Help me deal with my sister's baby daddy's behavior.
December 22, 2012 5:51 PM   Subscribe

I have a problem with my little sister's baby daddy. He's racist, bigoted, irresponsible, and I can see that he's a bad person for my sister and their child. It's driving me crazy, and being around him is breaking my heart. What can/should I do? Warning: some derogatory language within.

I know some people are going to say "butt out" and I will accept those answers, but hear me out first. The story:

My sister, Kate, is an incredibly bright, if not a little misguided, 22-year-old woman. Before she met this dude, she was enrolled in biochemistry pre-med program at a decent local college, happy and young, etc.

Enter, this dude. We'll call him Pete. They met while she was in college. She got pregnant shortly after they met, and upon deciding to have the baby, she dropped out of college and he moved into my parents' house with her.

This was two years ago. Baby will be two in January. Over the last two years of getting to know him, it's become quite clear that he is an unsavory character. A few examples, but keep in mind that there are many examples and I'm just telling you those that are the most salient to me:

-Over the summer, we were all at a relative's wedding having drinks. Pete starts telling a story about how he was driving along and got pulled over. He's complaining about "profiling" (he is a young white male, by the way) on the police officer's part and how the officer was giving him a hard time. And as we're listening to the story, none of it makes sense, so we start saying so. He then reveals that the police officer saw him receiving a large amount of cash (this is in a relatively high crime neighborhood) on a street corner, and that when he was pulled over, he had neither his driver's license with him nor did he have insurance for the car.

-About a month ago, my sister posts on her Facebook wall something innocuous, and someone commented "Fag". I'm pretty outspoken about these things and said something like "wow, who still says that word? how offensive." Enter Peter, who not only defends this person but says that he uses this word all the time as "a joke". He also says that he goes to gay bars all the time and laughs when guys hit on him. The next time we saw him, he was wearing this "Straight" shirt.

-My husband and I hosted Thankgiving this year, and my entire immediate family was there. Before dessert, at around 6pm, my sister said she had to go because Pete had to work that night (thanks, Black friday!) and since he'd been drinking all day, he couldn't drive himself home. If he had not been drinking all day (he specifically said earlier that night that he started drinking at 11am that day with his friends), he could have driven home himself and my sister could have stayed for dessert/games and gotten a ride home from Mom and Dad.

- Another Thanksgiving thing: at the dinner table, a car drove by with a particularly loud muffler and Pete starts going off about "these people" can buy rims from "Paco" down the street and other nonsense. At that point, since it was my house, I shut him down by just saying "Stop, we aren't going to talk about that anymore." He was like "it was just a joke" and mostly stopped at that point, but it was clear he thought I was being oversensitive.

- Today, we all met up to celebrate Christmas. Again, at the dinner table, I was joking around with my nephew (from another sister) and teaching him how to say "toot" (the cutesy word for fart, 'natch). Pete steps in and explains that the older day, his friend dropped a quarter on the ground and Pete exclaimed "Jew! Jew!" at his friend. OF COURSE my niece was there with them, and he joked about how funny it was that she started to repeat "Jew! Jew!" back to him. Then, my niece started to say this word at the dinner table!

I've mentioned my displeasure at his behavior to my mom on several occasions, and she tends to say things like "he's just joking" and making excuses for his behavior. Recently she's gone as far as admit that his behavior is wrong but that "that's how your father was, too," which is a bad excuse. I haven't mentioned it at all to my sister because I don't think she would react well, and I don't want to hurt her or make her feel uncomfortable. I also recognize that my sister is an adult and can make her own decisions, although I really worry that she feels trapped with him (I was once in a relationship where I felt trapped and yeah, it sucks).

I fully realize that the correct answer is probably "butt-out." But is that really it? Can I reach out to my sister and say "Hey listen, I realize that you may not have a problem and if you're totally happy, cool, but know that we are all supporting you if you want to get out of this relationship and that it's an OK thing to do." I feel incredibly selfish about this, but I get so shocked and saddened every time I see my family that I've seriously considered giving an ultimatum to my parents that I won't be there if he's there. I also long for the day when my husband and I move out of the area so I can just "step away" from the situation and really admit that it's out of my control. I think I need some tough love, or maybe some solutions I haven't thought of yet. What say you, Metafilter?
posted by your mom's a sock puppet to Human Relations (47 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
You have a pretty strong opinion about your sister's boyfriend (understandably given your examples), but you know, your entire family was there with the "jew" thing, including presumably your niece's parent, and you don't say how anyone else reacted. If your father was like that, your mother accepts it, your sister doesn't complain about it, and nobody says anything when it's thrown up in their faces at family events ... it's possible your sister's boyfriend isn't the only bigoted racist in the family. Sorry.

