Dear Margo: When Not To Sleuth Around

Margo Howard’s advice

When Not To Sleuth Around

Dear Margo: I live in a town of 60,000 people. Many of us know each other because we grew up here. My son, who is in high school, has a buddy who is getting to look quite a bit like the man who is president of one of the banks. I mean, the resemblance is striking. This boy’s parents, the banker and his wife, and my husband and I have all known one another since we were in middle school. I am really curious as to whether it’s possible that this child is the product of, shall we say, a brief indiscretion. Can you think of a way I could delicately solve this “mystery” without embarrassing anyone? — Madly Curious

Dear Mad: You know what? You couldn’t even solve “this mystery” if you did embarrass someone. Come to think of it, the person you could most embarrass by pursuing this matter is yourself.

Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that your suspicions are correct. There would be no confirmation of this on the birth certificate, which leaves you the option of asking friends whether they remember any trouble in the marriages of X and Y. I would not recommend this, however, because your inquiries would become defamatory gossip quicker than you could say “looks-like-the-banker.”

And do remember, many people have doppelgangers. That is the reason we often say to someone, “You look just like so-and-so who’s on television/in the movies/in the Senate, etc.” Please leave this alone and keep your suspicions to yourself. — Margo, prudently

Down, Boy

Dear Margo: My mom came down to visit my sister, her husband and their two sons over Christmas. She brought her dog with her, as he got along with my sister’s dog the last time our mother visited. This time, however, the dogs got into a fight, and my sister was bitten on Christmas Day. My Mom left after my Dad and I showed up to take care of my nephews because my sister had to go to the hospital. Before Mom left, she asked her son-in-law to change one of the boys’ diapers.

At 2 a.m. on New Year’s Day, my stepbrother calls my sister ranting about how dare my brother-in-law kick my mother out of my sister’s house, and how dare my sister then try to get money from my mother for her hospital bill when she has insurance. None of this happened. I think my stepbrother needs psychological help. How do I broach the subject of counseling without implying that he’s crazy? I’m really the only person in the family who can do this, because he’s either angry with everyone else, or they’ve chosen to ignore the situation, hoping it will go away.

And there’s more: Now there’s a rumor going around in the family that my sister intends to file a lawsuit against my mother. Again, untrue, but I’m being called upon to be the mediator and debunker in this dispute between my stepbrother and my sister. How do I do this? I have no background in family counseling. — Frankly Frustrated

Dear Frank: Since your stepbrother is not wrapped real tight, and all the other family members seem to be waiting for Godot, I suggest a short note to the young man saying you want the best for him, and right now that would be to seek counseling. If he declines, or reads you the riot act, forget it; you tried. Skip trying to mediate or debunk anything. If anyone in the family mentions a lawsuit (or rabies, or anything else untrue) simply say: “It never happened.” If you put this bump in the road into perspective, it won’t seem like such a big deal. — Margo, coolly

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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.


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

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38 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Katharine Gray says:

    Letter#1:  Quite the Mrs. Kravitz aren’t we? (Those old enough to remember the TV show *Bewitched* will get the reference).  What possible business is it of yours who fathered this young man…and what an idle mind and empty life you must have to become obsessed with this matter.   I can only shake my head and think to myself *Some people!*. 

    Letter #2:  It sounds like everyone in your family besides the stepbrother has put this unpleasant day behind them although I suspect your sister is still suffering the effects of the dog bite.  Have you asked your mother if she has said something to him that would give him these ideas?  Of course, your mother’s insurance probably SHOULD pay for your sister’s medical bills but thats between your sister and your mother and no one else.  If I were you, I would simply keep asserting the facts to anyone who says otherwise….ignore the step-brother and try to stay out of the crossfire.   I’m not a big fan of writing to unstable people about their conduct because it will do no good and probably make the situation worse. 


    • avatar Carib Island Girl says:

      Agreed Katherine,

      LW1: good god, really? This is what you feel is important enough to write in about?

