whatever ceremonial things he’s involved with) but HIS choices took away his ability to be at the reception and he should take himself out of the equation for the reception.

  • lindsay

    My godfather is also a sex offender and I wish I had this advice and level of thoughtfulness to my own wedding. We aren’t very close and I didn’t have a big wedding so I honestly can’t remember if I invited him or not, but he didn’t come. He did send a nice card. It was across state lines, so that might have had something to do with it too.

    Either way, all the feels to you, LW.

  • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

    My family is supportive of my dad and would allow him to be around children, so really, the kids ban would just extend to his side of the family if my in-laws do not want to share this secret with the rest of their side of the family.”Curious how they would explain to his family that their kids are not invited — not even the beloved nephew — while the kids on her side are, while also keeping Dad’s history a secret. People are super weird about whether or not kids are welcome at weddings, and if they think you’re being unfair about it, you’ll likely hear about it.Do the LW and her fiancé *want* his extended family to know? Do they want his parents to share this information, or keep it private? Are they leaving it up to the parents to decide? Will the parents want to/choose to keep this secret, if the couple want them to? Is there a good way to ask them to? Whatever happens, I would want to know before I walked into my wedding whether half the people there knew The Thing or not.

  • JC

    Hi LW, I’m going to start sounding like a broken record on here, but I’m firmly on team “create your own event that gives you what you need.” If the kids can’t be invited to the wedding ceremony, what else can you do with them that will give them the love and attention you want to share and also make you feel like you got to experience a good family day? Because you’re dealing with two different extended families, plus friends’ children, it may not be possible to have *all the kids,* but it’s definitely possible to make them a priority in other ways. Can you take your nieces and nephews to the zoo? Have everyone sleep over at your house with you and you fiance, order pizza and watch movies all night? Have an arts and crafts day to make Christmas presents for parents and grandmas and grandpas? A wedding can’t be all things to all people, and unfortunately that includes you. This wedding isn’t going to give you everything you need, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have your needs met in other ways. I wish you a very, very happy wedding day, and other days, and lots of love from your in-laws, your kiddos, and your dad.

    • I was wondering about this too. I like these ideas. And maybe a pre- or post-wedding cookout or something with the family with kids that they’re close to?

  • ElsaB

    I’ll start with the disclaimer that I had nothing so difficult to deal with when planning my own wedding, but we did have a child-free ceremony/reception. We also hosted a brunch the following morning at my parents’ house, and in addition to to-go cups for coffee for those getting on the road, we invited all the kids to brunch. It was more fun for the parents at the reception, it was a better time of day for the kids to be in an overwhelming crush of people, and everyone was feeling casual, so no one minded the gleeful shouts of children running around.
    I know it’s not an emotional fix, but logistically, could you do dad at ceremony/reception, kids at brunch (or some other event)?
    Also, please be aware that if you share this information with your in-laws, the entire extended family might know before the wedding. I would be extremely clear in what you expect to be shared with others, what you’d like to share yourself, and their comfort level in keeping their mouths shut in the meantime.

    • Jess

      This is our format – no kid reception, kid brunch.

  • toomanybooks

    I’ve heard so many people having trouble with trying to have a no-kids wedding and people RSVPing for or bringing their kids anyway. I wonder how you super enforce “no kids” when you really, really can’t have kids?

    • Amy March

      You call them when they RSVP for a kid and say “actually, kid wasn’t invited” and if they show up with a kid you have a bridal brigade member say “sorry, kids aren’t invited, you will need to leave.” Awkward as hell, but if you really don’t want kids, that’s how you do it.

    • CP2011

      Sounds like there actually isn’t a legal mandate that he not be around children, so I don’t think that would be the true problem. But I imagine parents who left kids at home would be pissed to see other kids there if the invite said no kids.

    • LJ

      Legally, kids are fine so the bride/groom are just trying to create a better atmosphere/not put parents in an awkward situation if they choose this route. I figure the bride/groom will have done their due diligence by saying no kids on the invitation and passing on that sentiment verbally at time of RSVP. If the parents bring their kids to the wedding after all that, then the onus is no longer on the people getting married – it’s not a legal issue for them, they were trying to avoid an unpleasant situation socially and the parents didn’t cooperate.

      Amy’s answer is how you enforce it if you MEAN IT. Sounds good to me.

  • Wow, this is tough. I just want to reiterate that I don’t think your fiance’s parents will be surprised that you are bringing this up now — it’s not a “secret” so much as it is a serious topic only discussed with people who will be in your life long-term. It sounds like you might also need to tell your fiance’s nephew’s parents, especially if the kid will frequently be coming into contact with your dad.
    As far as how to make it clear that kids aren’t invited, if you go that route: we didn’t invite kids from my mom’s extended family, which I knew would be kind of a big deal. Our save-the-dates were sent via email, so I sent a separate StD to each couple, addressed to them by name, and ended with “Hope the two of you can come!” (Sounds like a lot of work but it was mostly copying and pasting the same message.) You could hand-write a similar note on a paper save the date. That seemed to work pretty well in making it clear that only the parents were invited.

  • TeaforTwo

    For what it’s worth, I don’t think this is something you are obliged to share with wedding guests.

