Mother’s Day confession

Illustration by Kate Feiffer

Dear Nicole,

Mother’s Day brings up all sorts of unexpected surprises. On this Mother’s Day, my father confessed to me that he had a relationship with one of my mother’s friends during the time they were married. They are long divorced, but my mother is still friendly with this woman and sees her regularly on the Island. Shall I tell Mom or keep Dad’s secret?

Confidentially yours,
Mother’s Day

Dear Day:

Are you truly incapable of answering this for yourself? What benefit is there to your mother to know such a thing? I’m going to assume her friendship with this other woman has some weight to it, or else your question essentially translates to, “Can I gossip gratuitously, can I, can I, huh?” and my answer is “No.” My guess is one of the following is the case:

  • Your mother already knows (and perhaps has all along — women are pretty intuitive that way), and has made her own peace with it and chosen not to confront her friend (or her ex). Don’t upset the apple cart. Nothing to be gained in doing so.
  • Your mother’s friend has been carrying the burden of this secret for decades, and has suffered with guilt at some point, but has made her own peace with it. She does not require further penalty. Even if she did require further penalty (as if there were some bureau which decides these things), it’s not your job to penalize her — and even if it were, your parents should not be made miserable as a part of that. Nothing to be gained in doing so.
  • Your mother’s friend has never felt any guilt and never will, because she’s just that kind of person. In which case, revealing her sin will not lead her to feel guilty, it will only upset your mother. If the woman has such a character, your mother has figured that out by now, and would know that pushing her friend’s face in the poop of her past accomplishes nothing. Nothing to be gained in doing so.

The fact that you want to Do Something With This Information suggests you have your own issues with it, which is understandable, and you have every right to turn that upset toward its actual source:


Why on earth would he tell you this? Was he bragging? Reminiscing While Psychologically Tone-Deaf? What did he want from you, in sharing this information with you? No offense to Dad, but that’s pretty tacky, even on Mother’s Day. (Caveat: If he is telling you because he’s wracked with guilt, then it’s not tacky, but it’s still unfair to you, because it’s not your job to forgive him those particular trespasses.) If you’re bothered by what he told you, confront HIM about it. Ask him why he put you in that uncomfortable position. Ask him what he thinks you should be doing with that particular bit of information. It’s not OK for him to expect you to keep his secrets. Especially a secret like this, which is not “happening now” and should NOT be a source of drama any more at all. His telling you was utterly gratuitous and frankly sort of juvenile.

The only reason for you to share this information with your mother is if she is planning to disinherit you in favor of this other woman, on the grounds that the other woman has been a more benign force in her life than you ever were. If that’s the case, however, sharing decades-outdated gossip with her probably shouldn’t top your list of talking points.

That’s my take.

Bemused readers ask novelist Nicole Galland for her take on navigating the precarious social landscape that comes with living on the Vineyard. Nicole, who grew up in West Tisbury, is known locally as the co-founder of Shakespeare for the Masses at the Vineyard Playhouse. Her combined knowledge of both this Island and the world’s greatest melodramas compels her to help prevent unnecessary tragedy wherever possible. Nicole’s latest novel, “Stepdog,” has recently been published. Trying to untangle a messy Island ethics or etiquette question? Send it to