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Carolyn Hax: Is ‘cousin’ really my brother?

Dear Carolyn: My father had several affairs, left our family, and remarried another woman. We have confronted him about his sins, but he acts as though everything is fine and he has done nothing wrong.

I also have a maternal aunt who has a son, but we don’t know his father. Our family believes our father is also his father because our cousin looks like my father when he was young. My father calls him often and even attended his graduation.

We have asked our father and our aunt about our cousin’s paternity, but they both deny it. Our aunt said she will tell the truth at the right time.

I’ve already written an advice columnist about this, and she said, “Let sleeping dogs lie.” We just want the truth. We know it will hurt, but it will set us free.

– It’s Complicated

A: Free to do what – write to multiple advice columnists about something else?

Seems to me you’re already living as if your cousin is your brother. Consider:

• You know your father is a cad. He will remain that in your mind if you learn your cousin is your brother, and if you learn he isn’t.

• You apparently think your aunt is/was capable of getting involved with her sister’s husband. You will have to revise your opinion of her upward if she proves your cousin is just your cousin, but proof he’s your brother would leave the status quo intact.

• Your dad and your cousin are close. Truth would be a wash here, I expect.

See where I’m going? With the circumstances you present, will The Truth have any impact at all?

You’re not imprisoned by a lie so much as your preoccupation with the possibility of one. Yes, crossing the T or dotting the I or asking your cousin/brother if he has ever considered a DNA test (yoo-hoo …) would wipe out your motivation to find an answer, but so too would just accepting that you already know everything you need to know. It’s not letting the dog lie so much as inviting it to curl up next to you on the couch.

Shower may be chilly

Dear Carolyn: My parents are divorced, my dad left my mom for another woman 10 years ago. My mother and my stepmom have never met. My father and mother do not speak to each other.

In a few months we are planning to throw a bridal shower for my brother’s fiancée. The shower will take place at my mother’s home and will be small and informal. My question is, is it rude to not invite my stepmom? Help!

– R.

A: With parents a decade into not speaking thanks to an extramarital affair, it seems perverse to nibble at a question of guest lists.

They will have to face each other eventually. They owe it to everyone not to hold this first meeting on a day that involves a guest of honor. Please, not.

While guest etiquette varies by culture, surely we can agree that a guest’s paramount obligation is to refrain from becoming a sideshow.

It’s also not ideal, of course, for you to get any more deeply involved in your parents’ drama than you’re required to as host.

So try staking out the middle: “Mom, you don’t deserve this, but it’s inevitable: I’m worried that you and Stepmom will meet for the first time at one of my or Brother’s celebrations. How should we handle this?” Dad gets the same request, minus the sympathetic preamble. It’s no guarantee, but it is a start.

As for the shower: A small, informal one needn’t include your stepmother, but if it does, I suggest not serving pies, projectiles or anything warmed on open flames.

Email Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.