I haven't mentioned it at all to my sister

She's your sister. Talk to her.
posted by headnsouth at 5:58 PM on December 22, 2012 [4 favorites]

That's an excellent point, headnsouth! My dad I think grew up at a time where is was more acceptable to have such ideas, but as my mom even admits, he's not like that anymore. Blah blah blah. Not a good excuse, of course, but my dad is now a pretty liberal guy who is cool with gay marriage and voted for Obama and never makes remarks like this ever. I'm totally out as bi to my family, too and have a good relationship with him. I think it's more of a complacency and a fear of confrontation (DEFINITELY a problem in my family).
posted by your mom's a sock puppet at 6:03 PM on December 22, 2012

Pete sounds like a loudmouth, an ignoramus and a boor, but how does he treat your sister and their daughter? You haven't complained about that, so I'm guessing he meets some minimum standard of responsible behaviour where they are concerned. If so, I'd try to keep in mind that at least he's behaving reasonably well in the matters that are the most important, and just try to tolerate him for your sister and niece's sakes. Do call him out on anything he says that's really offensive, but try to do so as politely and tactfully as you can, and to just change the subject as soon as you can.
posted by orange swan at 6:04 PM on December 22, 2012 [6 favorites]

I think your sister already knows all the things you listed here, except that to her, it's her "significant other" not her "baby daddy." You'll be picking a fight you cannot win. Do it if you are ok with any consequence (not being around her and her child in the future is one very probable consequence).
posted by Houstonian at 6:05 PM on December 22, 2012 [9 favorites]

Pete sounds like a detestable human being.

Do you know how anyone other than your mother feels about Pete's behavior? Have you ever said something to your sister like, "So, I feel uncomfortable when Pete makes comments like that about [thing]. How do you feel about them?"

The Thanksgiving driving thing is not at all your business. That's a couples decision that you might not agree with, and you might have wanted to spend more time with your sister that day, but couples decide all the time to split up drinking and driving. You don't need to like that Pete spent his day drinking or that their decision meant that your sister left early, but that's not on Pete.
posted by houseofdanie at 6:09 PM on December 22, 2012 [5 favorites]

Does Pete have a job? Does Pete support your sister and their kid? Does he have plans and schemes, hopes and dreams? Does you sister like/love him? He's not your taste, but so what?If you're not paying those bills, smile and shut up.
posted by Ideefixe at 6:18 PM on December 22, 2012

He sounds like someone I'd never choose to spend time with. I think what you want to tell your sister is a good idea, but I would just lean much harder on the "we will support you no matter what" and maybe try not to make it so obvious that you have contempt for him.

Realistically, he will be in her life for the rest of her child's life unless he completely abandons his child, so there's a limit to what she can do here to maximize her and her child's happiness.
posted by the young rope-rider at 6:19 PM on December 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

If you make her choose between the two of you (or, more accurately, make her feel as IF you are making her choose between the two of you), you will not be the winner.
posted by availablelight at 6:20 PM on December 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh and some of these things sound really nitpicky, sorry. I know what it's like to have to constantly be around an irritating in-law, but it might help to recognize that your feelings here are not necessarily completely objective.

If you've ever seen The Office, Michael totally hates the HR guy, Toby, and basically treats most of the stuff he does as totally horrible no matter how neutral it is. I personally have a Toby (my sister-in-law's boyfriend) and yes, he does annoying things, but I also know that since I plain don't like him I interpret totally normal stuff as HORRIBLE AND BAD. You have to laugh about it a bit because there's no real way to get rid of these kinds of people.
posted by the young rope-rider at 6:22 PM on December 22, 2012 [11 favorites]

Technically he could have taken a cab home from work or maybe received a ride from a friend or taken the bus etc. Your sister chose to leave, just like she chose him. It's probably pretty obvious that you don't like or approve of him, and I don't blame you. But, you have to be careful chastizing people on facebook, or teaching kids words that you think are cute, when other people think 'other things' are cute and funny. I mean it's fine, obviously, but you have to expect fallout when there are differences like that.

