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Dear Uncle Bert and Auntie Gert: should I meet my father?

I'm 35 years old and my parents split up when I was two. I've not heard anything at all about my father until recently when a relative told me that he had been asking about me. When I've asked my mother, she's refused to talk about him. Should I ask the relative to put us in touch? How do you think my mother would respond?

Bert says: No funny or facetious comments here: this is an awful situation that has been increasingly common - and will become even more so - with the advent of throwaway relationships. As the importance of marriage has reduced, as the language of relationships has diluted the sense of commitment (WTF is a "partner" - what's wrong with "husband" and "wife"?) and as breakdowns seem increasingly acrimonious,

It's impossible to give a definitive answer. I can only say that if I were the father I'd have wanted news far before now. My first course of action, in your position, would be to ask the relative how long your father has been asking about you. My second would be to ask the relative if she knows about my father's life in the past 30 odd years.

I think that before you do anything substantive - like talking to your mother and, especially, to your father, you need to find out more.

I'm not scaremongering but what if he was in jail for some horrible crime, or if he behaved badly towards your mother or even towards you, so that cutting off from him was a matter of safety? At this point you just don't know anything.

So my advice would be to ask the relative - and if necessary other relatives that you think might know what happened all those years ago - for more information.

Then, if you are satisfied that there is nothing horrible in the background, talk to your mother first and simply say that you are curious about your father and ask what she can tell you. At that point, even if she becomes upset, you should be strong and press her to tell you the story.

Only then, if you want to, should you contact your father. And even then, you should exercise caution - write, don't phone until you think you have got to know him a bit and don't meet until you are comfortable.

Good luck.

Gert says Bert's right. Get as much information as possible before making any move. You need to know, for example, why you've never had a birthday or Christmas card, or gifts. You need to know what he's been up to: does he have another family?

The gradual drift away from long term relationships that began in the 1970s has undermined the fabric of society and family life. It's too easy to get married and too easy to get divorced. It's ironic that, in many cases,. it's unmarried couples that are the beacon for long relationships.

Bert and I have been together more than 60 years. We've had our ups and downs. But our families counselled fixing the problems instead of leaving a marriage at each difficulty. And you know what? We still hold hands. So I guess that the big question for you is always going to be why your father upped and left not only your mother but you and why the problems could not be resolved.

I hope you are able to find answers to your questions and that once you have those answers you find peace. It sounds awfully like you wanted to find out but always worried about upsetting your mother. Well, with all due respect to her, it's your life every bit as much as it's hers and she has to accept that.

But one word of caution: never, ever ask a question if you think you might not want to know the answer. This might turn out well - but there is always the risk that it will not.

Good luck.

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