Dear Margo: Every Problem Does Not Have a Solution

How do you explain that when a criminal is family, you still love them? Margo Howard’s advice

Every Problem Does Not Have a Solution

Dear Margo: Many years ago, I got a call informing me that my son was arrested and being held on $1 million bail. That was when I first learned that he is a pedophile.

He has just completed his 20-year prison sentence, and during that time I learned a great deal about this insidious disease. Everyone hates a pedophile, and they’re unable to separate the person from the crime. As with any crime, when the person who committed the crime is a family member, you still love him or her. Like alcoholism, no one chooses to be a pedophile. Inside prison, it is awful for convicted pedophiles. Inmates hate snitches and pedophiles. If they are not killed in prison, they are beaten up regularly. Inmates “clean the yard” by beating up a sex offender so badly that the person is transferred to another facility.

There is no cure for this illness, nor has a cause been determined. The only way a pedophile can survive is to hide the fact that he is one. Until society finds a cure for pedophilia, we will create more pedophiles each day, only to warehouse the ones we catch in prison. Do you believe there will ever be hope for this particular mental and behavioral illness? — Distraught Dad

Dear Dis: Pedophilia has the “distinction” of being both a disease and a crime. Alas, I don’t see a cure in the future because it is a mental aberration — much more serious, but on the order of pathological lying. The inclination is just there. The recidivism rate for pedophilia is high, even after therapy. When you consider that so many priests have been revealed to be pedophiles — and they are servants of God, no less — that sort of gives you your answer. — Margo, historically

Spilled Milk and All That

Dear Margo: I’m a recent college grad in an uncomfortable situation. I studied abroad during college and made friends with a large group of students from all over the world. During our time together, seven of us became closer than the rest, and before we left, we all made a pact to reunite at one another’s weddings. I usually don’t put too much stock in grand promises like that, but I figured these were all good people and we would at least extend invitations to one another.

It’s been a few years, and two of the people in the group have gotten engaged. I admit we haven’t been in close contact, but we did keep up with milestones in one another’s lives — birthdays, holidays, deaths in the family, etc. Now I find out that one couple is getting married next fall, and they’re inviting everyone from our smaller group except me.

I am hurt, since apparently the pact was made for everyone but me, and I am unsure how to address it. Should I speak to one of our mutual friends about it? I don’t think I could address the bride without making her feel she has to invite me, and the only thing worse than being excluded is being issued a pity invitation. In the good old days, this would have gone undetected, but with Facebook, I see updates about travel plans, engagement photos, etc. Can I still send them a card wishing them well, or would that seem passive-aggressive? — Disappointed

Dear Dis: I guess you could call this a slap in the Facebook. It is thoughtless, if you’re being exclusionary, to go public with all kinds of details. Their bad … or maybe their dumb. For whatever reason, you were not considered to be a real part of the group, though you thought otherwise. You might ask a mutual friend for an opinion about the situation, just to satisfy your curiosity. And by all means send a card. They will feel awful. — Margo, regrettably

* * *

Dear Margo is written by Margo Howard, Ann Landers’ daughter. All letters must be sent via the online form at Due to a high volume of e-mail, not all letters will be answered.


Every Thursday and Friday, you can find “Dear Margo” and her latest words of wisdom on wowOwow

Click here to follow Margo on Twitter

129 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Katharine Gray says:

    LW#1:  I don’t know what to say.  Your son is a criminal. There were victims. 

    LW#2:  A similar thing happened to me after graduate school.  A group of us were very close friends and I found out that one woman was getting married (this was within a year or so after our graduation and in a town 2 hours from me).  I was not invited although I know it was a big fancy society wedding befitting the debutante she had been.  I guess she just wasn’t that into me.  I seriously considered sending not only a card but a gift and to this day I sort of regret that I did not when I think of it…which I  do about once every 10 years after hearing a story like yours.   Some friendships, like time, just pass away. 

  2. avatar ch says:


    I would guess the group of people on Facebook were just thougtless; how sad for them. Perhaps caught up in all the preparation. I wish it had been different for you.

    Be true to yourself: ONLY send a card if you really mean it, and want to wish the couple joy, no matter how you think they may feel about you. If you truly don’t wish them well, or are too hurt, be true to yourself and just don’t.

    Then, whatever you decide, send loving thoughts to yourself, and move on. 

    Friendships do fade over time. The hurt feelings will to, if you let them.