You should mention to her that you felt trapped in a relationship once and ask her if she ever feels that way or something similar but more subtle so she could open up to you if she wants to. However, she chose this guy, had a baby with him, stayed with him and left a family function early to be with him. Until she says otherwise, her choice is pretty clear. (I would move too, but with distance comes civility and less stress but also...distance. So less of the nieces and family time that you do enjoy. I would do it, but it's a trade off).
posted by bquarters at 6:23 PM on December 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have That Guy in my family! When we told my sister what we thought of That Guy, she circled the wagons and now barely talks to the rest of us.

Unless you think he is actually abusing her or the child, I would butt out if you want any relationship with her. Either she knows he's a boor and has decided to put up with it, or she actually agrees with his opinions. There is nothing you can do except set your own boundaries in your own home. That Guy knows I won't allow racist or homophobic comments in my home and guess what! They don't come over.
posted by desjardins at 6:28 PM on December 22, 2012 [4 favorites]

Butt out, unless your sister tells you she's unhappy. Concentrate on being a good role model for your niece, as it sounds like she'll need it.

I've been through this too, and if it helps, my loved one did eventually see the light. Hang in there, and be supportive -- keep an eye on the long game (good relationships with your sister and niece) and try not to get caught up in the little skirmishes.
posted by snickerdoodle at 6:31 PM on December 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

A couple people mentioning the driving home after drinking incident: my sister was pretty annoyed about it at the time and even expressed some hopelessness (like, "of course he drank all day!"). And he'd been drinking all night at dinner, too, which meant that he was going to work drunk. This seems like a bad thing to me, but maybe I am too uptight?

My husband agrees with me that his behavior is pretty whack, but of course he's my husband. However, I hardly think "toot" is remotely comparable to "Jew" in the derogatory context. Sorry, but no. I don't think I'm being nit-picky here.

As far as the kiddie, she's really, really violent. Consistently anytime she is around my nephew (roughly the same age), she is punching and hitting him (like really hard, not joking or funny). So much so that they have to keep her separate from him. My sister laughs nervously about it and tries to correct her and Pete makes references of how she's (his daughter) is like a dog in the way he has to control her. No evidence of abuse, of course, but definitely some not-right behavior that frightens the entire family.

But yeah, seems like "butt-out" is the right thing to do, unless there comes a moment where I really think it would be appropriate to say something privately and non-confrontational to my sister. Another part of me just feels that she's just so young, and I remember being that young and how lost I felt sometimes. I can't imagine being in her shoes then, even though I was way more put together than she does now (living on my own, working full time, etc). I'm afraid for her and the baby, but I realize that's just my feeling.
posted by your mom's a sock puppet at 6:44 PM on December 22, 2012

definitely some not-right behavior that frightens the entire family.

I think this is an area where "Butt in" is the correct action. At least have a conversation with your sister about it.

That "like a dog" comment is disturbing. Yuck.

(His other unpleasant behavior isn't ideal, but doesn't in itself warrant you inserting yourself in their family dynamic. The child's aggro behavior, and her father's statement, however, do warrant some question-asking.)
posted by nacho fries at 6:51 PM on December 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

I'm going to say: Butt-in. That shit is detestable and would not fly with me. He's teaching a 2 year old to be anti-Semitic. Not cool. I had a racist, bigoted, hateful father and growing up with that shit is much, much worse than being an adult and just grimacing through it.

But I wouldn't butt-in the way you're probably thinking. Don't rag on him, don't go to your sister and rag on him. Don't make her life any harder than it has to be. From what you're describing, it seems like your sister might feel like she's stuck with him. So you should try and convey that, in fact, she isn't. Be the most supportive sister you can be. Like, over-the-moon, always there for her, wonder-bra supportive. Maybe, hopefully, then she'll realize on her own that she doesn't need that scumbag, and she'll leave. But you trying to make him leave, or trying to make her make him isn't going to work. It's going to have to be something your sister does herself.
posted by FirstMateKate at 7:00 PM on December 22, 2012 [28 favorites]

I like FirstMate's suggestion.
posted by eq21 at 7:13 PM on December 22, 2012

My family had a Pete in it. Well, the guy is still a family member, but he's not very Pete-like anymore.

