Annie's Mailbox: Wife wary of relatives

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Dear Annie: I am a 25-year-old wife and mother. I was raised by a single mom who worked hard to make sure we had everything we needed. I also had a large, loving family that was always around to help.

My husband, on the other hand, was raised in an alcoholic family. At age 9, he and his older brother were fending for themselves. During the years, he, too, has struggled with alcohol. My husband never knew what a real family was until he married into mine. He has done very well during the past six years, but I can see that he misses his relatives.

Two days ago, three of his brothers contacted him for the first time. They all live in California, and their father recently passed away. My husband is so overjoyed by this contact that we are planning a trip to visit the whole family next month. Here's my concern. He is expecting this to be a normal family function. We know nothing about these people, and given the family history, he may be disappointed.

I want him to relate to them, but I am so afraid he is going to be let down. How can I be supportive?

- Family to Family in Nevada

Dear Nevada: Your job is to encourage him to have a good time, but don't oversell it. Keep your enthusiasm at reasonable levels with remarks like, "I hope they're nice," or "I wonder if you look alike." Your real problem would be if they are alcoholic and dysfunctional and he chooses to cling to them anyway. Then be grateful they live in another state.

Dear Annie: It always puzzles me why people in your column are given pseudo names, such as: "My sister-in-law (I'll call her Myrtle)." It seems the personal pronouns "he, she, her and him" could just as easily state the situation.

Eliminate scenarios such as: "My sister's husband (I'll call him Elwood) constantly spits on the sidewalk. I have mentioned this to my sister, (I'll call her Hazel), but she only laughs. Should I speak to Elwood or tell Hazel that I will not allow them to come to my home again unless he stops?" And think how simple this would be: "My sister's husband constantly spits on the sidewalk. I have mentioned this to my sister, but she only laughs. Should I speak to him, or should I tell her I will not allow them to come to my home again unless he stops?"

It seems the latter is just as clear and makes sense, while appearing more professional.

- H.B.

Dear H.B.: That would work if the letter involves only one female (no mother, daughter, younger sister, stepmother or daughter-in-law) and one male (no ex-husband, current boyfriend, brother, father or husband of one of the above. Or dog). Often, however, the problem involves multiple people of the same gender, and names help keep things straight, while giving the letter a more personal feel. (We hope Elwood stops spitting soon.)

Dear Annie: "Concerned Mother" asked if her husband's persistent verbal and physical abuse of their 5-year-old son would have any effect on his self-esteem. The letter writer described my father, and I can tell her that damage has already been done.

Dad was a control freak and impossible to please. I'm 65 years old, and he's been dead for 12 years, but the effects linger. I chose not to have children. With him as a role model, I would not take the chance of inflicting the same pain on another human being. It caused problems in my own marriage. Had my wife not been the person she is, she would have not stuck by me.

I am happy now. Counseling helped, but nothing can take the place of a loving, accepting parent. Tell "Concerned" to pack up and leave tonight. Her child's mental and physical well-being is at stake.

- Anonymous

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