Dear Annie: I am 67, in very poor health and the holder of a closely guarded family secret that I thought I would take to my grave.
My father and my older sister, “Thelma,” had an incestuous relationship starting when Thelma was 13. When she was a sophomore in college, Thelma became pregnant. She immediately threw herself at a fellow student, “George,” who was shy and unpopular. He was bowled over by the attention of this pretty girl, and before he knew what was happening, they were married.
George was besotted and easily deceived. He believed their son, “Rich,” was his and continued to believe that until he passed away several years ago. Meanwhile, Thelma and my father continued their relationship unabated until he died. My mother was aware of what was going on but chose to ignore it. She died angry and bitter.
Thelma never told Rich of his parentage. She did, however, discourage any serious relationship with a girl. At age 31, Rich finally found his soul mate in “Ruth,” but didn’t marry her because Thelma did everything in her power to keep them apart.
Six months ago, Thelma died. Two months later, Rich and Ruth married. Yesterday, Rich phoned to tell me that he and Ruth are expecting. He is ecstatic, especially since they are both in their early 40s.
I know Thelma didn’t want Rich to have children for fear of genetic consequences. Tell me, Annie, is the child in danger of being born with mental or physical abnormalities? I truly don’t want to tell Rich about his origins, but I also don’t want to subject our family’s future generations to possible genetic problems. Please tell me I can die peacefully with my lips still sealed. — Pandora in Canada
Dear Pandora: Due to his history, Rich is more likely to be a carrier of any recessive diseases in the family — if there are any, which there may not be.
You need not spill the beans. For pregnant women over 35, many doctors routinely recommend amniocentesis to screen for abnormalities. You might casually mention this prenatal test and suggest that Ruth schedule one, if she hasn’t already.
Dear Annie: I’d like to say a word on behalf of writing letters. Years ago, after a fight, our 18-year-old daughter packed her bags and left the house. Five months later, she contacted her sisters. I wrote her a letter, asking for a lunch date. When we met, we spoke of movies, books and shoes, and I refrained from inquiring into her private, tumultuous life.
A week later I wrote again, asking for another lunch. This one was more relaxed and was followed by more letters and lunches. My wife joined us for our first dinner.
By writing, I learned how to think before opening my mouth. Often, I junked a letter and started a new one. We can control what we write, but not always what we say. Our daughter is now married to a fine man, and we have a loving relationship with her and our 5-year-old granddaughter. — A Happy Father and Grandfather
Dear Father: Writing a carefully worded letter can bridge many a chasm. Of course it helps that your daughter was receptive, but you were smart to keep things light and superficial until she could handle more. Good job, Dad.
Dear Annie: I was about to go for a hearing test when I read “Westlake Village’s” comments about needing closed captioning in order to understand mumbling TV actors. I am delighted to know that I am not deaf after all.
My eyesight does not do well with closed captioning, so I vote for better elocution. How can we influence the producers? — Camarillo, Calif.
Dear Camarillo: Producers pay attention to ratings. However, younger viewers are not as bothered by elocution as you are, and this is the demographic producers most care about. We suggest better glasses.
“Annie’s Mailbox” is written by Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar. This column was originally published in 2016. To find out more about Classic Annie’s Mailbox and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit Creators Syndicate at www.creators.com.