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Because You Are Polite

by Ginger Philbrick

My father just passed away and, in looking through his old file cabinet, I found a bundle of letters which were addressed to him and signed by a female, who was not my mother. They were of a romantic nature and dated prior to when Dad met my mother. I have three siblings who might be very interested in my find, but I am hesitant to share them out of respect to my dad. What do you think I should do?

G.J., Lancaster

Thank you for sharing this intriguing dilemma. When I read your letter, I immediately did a quick mental scan of what might be in my files—nothing interesting was found. 

You have been unwittingly entrusted with a secret and now you have to discern what your father’s wishes would have been. I think it is clear that he did not wish to share the letters with posterity. You didn’t mention whether your mother is living, but even if she was aware of the relationship, she apparently didn’t wish to share it either.

You don’t know anything more about the relationship than what is in those letters, and I doubt that either your dad or the letter writer would have invited you to be a third party to it.

Without engaging in a guessing game as to why your dad kept the letters—perhaps he was a stamp collector? We need to realize at the crux of this issue is your respect for him. What would be served by passing them into your siblings’ hands? Might it only raise more unanswerable questions, as well as violate his right to privacy, even in death? 

In situations where treasures are beyond being able to read them, as in old Bibles or books, or when content is deemed best to be destroyed, people choose to burn them rather than denigrate them in the trash. You may want to do that. It is you who must decide.

Perhaps the final test should be what you would wish if your very secret belongings were discovered after your passing. It is the litmus test known as the Golden Rule.

Ginger Philbrick is the owner of Because You Are Polite LLC. You are invited to email your manners questions to her and she will respond as time and space allow. You may contact her at [email protected].

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