      LW2: just cut them out, you will be glad you did.

  2. avatar Dan Bingham says:

    LW1– As Margo’s dearly departed aunt once said so succinctly: M.Y.O.B.

  3. avatar bamabob says:

    LW1: damn! The first two comments were much too kind. Get a life you nosy witch (and I really wanted to type something other than “witch”).

  4. avatar Ariana says:

    LW#1: Is life otherwise too boring so you have to start malicious rumors just to liven things up a little? What if you did find out that the son belongs to someone else? Are you going to jump on the righteous train and proclaim it to everyone in town? Would that make you feel better about yourself in some way? No good can come out of your snooping, but plenty of harm may, and you could even find yourself the town pariah after your meddling is uncovered.

    I bet Margo $1M cyberdollars that she’s already started this rumor (to a friend who told a friend who told a friend) and the damage it already done. 

  5. avatar Ariana says:

    LW#2: There were too many actors in that scenario, so I wasn’t quite sure what happened to whom. Why should you play mediator? Sounds like nobody believes him anways. Just hang up when he starts ranting and then he can’t spread his rumors.

  6. avatar Brenda S says:

    Yesterday, Margo mentioned about her aunt who had Alzheimer.  That aunt died on the day we read that column–better known as “Dear Abby”.  I pray that their two families can come together to say goodbye to this dear lady and that the two cousins–the present “Dear Abby” and “Dear Margo” can find a common ground.  My prayers are with both of your families.

  7. avatar Belinda Joy says:

    Letter #2 – Margo’s response was spot on.

    This is a perfect example of how in a family, a small incident can become blown WAY out of proportion and the next thing you know people are accusing others of the most outlandish things. So much so that it gets to the point where pretty soon, nobody can remember why the original argument started to begin with.

    This letter writer needs to stay out of it. Stay above the fray and not take on the role of mediator. She doesn’t have to, she just seems to think she has to. As Margo said, write a note or email and then let it go. Mental illness is a serious issue, but I personally believe even those with mental illness know deep down inside something isn’t right with their minds and lives. They have to want the help. They have to be open to it in order for any real change. Every person on the planet has someone in their family that has mental issues. The desire to help them is there in all of us, but in the final analysis you can only do so much.

    Letter #1 – “Treat people as you would want to be treated – Speak to people as you would want to be spoken to – Do unto others as you would want done to you”

    Wouldn’t it be a better world if we could remember this at every second of the day? I know I fall short of this lofty goal. How would this letter writer feel if she knew SHE was being looked at by others as being the woman that had an affair and gave birth to a child that is not her husbands? To know people around her were questioning whether her son was the product of an affair with another man?

    This letter writer isn’t wrong for being curious, I would think most people would be in that situation. Take Maria Shriver for instance. The child that was raised in her own home grew to look like her husband Arnold Schwarzenegger and sure enough…..he was! 🙂 It was reported a lot of people were whispering about the similarity in appearance between boy and man.

    The disconnect however is that it isn’t for “us” those not intimately involved, to say or do anything. We can think it…..we simply shouldn’t say it. For this letter writer to even remotely bring up the issue to another human being is not just the height of inappropriateness, but is the definition of being a Busy Body. Mind your own business.

  8. avatar hera13 says:

    LW1: Regardless of the truth, how is this any of your business? Wow.

    LW2: I have to wonder if the mother has explained the truth to her son. Or perhaps the mother has suggested that something else happened. Either the brother’s suspicions are being fueled by misinformation, he’s privy to a truth that no one else has heard, or he’s off his rocker. I think I’d be talking to mom about what’s been said before jumping to conclusions.

  9. avatar Cindy Marek says:

    L #1: It’s none of your business. I repeat: It’s none of your business. You are looking to create a lot of trouble and etc., which likely will backfire on you (nastily) as well.

    L #2: I agree with Margo. And this makes me glad for rather lonely “just us” holidays.

