Ask Amy: A 50-year lie needs to be corrected

Dear Amy: For the past 50 years, I have lied that I was in the military and served in Vietnam.

I’m now 71. I want to come clean with my son/family.

I ran away from a bad home life at 13 and lived on the streets. It was horrible. I was beaten up and sexually attacked. I tried to commit suicide twice.

My self-esteem was so low for many years. It still is.

I met a woman (she was older than me) and we had a son.

I believe this is around the time when I started lying that I had been in the military.

I was drafted for the army during the Vietnam War, but didn’t pass the physical.

I felt ashamed and embarrassed.

So, later on when guys got together and started telling war stories, I joined in with mine. Lies. I kept telling more lies to cover the first one.

I’m so afraid my son and grandson would be so disappointed in me for lying for so long.

Also, my health is not that great, and I’m scared that if something happens, my son will go to the VA for help.

I don’t want him to find out that way.

I have never used my lie to gain anything from the VA. I kept this lie within my family, but of course they told others which made my lie worse.

I want them to know the truth but don’t want to lose them or be looked at as a liar and disrespected for the rest of my life.

Can you help?

– Living a Lie

Dear Living: I think it’s vital that you understand that the most important respect you can earn is self-respect. The way to gain more respect for yourself is to understand your original motivations for this lie, and choose to make things right.

Telling the truth now will be hard to do, but it will liberate you from the burden you’ve been carrying. The truth will also liberate your son from unknowingly perpetuating this lie later on.

Telling the truth now is also the right thing to do for the many thousands of men who served during the Vietnam War, and who have oftentimes suffered because of their service.

The way to have a hard conversation is to preface it by stating: “This is very hard for me to say. I’m worried about your reaction. I hope you will understand, and I hope you will find a way to forgive me for what I’m about to tell you.”

My own reaction to reading your story is one of understanding and compassion. If you tell the truth with humility and without becoming defensive – and if you accept the consequences of your disclosure, this act of personal bravery should inspire those who care about you to forgive you and move forward.

Dear Amy: Every year, we host an exchange teacher’s aide from Latin America, as part of our child’s elementary school dual language program.

Our current exchange guest is a 22-year-old man who has less means than we do.

He has given us unsolicited gifts; these are souvenirs from American cities and theme parks he’s visited. A very kind gesture to be sure, and we thanked him.

That said, some are trinkets that we do not want, and would likely throw out.

I believe they would be meaningful mementoes for him to bring home.

Is there a way to politely give them back to him before he leaves in a few months?

– Polite Parents

Dear Parents: Even though your motive is kind, no, I don’t believe there is a polite way to give back these gifts. Doing so would highlight all the wrong things, including the fact that you don’t want these tokens.

Also, please don’t throw these things out. After the teacher’s departure, you could photograph the collection and send him the photo with a letter: “We thought you would enjoy this reminder of all of your adventures!” After that, you could donate these trinkets to Goodwill.

Dear Amy: Responding to “Torn in Wisconsin,” who was worried about her unemployed drop-out son’s lack of motivation, after a month living with us, I gave our “home from college” son the car keys and said, ”Don’t come home without a job.”

Ten years later he’s managing a car dealership and doing quite well.

He admits it was the best thing I ever told him to do.

– C in Wisconsin

Dear C: Short, to the point, and effective. Good for you!