SparkNotes Blog

Auntie SparkNotes: A Dad By Any Other Name

Dear Auntie SparkNotes,

Hi there, how are you? Let me start off saying how much I adore your column. So, here is my problem. A few years ago my parents got divorced, but that’s not the problem. And since then, my mom has found a boyfriend. Let’s call him Fred. Currently Fred lives with us. However, he and my mom are common law partners, so they are not exactly married. This I am fine with as well. But the thing is, I haven’t told anyone about my situation. Most of my friends don’t even know my parents are divorced.

When they ask me why I only live with my mom, I say that my dad is in another country (which is true). This “truth” I’m not telling is not harmful really, but it’s getting hard to keep hiding Fred. He is after all, becoming a family member and almost a second father, and I feel bad for not telling my friends about him. I’m scared of inviting my friends over in case they see Fred and say, “who is he?” Now, Auntie, you might say, “Well, just tell them he’s your mom’s boyfriend.” But my friends are not that… familiar with these things, especially since my mom and I are immigrants and Fred is of another ethnicity. And even when I say he’s my mom’s boyfriend, what’s his relation with me? He’s not a step-father, I don’t think, since he’s not married to my mother.

Another thing about my problem is that one of my closest friends said she “doesn’t believe in divorce”. I’m not sure what she means because I haven’t asked her. But she is quite traditional in her beliefs in marriage, etc. I don’t know how she would react with my situation. I doubt she’ll un-friend me forever, but I don’t want to make her feel uncomfortable and let her know that I have lied to her for all this time. Also, this friend has asked to go to my house many times, but I have to continue to say no because of Fred being at home. I have been hiding Fred for three years now, and I don’t want to do it anymore. So, how should I tell my friends, or if I should tell my friends at all? Will my friends be angry at me? And what exactly is Fred’s relation with me?


Let me just get this out of the way: nonwithstanding the fact that of course you should tell people about Fred, I’m dying—dying!—to know how you’d have proposed going about the process of keeping his existence a secret for the rest of your life. A series of disguises? A secret passageway in which to conceal him? Or maybe: “Oh, that guy? He’s… um… the butler. Yeah, the butler! And… what? Oh… uh, yeah, where I come from, butlers always sleep in the same bed as the head of the household. SHUT UP YES THEY DO.”

Basically, the existence of a member of your family—which, clearly, Fred is—is not the kind of thing you can successfully sweep under the rug. (Or at least, not without it backfiring; see “Jane Eyre” for a prime example.) And so the question now is not if you should tell your friends that you have a sorta-step-dad in the picture, but when and how.

The bad news: after three years of lying by omission, there’s no way that the revelation isn’t going to be at least a little bit awkward. I mean, divorced parents? Interracial relationships? These things are so common! And so not a big deal! And unless I’m missing something, there’s nothing “unfamiliar” about the concept of two adults who are in love and living together, no matter what the ethnic makeup of the parties involved. So while your friends probably won’t be angry, they may be fairly baffled that you were so embarrassed to just admit that your folks are among the 50% of married couples for whom it didn’t work out. And since the reality of divorce isn’t in question like it is for, say, ghosts or fairies, I’m guessing that even the friend who doesn’t “believe” in divorce is nevertheless hip to the fact that it’s an Actual Thing. (Although for the record, if she’s “uncomfortable” with it, then it’s up to her to man up and deal. Your family is nothing to be embarrassed about!)

And now, here’s your plan: sooner rather than later, invite your friends for a long overdue visit to your house. And before they come over, just casually drop the news: “I should have explained this, like, three years ago? But my parents aren’t just living separately; they’re divorced, and my mom has a boyfriend who lives with us. So if you see a dude in the house, that’s Fred.” Just be direct and matter-of-fact—and don’t treat this like some kind of confusing or embarrassing revelation, because hello, it isn’t. Your parents split up, and your mom found love with someone else. Happens all the time! And since your friends will be taking their cues from you, the only reason they’ll wig out about it is if you act like it’s something wig-out worthy.

And as for what technical term would best describe Fred’s relationship to you… Semi-stepper? Pseudofather? Not-Dad, But Not Bad? You’re right, there is no official word for it—but let me be the first to suggest that really, you don’t need one. Because it’s not what you call the relationship that’s important; it’s that you’ve got a relationship, and it’s a good one. And when it comes to the unique dynamics of your blended family, that’s all that matters.

Have you ever hidden your family situation from friends? Tell us about it in the comments! And to get in touch with Auntie, email

Related post: Auntie SparkNotes: The Secret Lives of Stepsisters