Dear Margo: When Molestation Is a Memory

Margo Howard’s advice

When Molestation Is a Memory

Dear Margo: It’s hard for me to even type this, as it’s been hush-hush for so long, but I was abused by my grandfather between the ages of 3 and 5. I only remember a few things distinctly: He would put his hands up my dress and rub my belly, and lick the inside of my ears. I remember feeling something was very wrong and pulling my dress down while telling him, “No!” Thankfully, for whatever blessed reason, it stopped. It was still fresh in my mind, however, when I was between 7 and 10, as I made up “rules” for myself to not initiate conversation, to respond with short sentences and to attempt to avoid any physical contact when going to visit him and his girlfriend, now wife. They moved to another part of the country when I was 12, and I’ve only seen them a handful of times since.

I’m now a 20-something college graduate, happily engaged and living far away from all of them. Several months ago, my father brought up the memories during a visit, apologizing for not doing something about it at the time, but in the same breath saying it was not molestation, and that it must have been misunderstood because there was no way his father meant it as anything but innocent playing with his first granddaughter. It took my breath away as a sea of memories came back.

I’m close with my parents, so during a discussion with my mother, I brought up my father’s reminding me of those events that I had essentially wiped from my memory. My mother became very emotional and confided that my father’s sister also had been molested, but as a teenager. My mother also expressed sympathy that she felt unable to protect me from my grandfather, and that my father did not stand up to my grandfather.

I’m planning a wedding now and am reluctant to have this man around kids. (Many of our friends have young children who will be there.) Should I invite him to the wedding? I have never sought counseling for this, but maybe it would be helpful. — A. C.

Dear A.: You sound as though you have dealt with this situation well and are remarkably sanguine about your parents. But if you feel there’s residual angst about this, by all means, see a therapist. As for the wedding, do not invite the perv, I mean Gramps. The statement will be understood by those who need to understand, and I find the exclusion a mature response and one which I hope brings you quiet satisfaction. — Margo, beneficially

Six Brothers, One Watch…

Dear Margo: I’m a 40-year-old man, the youngest of six brothers. Our father recently passed away. My oldest brother, “Hal,” went through Dad’s things the day after the funeral. Five years ago, it was common knowledge that I had given Dad a nice watch. Now that he is gone, I was hoping for that watch to come back to me. I asked about the watch and am not getting any straight answers. Now I’m starting to believe one of the other brothers has it and is keeping quiet. Should I just let this go to keep the peace in the family or press to find out who decided to keep it for himself? — Sad in New Jersey

Dear Sad: My guess as to the new owner of the good watch would be Hal, but I’m not sure how you could “press to find out” short of searching his house. It is too bad only one brother went to the house, but that’s what happened. Though it’s cold comfort, there are often hard feelings when there is anything to be inherited. — Margo, realistically

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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.


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27 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Katharine Gray says:

    Letter #1:  Agree with Margo. 

    Letter #2:  Agree with Margo.


    • avatar Ariana says:

      Agree with Katharine. 😀

      Only thing I wonder about is that people think they need to ask permission to cut horrible people out of their life. And not just a difficult person, but a dyed in the wool predator. Anyone who asks can have the answer: It’s a private matter, and he knows why.

      • avatar David Bolton says:

        Ariana says something I agree with wholeheartedly.

        “Should I invite him to the wedding?” Umm… no, but you should insist that your parents and you go to a therapist immediately and hammer out the definition of “molestation.” Your father is much like my own, and my uncles—who all seem to be at odds with my female relatives, many of whom were molested by my grandfather.

        • avatar mac13 says:

          David, in my experience; which is more than usual unfortuantely, there are so many different definitions of molestation. Some more shocking than others. So, that there is a disagreement with her father about what constitutes molestation doesn’t surpise me. I have been shocked at things that get reported, which seem innocent enough to me and things that don’t get reported which seem plain as day to me. The final decision rests with the LW and her definition. DO NO INVITE HIM.

        • avatar G T says:

          I’ve heard more than one man insist that if there was no penetration of penis into vagina or anus, then while it might have been inappropriate or uncomfortable, it wasn’t “a big deal” and not molestation. In other words, rape or nothing at all. I think part of it is self-denial that someone they share genetic code with could be a monster and (based on having gone through junior high and high school), some have done their share of groping, butt grabbing and inappropriate touching of females because they thought it was fun or cool to freak a girl out (AKA the classic “boys will be boys”) and the description hits a little too close to home for them.

      • avatar mac13 says:

        Ariana, that is the most succint answer I could imagine. Bravo, I hope the letter writer sees it and uses it.

  2. avatar Rahnesong says:

    Letter #2 – I would just casually mention the watch but if nothing comes from the mention let it drop. You may not get it back by asking but it is guaranteed you won’t get it back if you don’t ask.