    I understand how you feel, I was in college when the girl in the room next to me got engaged. The large group of girls in our floor of the dorm wanted to throw her a party, and as I was an art major at the time, they came to me to not only get a money donation for her present (which was an expensive musical instrument), they asked me to do the artwork for the festivities. Of course I did. Big party, decorations, music, presents, a lot of happy celebrating.  Two months later when I got engaged as well, not a word from anyone. I came back from class one day to find someone’s used plastic necklace with a hastily scribbled note that said: “Congratulations” left lying on my bed (it was probably my friend of 11 years that slipped me what she could.) Nobody ever congratulated me, or said anything. It wasn’t that the others weren’t friends;  it was around Christmas and everybody was scrambling to get through multiple concerts, snowy conditions and head home. Yes, it was thoughtless, and it hurt. I wish it had been different.

    Good luck. Do what is right for YOU, and the hurt will ease if you get in touch with your feelings and act from honesty.


    • avatar John Lee says:

      Be true to yourself: ONLY send a card if you really mean it, and want to wish the couple joy, no matter how you think they may feel about you. If you truly don’t wish them well, or are too hurt, be true to yourself and just don’t… Friendships do fade over time.
      Well said!

      I think many of us have also been on the other side, the side where we chose to not invite some old/former friends due to cost, or simply the friendship fading.

      I had a pretty good friend in college who never kept in touch with me after college.  Not a big deal so I didn’t invite him.  Ends up I found out he was pretty mad that he wasn’t invited.  Weird since literally in 10 years since college, I spoke to him once, maybe twice.

      The other situation was a casual friend who happened to be in the same college friend group.  However, because we lived in the same area after college, he and I ended up in occassional get-togethers though I never invited him nor he invited me to anything that didn’t include the entire group.  Anyhow, he felt quite slighted that he didn’t get invited to my wedding (and I declined his wedding invite, but I did send a gift).

      Most couples have limited budgets, someone has to be skipped unfortunately.

  3. avatar G T says:

    “I admit we haven’t been in close contact, but we did keep up with milestones in one another’s lives”
    I’m sorta guessing that YOU haven’t been in close contact and that you merely kept up with milestones, but that the other six have made more of an effort to stay close and in contact with each other.  Hence they got invitations and you did not.  They’re still good people, you’re still a good person, but you’re not as close to the bride to be as you once were. 
    Now if you had been keeping in close touch all this time, then I’d say something is not cool, or someone offended someone else, etc.

  4. avatar AOT says:

    Dear LW#1 – This has to be one of the most horrible situations a parent can find themselves in. Although there is no way I can “understand”, you have all my sympathy.
    I hope your son can keep himself out of trouble now. I know there are sexual-depressant treatments, sometimes referred to as “chemical castration”. Perhaps this might be a solution. It would destroy his sexual urges, but apart from that he would be able to lead something like a normal life.

    • avatar Grace Malat says:

      The problem with chemical or some other type of castration or something to minimize the sex drive is that the crime is not just about sex. It is also about emotions, and physiology and so much more, sex is just a part of it. And then there’s the problem that props can stand in for what is ‘no longer’ working if you get my drift.
      I’m not sorry to say this but I’m so tired of people making excuses for alcoholics, drug addicts and now pedophiles that it’s an illness and they can’t help it. There may be an underlying illness or propensity for a behavior but a person each of us has choices we make and each of us should be held accountable for those actions. And that’s a huge part of what is going wrong in the US today no one takes responsibility for their actions and behaviors it’s always due to an illness or how they were raised and on and on come the excuses.
      I did not have a happy childhood, don’t have one good memory of growing up, but you know what? I don’t do drugs, I don’t drink, I don’t engage in risky behavior I didn’t beat my children who ended up graduating with honors and going off to college and becoming law abiding citizens. My childhood was a horror story and I got through it and so do many others.
      I do also understand that some people who drink and abuse drugs are self medicating and that’s because mental illness has such a bad reputation. In my mind there are two types there are people with brain disorders such as bi-polar, schizophrenia, and others, there are misfiring in their brains and those are brain disorders. These people have no control over their condition, it’s a condition of the brain. Then we have the others psychopaths, sociopaths, pedophiles, cold hearted/blooded killers with no conscience they are mentally ill and no amount of drugs or therapy will cure them or make them productive members of society.
      There are also different types of pedophiles, and some people who have been labled as such actually don’t deserve the label. But studies and research have shown fr the true pedophile by the time he is caught there are at minimum 25 children that he molested, and that the recidivism rate is so high that they can’t be cured and they do need to be locked up somewhere securely where they won’t be hurt by others but also where they can never harm another child. When a child is molested their innocence, their childhood is stolen from them. A part of them dies.
      I’m sorry your family is going through this as it must be quite difficult but already you are making excuses and trying to reason out his behavior, and I realize you’re doing this as a way to cope, But don’t make the mistake that by castrating him or making him take a magic pill will help, it won’t. He’ll need to be in intense therapy for the rest of his life and under constant supervision.