  10. avatar JCF4612 says:

    LW1″ “Can you think of a way I could delicately solve this ‘mystery’?”

    Why of course, dearie! Choose a DNA testing firm on-line ads and order a cheek swab kit for a few hundred bucks. Ask your son’s pal to swab the interior of his cheek. Then march to the bank, breeze right past the teller, and ask the prez to do the same. Send in the swabs with a request for paternity testing, and voila you’ll have your answer within weeks. Either way, your busy-body ass likely will be unsatisfied. You’ll be disappointed if results rule out statistical likelihood of your suspicions. If you are right, what are you going to do … take out an ad in the paper?

    LW2) How does the step-brother fit into the Christmas Day biting episode?          

    • avatar marykaye_s says:

      He doesn’t – he wasn’t there. He inserted himself after the fact with false accusations and rumors.

  11. avatar Chris B says:

    LW2 – Just an FYI, assuming your sister filed a claim with her health insurance, the insurance company may go after the mother against the sister’s wishes. If the sister refuses to give the mother’s information, she’ll be on the hook for the hospital bill because the insurance company can deny the claim. This happened to my husband when he got injured at a friend’s house.

    Could it be possible that this process has started, and the step-brother doesn’t understand that sis has no control over it?

    • avatar fallinginplace says:

      Yeah, it’s called subrogation and health carriers are getting more aggressive about it.  In the past they would have waited to see if sister was going to sue mom and then assert a right to a piece of any recovery, but they have a contractual right to pursue the recovery on their own and sister is required to cooperate with their efforts.  

      Or, you know, brother is just nuts. 

    • avatar Kathleen Hein says:

      My husband fell in the tub, badly banged his arm, and went to the ER for a X-ray about a year ago. A month later, we got a mandatory questionnaire from our insurance company, demanding to know if the ER trip was a result of anything that could be considered someone else’s liability.

      So yes, I can absolutely believe that the insurance company would start a lawsuit on their own.

      • avatar Brenda S says:

        I used to get notes like that from Blue Cross and Blue Shield.  They were trying to get out of paying a claim.  Where I retired from decided to go with another insurance company whom they felt was cheaper.  So far, I haven’t received one of those letters.

  12. avatar fallinginplace says:

    LW#1:  Growing up, I knew two sisters who I could have sworn were twins.  Turns out they weren’t even related by blood – they were stepsisters.  So the resemblance may well be a coincidence, and anyway, it ain’t your business, so leave it alone.

  13. avatar susan hiland says:

    LW1: Has it occurred to you that in a smaller town of 60K that some people are actually related way back in the day. Perhaps 100 years ago the bankers great grandfather, brother or what have you was married to this young man’s relative, the genes have come down the gene pool over the years and what you see is the result of that. It’s nothing nasty but genes. On the other hand what in god’s green earth makes you think digging around this youngsters family will not cause problems? What the hell do you think happens to people when nasty, rumors start? You dear writer single handedly could completely destroy this family in a month! Congratulations I am sure that is something you would be sooooo proud of as an accomplishment in your life.

  14. avatar jennaA says:

    LW1: The internet has seemed to spawn a new breed of nosy neighbors. Sure, we all think in our minds that such things could be possible but spreading gossip and investigating someone’s life like that is inappropriate. What did the writer think Margo was going to say? Go for it? Yikes.

    LW2: Ah, family drama! Absolutely agree with the advice here: say it once and then back off. It’s not your job to play mediator and being a member of the family they aren’t likely to take you as seriously. Sometimes you have to let family members do what they will and hope that someone on the outside will make an impact on them along the way.   

  15. avatar Count Snarkula says:

    I, for one, cannot wait to see what David Bolton has to say about LW1.

    • avatar David Bolton says:


      Good lord, my reputation precedes me. Of course, there’s ALWAYS a way for LW1 to “solve” the mystery—ranging from the innocuous (getting a hair sample off a hat, for example), to the far more interesting (obtaining some semen). My vote is for the latter, since I’ve always believed: “In for a penny, in for a sperm sample.”