  3. avatar JoyJennings says:

    Re: LW2, I’d speak up to all the brothers, either via group email, conference call or individually. Point out that each of you should be able to have mementos from your father’s belongings, and any gifts to Dad should be returned. Explicitly say, “You all know I gave Dad a nice Rolex several years ago. I was always pleased that he liked and enjoyed the watch, and I’m counting on getting it back. I’m not sure which of you has it in safekeeping, but please send it to me this week and be sure to insure it. [etc.]” Of course, you should offer to pay the shipping costs.

  4. avatar Sita says:

    LW#1, congratulations on your upcoming wedding. You have the right to invite/not to invite anybody you want. No apologies needed. And please, please see a therapist. You are the only one that have to deal with this, and hopefully what you have been remembering is just that. Wish you the best and a lifetime of marriage bliss.

    LW#2, let it go. One of these days you might see your father’s watch on one of your brothers’ wrist and you can mention how good it looks on him.

    • avatar David Bolton says:

      I get the feeling that the father probably promised the watch to a different son (for whatever reason), who took him up on it while knowing that you originally gifted it.

      • avatar stateoflove_N_Trust says:

        There is nothing to suggest anything of the sort. You may be surprised how often one family member raids the house of the deceased immediately after death to take whatever they feel entitled to take. If Father promised another brother the watch, then that brother can come out and say that.

        • avatar David Bolton says:

          State, it’s as plausible a scenario as any—seeing how LW2 himself doesn’t know where the watch is, or possibly why it may be in someone else’s hands other than his.

          When my mother was in her final illness, she promised all sorts of things to other people that I had given her directly. I didn’t care—they were her things to give, not on loan from me until she died. I am suggesting that the father promised things to people before he died—and the watch happened to be on the list. Like many dying people, the father likely wasn’t in the clearest mind when he was dying. And yes, there is the possibility that one of the other brothers simply decided he wanted the watch.

          • avatar redhead says:

            I agree that more than one brother should have gone to the house.But at the same time – it was your father’s watch, he could do with it whatever he wanted. I never heard of automatically getting gifts back that you gave someone, because the point is ,you GAVE, it is no longer yours in any way.

  5. avatar hoosier says:

    LW #2  Absolutely agree with Joy Jennings.  The response is tactful and respectful while at the same time letting everyone know what’s going on.  It also gives the person who grabbed the watch in a moment of greed to redeem himself without losing face.  The youngest brother may not get the watch back, but at least he will have conducted himself in a dignified way and asserted his rightful claim. 

    • avatar JCF4612 says:

      Apart from the dignity, everyone will be in on the grab, likely know who did it, and the grabber will never be able to risk being seen wearing the watch.  

  6. avatar Belinda Joy says:

    Letter #1 – Should you invite him to the wedding? No!

    We all have our dirty family secrets. Incidents and people in the family we never discuss. However, I believe when it comes to perversion, that is something that should be “shamed” the family shouldn’t miss a chance to shame them for their acts. It matters not that they seek out therapy (if they even seek it out). No indeed, they should be reminded at every turn why they are being kept away from children, why you don’t feel the desire to hug them….they are to be treated as what they are…..vile.

    Letter #2 – Don’t mention the watch. Yes, one of the brothers took it and yes it was probably Hal. The lesson here is not everyone has a moral compass that tells them to do the right thing when it comes to the aftermath of the death of a loved one. It is in those moments when you really do see what people are made of. Who is compassionate? Who is sensitive to what others may be dealing with? Who appreciates sentimentality?

    The person that took the watch is lacking in all these area and making a big deal about the missing watch won’t result in anything other than acrimony. The upside: There WILL come a day when this letter writer will see Hal wearing the watch. That will be the moment to say…..”I suspected you took the watch I brought dad, now it is confirmed”

    • avatar Julp says:

      {“I suspected you took the watch I bought dad, now it is confirmed.”}  And I would look at him and go, “Why didn’t you say something earlier?  You never mentioned the watch.  It was on Dad’s wrist when he died and it meant a lot to me.”  Perhpas it is not lack of moral compass (and just because he gave it doesn’t mean “everyone knows” it still means a lot to the brother – presumably, he gave his dad lots of gifts over the years).  My mother’s necklace is still in my keeping, not because I gave it to her but because she had it on when she died and I found her. 

      If a sibling had asked for it because they gave it to her, I certainly would have considered giving it to them but maybe not.  It didn’t belong to them anymore, it belonged to my mother and her things were divided up.  I chose the necklace as part of my “share”.  Sometimes sentimental value crosses lines and doesn’t just belong to the giver of the item.   