  5. avatar naomi4312 says:

    Margo’s actually not correct about pedophilia being forever incurable. Many psychologists and psychiatrists are beginning to look at pedophilia as a mental illness to see if they can reduce recidivism rates and prevent those who haven’t offended from ever offending. Personally, I have hope that some sort of chemical impulse control or castration will provide a solution someday.
    There are a lot of pedophiles out there, perhaps even more than we know of, considering at least some never harm children. But they do struggle with what they know are immoral desires, and they have nowhere to turn because they are afraid they will be sent to jail instead of getting help. Personally, I would rather these sick people have somewhere to turn instead of struggling with their feelings without help or support. That’s the sort of desperation that can lead someone to eventually act on their desires.
    LW#1 is right to call attention to the fact that, if we want to eliminate pedophilia, we have to start thinking of it as a disease that can be cured. Her son, now that he’s out of jail, will have to work hard every day of his life so that he never acts on the disgusting desires he can’t help having.
    Right now, if you have something like depression or cancer — or even if you’re a pathological liar — there are treatment options that, though not yet 100% successful, can help many people suffering from these conditions get on with their lives in productive ways. But even though there’s no option like that for pedophilia right now doesn’t mean there won’t be in the future (just as treatments for depression, cancer, and pathological lying will continue to improve).

    • avatar Lila says:

      Naomi, I agree that castration should be available to those who voluntarily choose it.  Unfortunately, some human-rights groups consider this barbaric and bring a lot of pressure to prevent it, so it is very controversial and not widely done.  I think their efforts are misplaced – they are preventing men from having this as an effective voluntary option in treating their condition, which keeps them either locked up and beaten up, or out in society struggling with themselves and treated like a pariah by others.

    • avatar bobkat says:

      I believe that pedophilia is actually more a sexual orientation. These unfortunate people are sexually attracted to children. Those who never actually act on their impulses have my respect. What a huge battle they must fight with themselves every day. Those who do molest children I have no sympathy for, because they know it’s wrong and it damages the child(ren) for life.

      • avatar R Scott says:

        I strongly disagree. Sorry but pedophilia is way more complicated than just being a “sexual orientation”. Gay, Straight, Bi and Asexual are sexual orientations. Pedophilia is preying on, controlling and doing damage to the defenseless. Really, really big difference.

        • avatar elizabeth says:

          It was my impression that “chemical castration” causes a lack of sexual excitement. A victim can still be penetrated by other objects and can still be placed in a powerless situation by a more powerful predator.
          To LW1: I know you love your child. You will always love your child, even if you cannot help him. You don’t have to like what he is doing, or has done, but you still love him. I hope that he tries every treatment that might have possibility of working, as long as it doesn’t harm his own health. I wish you peace in your own heart.

    • avatar emptysack says:

      As a man who has lost both testicles I can assure you that with testosterone replacement therapy – apart from a few side effects – I am fully functional. The only reminder of being ball-less is my empty sack. 

  6. avatar normadesmond says:

     And by all means send a card. They will feel awful. 

    perfection in an answer. 

    • avatar toni says:

      They’re not going to feel awful. They’re not going to care and will be relieved if they even notice. LW 2 don’t take it so personally.

  7. avatar ann penn says:

    re LW2 – Is it possible you were invited but the invitation never reached you?  Perhaps a mutual friend could ask on your behalf.

    If you were sent an invitation that you did not receive, they could assume it is you ignoring them. 

    • avatar Anais P says:

      This reminds me of a situation a relative was in many years ago. She and her family did not receive an invitation to another relative’s wedding. They were hurt, but hid the hurt. Later, the bride’s family said they HAD invited my relative’s family, but the invitation never arrived. The USPS is not the error-free institution it once was assumed to be many years ago, when this incident happened. So ann penn, I think you are on to something and LW2 should ask someone if there was a problem. If not, she should do as Margo suggests: send a card. They will feel awful. (Bravo, Margo!)