      Now, once you get the specimen—call Maury and sign up for one of their “You Are/Are Not The Father And The Nosy Neighbor Can PROVE IT” shows. Just make up some BS to get them on the show, like: “hey, Abner and I got these tickets to Maury! Why don’t you join us to see the trainwreck first hand? It’ll be FUN!”

      People will fall for anything.

  16. avatar Messy ONE says:

    LW1 – If you’re right, consider that both families may already know the whole story and have reconciled themselves to the situation.

    I have relatives like you. I haven’t spoken to any of them in over 20 years. They’re ghastly human beings who aren’t worth anyone’s time.

    LW2 – Practice saying, “I’m sorry you feel that way, but I’m not going to discuss it with you. Excuse me, I have to go now.”

  17. avatar Diane Shaw says:

    Ltr. #1 – Leave it alone!
    Ltr. #2 – If everyone knows the “real” story but your step-brother, everyone should just ignore him.

  18. avatar lebucher says:

    LW#1:  Margo is correct about how we all have dopplegangers.  When I was a teenager I worked in a grocery store and another employee and I looked like twin sisters.  The resemblance was startling enough that customers would do a double take when they approached my register and say “Didn’t I just see you at the bakery???”  We all thought it was funny.  We were in no way related and this was in a good sized city.

    More recently I have been told by a coworker I resemble a famous actress – now isn’t that flattering since she is attractive!  Even an Olive Garden server looked at me sideways and made a comment about it.  I personally do not see such a strong resemblance but others sure do.  

    I do believe Ms. Busybody needs something else to do besides stir up trouble.   

    LW#2:  Definitely ignore the troublemaking stepbrother.   Unfortunately many families have a black sheep who thrives on stirring the pot.  We have one too.

  19. avatar Brooke Schubert says:

    LW#1-Seriously?  You want to potentially ruin people’s lives and create trouble because of your little gossipy speculation?  Get over yourself and leave that poor family alone.  People like you are why small towns can be such awful places.

    LW#2-As a member of a crazy family, I agree with Margo.  It sounds like your sister and mother are okay with each other and understand that there’s no problem, so all you need to do if anyone asks about a lawsuit rumor is say that there must be a misunderstanding, because it isn’t true.  You can tell your stepbrother the same thing-he must have misunderstood and it’s simply not true.  If he blows up again, calmly say that you aren’t going to pay attention to gossip when you know it’s false.

  20. avatar Janet66 says:

    LW1: I’m sorry. It’s kind of funny. REALLY??

  21. avatar R Scott says:

    LW1 – Oh my. It was sad to read this. What a pitiful, sad little small town caricature this LW is. Gladys Kravitz lives!! Nice job with this one Margo.

    LW2 – A part of me thinks the LW is kind of liking the role she’s playing (or thinks she’s playing) in this real life yet, make believe drama. She clearly needs to back out of it and I bet she already knows that.  
    Question though: what does asking the son-in-law to change the diapers have to do with this? I don’t get that part.

    • avatar Deeliteful says:

      I’m so glad you brought up changing the baby’s diaper. I thought that was the reason the LW had written and no one had addressed the issue. Thanks for enlightening me.

  22. avatar luna midden says:

    lw1-what the he double hockey sticks is this …. can’t even call her a ‘woman’,( what she is starts with a b and rhymns with wiich) trying to do?? There is NO MYSTERY! THE BOY’S MOM knows who the bio dad is, and his mom and dad are his parents… Even if some ‘brief indiscretion’ happened like 17 years ago.. and he is the product, it has no barring on HER LIFE, HER BUSINESS, ETC. It just sounds like she is trying to be that b…ch, (like she grew up watching to many soaps), like Alexis Carrington. What happens if she ‘solves’ her mystery?? By her ‘tone’ you know she would keep this mystery and mystery for a new york minute.. well maybe for a while.. like until there is a huge gathering to EMBARRASS BOTH COUPLES TO MAKE THEM LOOK LIKE FOOLS, TRAMPS, not to be trusted. I wonder if she has a problem with anyone of them, mainly the wives and has a need to take them down, socially???

