Carolyn Hax: A man discovers that he has a half sister. Should he reach out?

Saturday, 15 July 2017, 05:06:17 PM. He wants her to know about their father, but he needs to handle it delicately.

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: My father passed away very suddenly several weeks ago. Though he had to cope with being a single dad my entire life — my mom died when I was a baby — he was the best dad any guy could ask for. He had a lot of relationships with women over the years but never remarried and pretty much kept that part of his life as separate from me as possible.

I was in my home town clearing out my dad’s things when I stumbled upon evidence that the woman he was seeing 25 years ago, when I was in high school, got pregnant and left town, apparently to avoid gossip and to give the child up for adoption. I was absolutely floored. My dad, whom I was very close to, never told me any of this. I do remember this woman, though, since she was much younger than my dad and not really his type at all.

I’m a police officer, and I did some sleuthing to locate her. I found out she died three years ago, having never married but leaving behind a daughter who I believe has to be my half sister! My sister and I both live hundreds of miles from my home town but less than two hours from each other.

I want to reach out to her through social media and try to arrange a meeting, but my girlfriend thinks I should let sleeping dogs lie. I have no idea what her mom told her about her father but I strongly believe she has a right to know about him--and me. However, I have absolutely no wish to upset her or her life.

carolyn-hax-a-man-discovers-that-he-has-a-half-sister-should-he-reach-out photo 1 (Nick Galifianakis/for The Washington Post)

I’m really torn on this, but my heart is telling me to make contact. Any advice for me? I have no other siblings and very little family left, so that may be clouding my judgment here.

— Want to Meet My Sister

Want to Meet My Sister: The main problem in a situation like this is that you’re the one with the information, but she’s the one entitled to decide whether she wants this information, much less what she’ll do with it. You can’t know what your maybe-sister (let’s call her “Missy”) would want, but Missy can’t decide what she wants without your deciding for her that she’d want to know. It’s a Catch-22.

The only way to navigate this that makes sense to me is to give Missy as little information and as much control over this as you can. That means letting her know the bare minimum and then backing off far enough to give her room to decide what she wants to do about it, if anything.

So, reach out, but not to arrange a meeting. Mention the evidence you stumbled across, say you’d like to find out if you and she are related, and provide your contact information in case she’s willing to talk to you. Say you will understand and accept it if she doesn’t. No pressure.

Good luck to you both, and I’m sorry about your dad.

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