Dear Dr. Wallace:
I’m 18 and dating a nice guy who is 20. We are very close and care for each other very much. So far over the 10 months we’ve been together, we have enjoyed each other’s company and senses of humor very much!
The problem is that his dad is in prison, and he visits his dad every Sunday for about two hours. He had never invited me to meet his father during the first several months of our relationship, but now that we are pretty steady together, he actually invited me to go with him on a future visit. The problem is that I am kind of “creeped out” to meet his dad for the first time in a prison. I have never been to a prison, even as a visitor, in my life. It’s not that I am sheltered or a prude, but I do have this little voice in the back of my mind telling me to stay away from there for now.
I did ask my boyfriend what his dad did to get himself in there, and all he said was “white-collar crime.” I looked that up on the internet and came to understand that it likely means his dad did some business crime or committed fraud of some sort. He apparently did not injure anyone physically, but he took money or cheated on a business deal or something related to that.
What I would like to know from you is whether or not I should visit his father in prison. I understand he will be there for another five to seven years, as he was sentenced to eight to 10 years about three years ago.
Also, since his dad did something very wrong — at least in society’s eyes — should I be suspicious of my boyfriend’s character since he has some of the same DNA as his father? So far, my boyfriend has been great and has done nothing I disapprove of. Many people, even several adults, in our town like my boyfriend and treat him well.
— Creeped Out Girlfriend, via email
Dear Creeped Out: Since your boyfriend’s father will likely remain in prison for several more years at the least, I feel you have no need to rush into this decision. Thank your boyfriend for the offer to visit his father; tell him you’ll think about it carefully for now, but you would like to hold off going with him until you reach a final decision. You may feel differently in time, but for now, I would listen to your inner voice. However, do give some serious thought to actually visiting at some point in the future. Have your boyfriend tell you about his father’s good qualities and what it was like growing up in the family’s house when your boyfriend was very young. Hearing these stories may humanize his father to you and ease some of your apprehension over time. You may feel differently a few months or a year from now. Keep an open mind. Your boyfriend obviously is proud enough of you to wish to introduce you to his father. Keeping in touch with his father is a big deal to your boyfriend; do support him in continuing his visits.
And as to your “DNA connection” worries: Absolutely do not assume anything bad at all about your boyfriend. He is his own man, who lives his own life and makes his own decisions.
His father’s mistakes should not be held against him at all. He is no more or less likely to do something wrong than any other young man in your city, and you already know he has earned the respect of many people in your community. Think of him based solely on his own personality, actions and personal integrity. Do not factor in his father’s transgressions at all.