  7. avatar persey78 says:

    Not that my Aunts would have had any issues, but LW2 is why they went through the house the week of her death. My one Aunt is on very limited means and the 1000 mile trip to be with her mother in her final days took much out of her financially and she would not be able to come again (Now mind you her2 sons are fairly successful and have offered to pay many times for her to come visit us but she is a strong woman and she will not take charity). It is not that she didn’t trust her sisters, it was that my mother and my other Aunt wanted to make sure that those items that were important went to the right people.
    Now with my other grandmother I got one thing from her, a gold filigree balled 3 string necklace that pretty much goes with everything, even jeans and a button down shirt and boots. It is my statement piece at this point in my life and unless I am going silver based, I am wearing this necklace. If my aunt, my fathers sister were to ask about that necklace and wonder where it went I would offer it up to her immediately. I know she would not take it, but I would still offer.

  8. avatar hera13 says:

    I will never understand parents who don’t take child molestation seriously. If that were my daughter, I can’t guarantee that gramps would’ve made it to trial.

    • avatar Hellster says:

      I have to admit, I do understand. Molestation doesn’t happen in a vacuum. People often do to others what was done to them, and that includes denial and minimization. I think the letter writer has done well to address the issue with her parents; what more could be accomplished by therapy? That said, I don’t think therapy could do any harm. As for the wedding invitation, I’d say give gramps and his girlfriend a miss.

  9. avatar Cindy Marek says:

    L #1: Don’t invite him. Hold your ground if you get flack (which is easy for me to say, I know). You seem very well adjusted, with a bright future. 🙂

    L #2: You’re one of 6 brothers…that’s quite the competition. Hal – or whoever took it – could easily ask, “Why should you have it?” Whoever it was shouldn’t have snuck around/gone behind the others’ backs, and your resentment is justified. You probably aren’t going to get answers, much less the watch; you could continue pursuing this with associated (and perhaps mounting) anxiety, anger, frustration (not good for your health). Best consider accepting the situation and moving on.

  10. avatar Rick says:

    Letter 2, About that watch.

    Giving. If you truly give something, it has no strings attached, and the recipient has only one responsibility to you: To say thank you. If it has strings attached, it was a loan or a deal, but it wasn’t a gift.

    When you gave the watch to your father, you had no further claim on it. He could do with it whatever he wanted. It sounds like he failed to mention it in his will. He had every right to do that. Disposing of his things after his death is the job of his executor. Your only right is to ask the executor if you can have the watch or buy it from the estate.

    • avatar mac13 says:

      I totally agree. A watch is often a matter of personal style and taste also. I gave my father a watch once that was fitted to his style, not mine. When he died, I had no desire to have it back. It wasn’t my style or fitted to my taste. Surely the LW gave his father several gifts over his lifetime.  Why is the watch so important? Is it the amount he spent on it? If so, then it isn’t sentimental value as much as dollar value.

  11. avatar Julp says:

    Mac, I totally agree with you!  Sounds like the dollar value is the issue.  Also sounds like he made sure all the siblings knew exactly how valuable the watch was when he gave it to his dad.  Lastly, asking for something based on dollar value is probably going to garner very little sympathy or response from Hal.  

  12. avatar D says:

    If it is possible at this point, I would get the molestation out in the open. I would make sure everybody knows what is going on. There will be some hurt feelings, a lot of pain, and perhaps some permanent division in the family, but then everyone will know why grandfather has not received an invitation and there will be no misunderstanding.

    The only reason I would do this is that I have my doubts that no invitation will stop him from coming. If he wants to shows up, is someone really going to stop him from coming? If the bride can get her family behind her, that MAY shame him enough to stop him from coming. It is easy to say that she should not invite him. I am not so sure the non-invitation will be effective on its own.

    • avatar Ariana says:

      I don’t see any hint here that he’d be the type to wedding crash. It doesn’t sound like he was intrusive in her life after the incident in her childhood and they don’t even live in the same city.

      If she is the one to blow the whistle, everyone will blame her for making accusations of something occurred when she was 3-5 years. She will be the one who is dismissed, since even the father is not backing her up. It will cause a huge rift in her family, including her parents. She may just not be willing to do that, especially right not before her wedding and I can’t say I blame her. If she really feels strong enough to stand up for his other (+potential) victims, she should start by inviting the molested sister to a therapy meeting and discuss options if they want to go forward together.

  13. avatar Lizzie M says:

    I was molested by my grandfather when I was 11, and I am 45 now and back then no one talked about “bad touching” so it was not until years later that I really acknowledged that what he did was abuse I only know that at the time, I felt scared and knew that it was wrong.  When my mom passed away 3 years ago and we were going through family photos and I saw pictures of my grandfather the memories of those incidents came flooding back and I still have moments when those memories are so vivid that I can see it happening as clear as day in my head, I remember what he was wearing, the room we were in, the color of the carpet, the smell of his pipe tobacco.   I never told anyone in my family what happened.   Don’t invite him!