  8. avatar Lila says:

    For Disappointed:  if this is a group of foreign friends from different countries – the exclusion may have arisen from the fact that you are American.  Sadly, Americans have not made themselves the most popular nationality on the globe lately.  It’s possible that the parents or other relatives of the marrying couple told their child that they didn’t want an American guest at the wedding.
    When I was in Russia, I was occasionally “interrogated” none too politely at parties, and the tone was generally accusatory: “Why did you bomb Kosovo?” as if I personally had a hand in the decision.  Even my German friends – who had been so supportive after 9/11 – could not understand the decision to invade Iraq, and when the Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib stuff came to light, they pretty much stopped talking to me.  If this is how Europeans react, imagine how Middle Easterners and Central Asians must feel.  We really have sparked a good bit of hostility out there. 
    For your friend, I’d send a card with good wishes and a neutral phrase like, “Sorry I missed it!” which does not lay blame for the lack of an invitation… although obviously, they know you didn’t get one.

    • avatar KL says:

      Lila — this has to be one of the saddest comments I’ve seen in a while.  I don’t doubt your experience and can totally see that happening, but how sad.  It’s like never talking to a German again if you’re Jewish because of WWII or never talking to someone from certain countries in the middle east because of 9/11.  I just can’t imagine that I’d literally never invite some of my middle eastern friends to my wedding because I disagree with their country’s political choices.  I’d like to think I can separate out the individuals from the country’s policies.  

      Now, if the individuals supported the policies, well, then you might have a greater difference of opinion that would make the friendship unsaveable.  But once again, I disagree with people on political issues all the time and am still able to remain friends.

      If the bridal couple is doing that for the comfort of others (like their families), then at the very least they owe the LW an explanation.  If they’re doing it for themselves because they now no longer consider the LW a friend due to being an American, I’d say good riddance.  The US certainly doesn’t have a monopoly on bigots and closed-minded fools.

      I really hope there is another reason than this — just growing apart that the LW may not have fully appreciated. 

      • avatar Lila says:

        KL, I have seen it go the other way as well.  I know quite a few  Americans right now who think all Muslims are suspect and that Islam is inherently and unavoidably violent.  And my ex-father-in-law was adamant (and loud) that all Germans were “militaristic” – and he wasn’t even old enough to remember WWII!  Must have been indoctrinated by his parents.
        For the record, we do still have OTHER German friends who see us as individual friends and not some kind of bad-US-policy figureheads.

        • avatar Lila says:

          Oops.  My brother’s ex-father-in-law.

          • avatar KL says:

            Oh, I don’t doubt it goes both ways. I just find it particularly funny when people are judging others as being too small-minded do similarly small-minded things.  Like I said, the US doesn’t have a monopoly on bigots or small-minded fools.  There are plenty both domestically and abroad!!!

  9. avatar JCF4612 says:

    LW2: Alas it apparently it was a Close Circle of Six, not seven in the bride’s view.    
    Being scratched from a list always hurts whether it’s from a kindergarten party, a wedding or a 50th anniversary bash. Rare is the person who escapes the sting of exclusion, so chalk this up as a warm-up for what you’ll encounter at intervals in adult life. What makes it worse (believe me, I know) is the steady grinding of Facebook reminders in the run-up or post-event prattle online. Do send a card, but only after the wedding so it doesn’t look like you’re fishing for a late-breaking bid. Confide, if you like, on your disappointment to one of the circle, if you think it would help your psyche. Also, “hide” the bride (or the entire circle) on FB for a while, and look a their posts only when you’re feeling up to it.   

  10. avatar JCF4612 says:

    LW2: Trailing thought: Could it be that you are not the only circle member not in the wedding loop? Or is it possibly that others know or at least have met the groom and you haven’t?

  11. avatar Briana Baran says:

    A long time ago, over a decade, perhaps, either Abby or Ann Landers featured a letter from a man in his seventies who was a pedophile. He knew this because of the impulses and urges he felt when he viewed small children of either sex, the dreams and waking fantasies he experienced, and his inability to have a normal sexual relationship with either a man or a woman without imaginings that he cold not control. He never touched a child. At family gatherings, he never sat down, so as to never let a child climb into his lap, or allowed himself to be alone with his nieces or nephews, and he sought work that kept him away from children. He didn’t indulge in child pornography. His question to the advice columnist was simple: Would he still go to Hell when he died because of what he was, even after living as a virtual recluse in order to never, even virtually, to cause harm to a child? Her answer was a resounding, “No, you’ve done all you could, you can’t be punished for your thoughts”.
    My point is simple: having a mental illness is not an excuse to act on your compulsions, become a monster, victimize the innocent, or cause suffering and pain. The prisons are full of those whose excuse for brutality, violence and atrocities is that they were sexually abused as children…and the world is full of infinitely more people who have lived through horrors some of those inmates can’t even imagine…and who have never lifted a hand against anyone. There is a responsibility that goes with knowing you have an illness, “incurable”, “untreatable” or otherwise…do no harm.
    There is no “cure” for BPS, or schizophrenia…but not everyone who has these diseases shoots people, or yields to the voices in their heads…even when untreated. There is no adequate “cure” or “treatment” for pedophilia…does that mean that a person who knows the nature of the inner temptation should yield because of his compulsion (there are female pedophiles too)? Especially since the victims are truly, completely innocent? Molesting, sexually abusing, raping and torturing children is a crime for a reason…anthropologically and sociologically. Pedophiles are essentially defined as persons 16 years of age or older who prey on prepubescent children, usually 13 or younger. The age difference between abuser and victim must be five years or greater to qualify as pedophilia. That’s the psychiatric definition. In reality, hebephilia , is the more accurate, if out-of-date term for those adults who prefer pubescent children (11-15), and ehebophilia refers to adults who prefer older adolescents ( 15-18). In reality, pedophiles prey on infants. Toddlers, Pre-schoolers and kindergartners. I have seen child pornography films on a special that was run years ago on PBS to educate people…to open the eyes…of those who can’t or won’t believe that these things happen. You only have to see those children suffering once to understand that there is no excuse, no reason, and that no quarter can or should be given.
    Recidivism in pedophilia is higher than for any other violent crime against another human. Physical castration has been tried…and it is unsuccessful. Chemical castration has a powerful feminizing effect, and while it destroys the libido and may hinder anger, the impulses and fantasies tend to remain, as well as resentment about the feminization and impotence that result. Constant monitoring and therapy are still necessary.
    LW1, while I to an extent feel your pain…I have 21 year old son who I have no control over, who has no impulse control, who is living in an environment that nurtures no boundaries or reality checks, and who I believe is a ticking time bomb…and no one can or will tell me a thing because of HIPAA,…or because his father really wants that disability check…your son indulged in his impulses. It must have been something truly terrible to have a one million dollar bond…and I would guess that he victimized multiple innocents to spend 20 years in prison. All too frequently, pedophiles receive very light sentences…do a Google search. it’s loathsome. I’m sorry, I love my sons…but if one of them decided that raping children was just fine, and he went to prison for it and and spent twenty years getting his attitude readjusted by his fellow inmates I would understand. I would not be acting as if he were a poor, sad, sick baby…because he knowingly victimized children in a way that quite probably ruined their lives on many levels….and being mentally ill is no damn excuse. Your son did something abominable…and he knew what he was doing. This was no psychotic break, he isn’t a victim, and I hope, for the sakes of children everywhere, he isn’t a recidivist.
    My son bullied other students in his special needs classes. He is high functioning on the autism scale, with behavioral disorders, malignant narcissism, and bi-polar II. The kids he was victimizing were MR, or had CP and were in wheelchairs, or were LD. I told the school to throw the book at him, and he had his life curtailed seriously at home as a consequence. Sadly, my ex-in-laws and husband think of him as a poor baby, and indulge his every whim…which is why he attacked his six-years younger brother and me one afternoon because I offered to take him to Youth Group. That’s it. Offered to drive him to Youth Group. He has since attacked a police officer and gotten away with it, gone after a truck driver who stopped because he nearly hit him when my son crossed a busy street on his bike without looking…and gotten away with it…and beaten the hell out of his 70+ grandparents who claimed it was only me that he would ever hit. Right. They made the mistake of not doing exactly what he wanted. He’s 6′ tall and 300 lbs. I love him…and someone’s going to get hurt. If he goes to jail I’ll still love him…but if he seriously hurts or kills someone he’ll deserve what happens. 
    And people, please spare me the “You’re so cruel” BS. Watch a child pornography film. Just. Once. It’ll give you a whole knew perspective on agony, breech of trust and loss of innocence, and feeling of being filthy that will be hard to wash away. You won’t like being human very much…and trust me, the perpetrators are human, not any other sort of “animal”.

    • avatar KarrinCooper says:

      Why would I watch something like that? Seriously? Wow.
      Aside from that – this is this mans son. Parental love has no bounds. At least he does have his father, as most families would totally shun him. I feel for you LW #1. This will be a tough road for both of you. While being a pedo is abhorrant, and I can’t say otherwise, if he sticks with his therapy and knows his triggers and how to avoid them, I think there is hope. As for those who advocate castration – wow. That in itself is not a solution. Just because a pedo can’t get it up does not mean the sexual abuse can not continue. So rethink that one ok?