    Lw2-  another person butting in … don’t know what was said.. and I do not think Frankly does either..   (I don’t get the reason for adding in about the Mother asking her SIL to change the diapers of one of HIS SONS!!?? What did that have to do with any of it?) . So, stepbrother calls at 2am  new years morning.. the sis that got bit. (NYEVE nite??). Not the lw, who seems to have gotten all the ‘news’ second hand’, just like we are.

    Maybe, the stepbrother was drinking (new years eve??). Maybe he has a drinking problem? Of course, we do not know him so, yes, he can be unhinged. We also do not know what the mother said to him. She might have come back and said to him and her husband (different? that the LWs father who came over to help with the boys??? letter was CONFUSING!) THAT since it was THEIR DOG.. they could be sued. I do not get the ‘she left, told the sil to change the boy’s diaper and the LW and HER FATHER ARRIVED??? VERY CONFUSING like I said. Did she leave at the time she said she would? or did she leave because her dog bit her daughter? or did her SON IN LAW lose HIS TEMPER AND SAY ‘GET THAT DOG OUT OF HERE!!! Which is quite possible-his wife was bit and he had 2 young boys!!!

    What ever happened… sounds like mom had a hand in the spreading. But, the bitten sister is doing right BY NOT SAYING ANYTHING .. it would just keep the stupid story going and growing. It if is going on and on and getting bigger, it is not just the stepbrother, there are others that are warped and poison in the family/

  23. avatar Paula says:

    LW1: Do you not have anything better to do with your time and energy than to meddle in other people’s lives???? Leave well enough alone!!!!

  24. avatar Lym BO says:

    LW2: He called at 2am on New Year’s Day? Um, he was drunk. People say stupid things when they are drunk. (no excuse, just a fact). The second time also likely drunk. Perhaps he isn’t crazy just an alcoholic. If it were me I would just ignore the hullabaloo.

    LW1: So what. Who cares! It probably is the banker’s son. Maybe they all know. Maybe they don’t. How it is your business is confusing. If you are really, really good friends you could say to banker buddy “Our friend x sure does have a good looking & intelligent son. He doesn’t seem to favor his dad much.” Wink. Then wait for the reaction. I would not respond to his reaction what ever it may or even mention it again. To anyone.

  25. avatar Lourdes says:

    LW1: That town of 60,000 people must be really, really dull… get a life, lady!

    LW2: I also believe that the letter contains many unnecessary details, while the important ones were being left out. From the whole thing I get the feeling the whole family likes the drama, and the stepbrother has merely a honorary place in the litigating/cuckoo section of it. They should just ignore him, and this particular episode of the drama will soon fade away.

  26. avatar voiceofreason says:

    LW! Why did you mention changing diapers? I thought that sentence was going to be the crux of the letter. I was expecting you to say the the child never got his diaper changed and developed as nasty diaper rash.

  27. avatar A R says:

    LW1: I can only imagine how that conversation would play out. Would the LW ask the mother of the boy over appetizers at a restaurant? Would she ask the father next time he gives her own son a ride home from a game? Would she just cut to the chase and ask the son who his daddy *really* is? LOL! This letter smacks of self-delusion or fraud; who knows which it is.

    Like another poster wrote, I once had a lady repeat to me on several occasions how much I looked like the girl her son used to date. I thought her son was a P.O.S, so I shrugged it off. Whatever. One day she brought a picture in to show me. Darned if the girl and I could not have been sisters. Not twins for sure, but sisters in a heartbeat.

    I mean, there can only be so many codings within the human genome.