Dear Margo: I am a 27-year-old graduate student in the Northeast. On holidays, I go home to spend time with my parents and two sisters. They are in the South, where the majority of the town is conservative and religious. My father is a church deacon, and part of this commitment involves a vow not to touch alcohol. He has always been afraid of liquor, in part because he had an uncle who was an alcoholic and could not keep a job.
My parents know that my sisters and I drink socially. For a while, this was a source of conflict in the family, but finally, they adjusted. I never drink in front of them, and our family has always used sparkling grape juice for toasts and holidays. Everything seemed fine, until recently.
Over the past year, my older sister has made a point of serving alcohol at family gatherings. A year ago at Thanksgiving, she tried to serve wine to my parents and their friends, one of whom is also a deacon. It was very awkward, as no one would accept, but she was being extremely pushy. This year at Christmas, she brought home a bottle of Riesling to put in a soup and wanted to serve it with the meal. This was at my parents’ house.
My younger sister and I think her behavior is disrespectful to our parents and only serves to stir up tensions that had just started to subside. Is it our place to say something to our sister about her behavior, and if so, what to say? –Alcoholic Awkwardness
Dear Al: It is, indeed, your place to say something, and what I suggest is: “Lay off.” Her aggressive pushing of alcohol is just one step away from someone trying to get a 12-stepper to “just try it” or, worse, sneaking it into food. Alcoholics can get into trouble even with a touch of liqueur in a dessert. While I understand that your parents are abstainers by choice, and not alcohol abusers, your sister is showing quite a bit of hostile pushback for who-knows-what reason. You might ask her why she has made it her project to get everyone to drink, and then tell her to stop it. –Margo, preferentially
Surprises of the Not Great Kind
Dear Margo: A couple of months ago, my sister, “Sarah,” found out by accident that the man on her birth certificate isn’t her father. My grandmother let it slip long ago that she had a suspicion that Sarah was only my half-sister, so this didn’t surprise me. However … it has done a number on Sarah.
She’s met the man who actually fathered her and has also met two half-brothers. She says they are decent people. My question is: Is there anything I can do to help her as she grapples with the shock and other emotions this has caused? She’s only 17 and doesn’t have much of a relationship with our mother. My fiance and I are the only people to whom she’s revealed this information. This changes nothing between the two of us, and I want to be as supportive as I can for her. –Unsure in Arkansas
Dear Un: If it’s possible, perhaps your sister could see a counselor, just to hash out the conflicting emotions. What you can do is reinforce your love for her, reiterating that the new developments change nothing and she is free to forge a bond with the “new” family — or not. You might also tell her that the situation she finds herself in is becoming increasingly common and it’s a plus to know who your biological parents are, if only for health histories. I think she will be fine with some TLC. –Margo, supportively
Dear Margo is written by Margo Howard, Ann Landers’ daughter. All letters must be sent via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Due to a high volume of e-mail, not all letters will be answered.
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