    Attending a wedding for one night along with, presumably, one or two hundred other people is very different from, say, hiring him to babysit. It’s a big crowd, and the kids’ parents will be there and most of them will never see him again. I think a broad disclosure will create more panic than is warranted since everyone will automatically go to the Worst Possible Scenario.

    Here is the sad truth about our world: if 1 in 4 women has experienced sexual assault that means there are an awful lot of sexual assailants out there, most of whom have never even been charged. I don’t say that to excuse LW’s father, but just to point out that the same precautions that guests woukd exercise at this wedding apply to most weddings. If my hypothetical 14 year old spent the evening of a wedding with any middle aged man I didn’t know? I would keep an eye on that no matter who he was.

    • AP

      I think this point is so, so important.

    • MTM

      Nope. Just because we don’t know folks who have assaulted others doesn’t mean that we get to ignore the ones who we know have. (Not saying that I’m in camp wide-disclosure, but I’m more in the camp of this is dad’s problem, not the future bride’s). Who pays attention to everything their young teenager is doing at a wedding?

      • Anon

        True story: A young teenage relative of mine methodically went around drinking all of the discarded alcohol containers/glasses/bottles and proceeded to get drunk at the last family wedding. Everyone was too busy with wedding stuff or even just dancing to keep an eye on her. And honestly, they thought they didn’t have to because she had always been a very sweet, very responsible 14 year old…really, she just saw an opportunity for rebellion that night and took it. I found her vomiting in the bathroom and had to take care of her. If there had been a predator there? Shudder yikes omg.

        • MTM

          Yep, I’ve seen this at weddings and included this scenario in other threads of why people should be concerned. So scary.

        • Eh

          I was at a wedding where the DJ reminded people to not leave alcohol unattended because kids might drink them. I had never heard an announcement like that at wedding. At the end of the night there was a 12 year old boy puking his guts out because he was drunk.

          • rg223

            Maybe this is obvious, but I feel like the DJ saw the 12 year old doing it and tried to warn people about it.

          • Eh

            The groom had asked the DJ to make the announcement because younger kids were drinking out of cups because the alcoholic drinks looked like juice. At the end of the night the groom was not impressed with the 12 year old (his nephew) being drunk. The announcement did not help since as people were leaving they were leaving their drinks and the 12 year old was drinking them.

      • Eh

        Totally agree! People think family weddings are a safe place and give their kids more freedom.

        • quiet000001

          But I think the point is that statistically, that assumption is wrong. Especially something like a wedding that often brings together more extended family – you just likely don’t know all the details, and certainly don’t know the details if you’re the cousin on one side and it’s the cousin on the other side that is the problem but hasn’t been in legal trouble and it’s more just people who spend more time with him/her have a bad feeling.

          Don’t assume everyone is the boogeyman, but don’t assume everyone must be ‘safe’ just because it is a family event.

          I’m sure we all know, but these things can be super difficult for people to say something about, especially kids. A few years back I was invited by family friends to stay for a week vacation with them at a cabin, which included them and their granddaughter who was ~12. I’d met her previously but we didn’t know each other well, and we were friendly during the week but didn’t become besties or anything. (I was in my 20s.) Towards the end of the week she chose to tell me that she felt very uncomfortable around another member of the family (who wasn’t there that week but whom I’d also met previously) because she felt like his behavior was inappropriate. She has close relationships with other people in her family, but I was the ‘safest’ adult for her to talk to. (I suspect because I don’t have any relationship with the other person beyond casual acquaintance so there was no risk I’d be defensive of him?)

          Point being it was something that had been bothering her for a while, and it took a very specific situation for her to feel like she could say something explicitly rather than just try to manage herself by avoiding being around him alone too much. It’s just hard to tell people.

          (For the curious, after she told me I found time to take one of her grandparents – the one more closely related to the person in question – aside and expressed my concerns. They’ve since simply not invited that person to small events where she will also be there, and at larger events they make sure she doesn’t get forced into close quarters with him, like expected to ride in a car with him or similar. I was quite impressed at how seriously her grandparents took her discomfort, many people would brush it off or minimize it.)

          • Eh

            I totally agree that the assumption is wrong. Children are more likely to be assaulted by people close to them. That doesn’t stop people from giving their kids more freedom at large family events like weddings. Even at smaller events it can happen. My cousin was hosting family at her house. Another cousin’s husband went into her daughter’s room while she was sleeping. All they know is that he took pictures of the little girl (which he deleted). My cousin felt that her daughter was perfectly safe with that group of family members and would never have dreamed that she invited a predator into her house. I was certainly relieved that he was unable to attend my wedding because I would have had to warn parents of young children on my husband’s side to watch their kids around him. (As much as I would have liked to not invite him, my aunt/his MIL feels that he is innocent and has been wrongly accused and that the police investigation has ruined his life, and she would have accused me of taking the other cousins side even though my family has attempted to maintain relationships with both sides of this family feud.)

  • Lmba

    Hm. This is so very complex. I think having no kids attend is truly the best solution. It is sad that you have to make unhappy compromises because of your dad’s choices, but… You do. I think a serious talk with Dad is also in order. Let him know you are making this choice. If there are going to be any guests who are very young adults, or you think it’s possible a kid or two might slip in, make it very clear that he needs to steer clear. Seat him with your family and ask him to stay put. It’s hard to have that conversation, but he screwed up really terrifically, and this is the cost.

    Or, do a small ceremony, no kids, and give him the role that you want him to have in that. Then let him know he is not able to attend the reception with the extended family/friends.

    Either way, I don’t think it makes sense sense to disclose to all FH’s family. My assumption is that you won’t be having big gathering s with both sides on the regular. Aaaand if you do, sorry to say, but I think it is fair that Dad can’t come. It’s sad, but it’s life. And if he ever does participate in a questionable or illegal relationship again, you will not have any feelings of regret. (I know you don’t want t to think of this happening, but regardless of any other aspects of his personality/character, your father is a person who DID THIS. The desire for sexual/romantic contact with inappropriately young girls is a part of his sexual makeup in one way or another.)

  • Emma

    How is “childless wedding” defined? Is it just young children that don’t come? Would teenagers be invited? Because it sounds like this person might be more of a threat to a 16 or 17 year old than a 3 year old. So I’m wondering whether this actually solves the problem.

    • LJ

      I think “19+” (for Canada, 21+ in the USA, just the age of majority) is the standard definition. This is a good point though.

    • MTM

      I’m guessing it’s more following the terms of his probation than actually solving the problem.

    • Eenie

      A really easy way is to cut it off at 21 in the US and kind of blame it on venue restrictions with alcohol. Obviously there are other dividing lines, but this is the clearest one to me.

  • Eh

    I agree with the advice that the LW should not have children at all at her wedding and that there isn’t a need to tell all the wedding guests about her father.

    One of my cousins is married to a man who was accused of taking inappropriate pictures of another cousins daughter while she was sleeping (he was investigated but never charged). This sitatution has torn apart that side of the family. There was a lot of pressure for me to invite him to our wedding (eg if I didn’t invite him then I believed the accuser despite the fact the police never charged him, and continuing the accuser’s damage to his reputation). We did invite him but luckily he was unable to come. I am not sure what I would have done if he had come. I would have had to warn my friends and family with young children to make sure he was not alone with young children. I am very glad I was not put in that situation. The girl was also not at our wedding but when I was considering inviting the man I was very concerned about them being in the same room. My aunts (grandmother of the girl and the MIL of the man) had not been in the same room since the incident. They both came to my wedding and were seated as far apart as possible at the reception (unfortunately had rooms at the hotel next to each other – I suggested that they book at different hotels). The aunt who is MIL to the man found my wedding so uncomfortable that she refused to go to my sister’s wedding (the girl was at that wedding, but the man and his family were unable to make it). So the incident continues to tear the family apart seven or eight years later.

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  • Anonymous

    As someone who is in a very similar situation, I’m not certain what I wanted to say. Maybe just that you aren’t alone?

    My dad went to jail a year ago last June. He is on the sex offenders registry, his parole just ended over the summer, and he is now on probation. Our relationship is strained and I am currently working with his counsellors to find a way to repair it. And I’m getting married in 2.5 months.

    I’ve made the choice that is is not my burden to disclose his secret. Aside from the things he’s done that got him in jail, he was a loving caring father. He will be at the wedding. There will be no children at our wedding.

    This is how I’ve gone about dealing with it.

  • honeycomehome

    Liz’s advice is excellent.

    As others have noted having him at a large one-time-event like a wedding is one thing. Having regular BBQs and birthday parties with a smaller intimate group is another, entirely. I don’t think you owe your guests that kind of disclosure. But you do owe your family (which will now include his parents and siblings).

    Also, remember that you can’t logic or argue with them into feeling a certain way about your dad. All you can do is give them the information they need and be open to their questions. In that light, tell them about his conviction, his crime, and anything he is doing for treatment. Do not try to justify it or wrap it up with arguments about what a good guy he is or how “bad” or not the relationship was. How you feel about him is not up for discussion, so don’t introduce it.

  • Megan

    “Loving him doesn’t mean that I support his actions. My dad is a flawed human, but not an evil one.”

    Wow, thank you for this.

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  • Ann

    I totally understand LW’s impulse to mitigate her dad’s actions, and context is definitely important in this situation. And a lot of people will automatically assume “rapist” or “pedophile” when they hear “sex offender”. But I have to object to the statement that what he did was ‘consensual’. That’s the point of statutory rape laws- a minor is not fully capable of consenting to something like that. It’s like saying you had sex with someone blackout drunk- it may not have been violent but that person’s capacity for consent is lessened. Acknowledging just how wrong her dad’s actions were will prevent people she tells from feeling like the have to defend their horrified reactions- that conversation won’t go smoothly if LW seems defensive.

  • peggy

    my father is a sex offender and only on the regisrt and a teacher found out 3 weeks before he went off, now the teacher has put my name out there I am the daughter,i am 55 yrs old and where ever I go now people wont talk to me or look at me, they even follow me when I have our grandkid w/me.what do I do about this? was the teacher allowed to put me out there too. please have attorney say also?