I'm going to be 40 (!) on my next birthday. I have a 15-year-old son. Pete2 (that's what I'll call mine) and I both married into the same family when I was in my early 20s. He and his wife have children about the same age as my kid. So, we all married and had kids at about the same time.

Back then, Pete2 not only made racially insensitive comments at family gatherings, but on a couple of occasions, outright used a word I can't bring myself to type (one that begins with the letter "n"). This was absolutely SHOCKING to me, as I could not imagine that anyone I liked and trusted (like any of my in-laws) could ever tolerate the presence of a person who would utter such things. They didn't like the comments, either, but chalked them up to his upbringing and his youth.

Pete2 and his wife raised their kids in a drastically different way from the way I chose to raise mine. Actually, they chose methods that I downright believed were wrong and harmful. At one point, in an ill-advised move, I specifically told Pete2 that if he ever spanked his child in front of mine again, the next spanking would be from me to him, and I wouldn't be careful about the audience, either.

When my son was two years old and sported silver nail polish that he'd requested to wear, Pete2's male toddler also requested silver fingertips. Pete2 put a stop to that quickly, claiming that he didn't want to "raise a gay."

ANYWAY. That's a slice of history.

Years passed. And over those years, things changed, mostly a tiny bit at a time. I realized that Pete2 is the father of my niece and nephew, who I love completely. I also realized that I wanted to stay close to those kiddies because their auntie has the right idea about everything in the world and they really should be exposed to that! :P So, I had to spend time with Pete2.

When cars broke down, Pete2 came to rescue people by the roadside and to initiate repairs. When family members of mine (a couple of "removes" from Pete2 himself) died, Pete2 came by to express condolences in his own way. People grow when they're needed.

Pete2 is more curious about things in the world than he'd let on in his earlier years and more willing to ponder other points of view. He used to have a big mouth and a limited education. He still does have a big mouth, kind of. But it turns out that... I'm gay! And despite some of the icky things Pete2 said a long time ago, he's been more than supportive. On the other hand, there were very "sensitive" and "liberal" members of the family who have not been.

None of this helps you decide what to do right this moment, I know. But the fact is, Pete's part of your family now. He's got a tie to your sister for as long as they have a daughter together. You're all pretty young. It's easy to love lovable people. Is there something about Pete you can hang onto right now, to sustain you while you wait for him to grow the hell up? If it's true that your father used to be like him, well, you now have two examples of how It Gets Better.
posted by houseofdanie at 7:20 PM on December 22, 2012 [31 favorites]

You don't have to like him, and he probably doesn't like you - only difference is, he's probably not reluctant to say so. Either way, this really isn't your business... You can say something, but expect to be the one who's not sided with.
posted by blaneyphoto at 7:25 PM on December 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's not your business but don't tell her anything. Tell him directly that he sounds trashy, is offensive, and you hope for the sake of the baby, he tries to meld in better by shedding his trashiness.
posted by discopolo at 7:36 PM on December 22, 2012

Do NOT butt out. This is your sister and your family. That is what family is for to take care of one another. As you describe it sooner or later your sister will need yours and her family's support. Dont try to color this person in her eyes but do keep an eye open. As an aunt, you can guide your sister's kid effectively and give your thoughts/share your thoughts. You do have the right to do that. Just because your sister has a husband does not mean you have lost your role as a sister in her life.
posted by pakora1 at 7:40 PM on December 22, 2012

But yeah, seems like "butt-out" is the right thing to do, unless there comes a moment where I really think it would be appropriate to say something privately and non-confrontational to my sister. Another part of me just feels that she's just so young, and I remember being that young and how lost I felt sometimes. I can't imagine being in her shoes then, even though I was way more put together than she does now (living on my own, working full time, etc). I'm afraid for her and the baby, but I realize that's just my feeling.

I wouldn't ignore these feelings.
But I also wouldn't bring up Pete's behavior with your sister in a way that will make her defensive. Concentrate on strengthening your relationship with her so she knows you're always there for her if she needs anything.
posted by bleep at 7:42 PM on December 22, 2012

houseofdanie, wow, thank you for the inspiring story. I will certainly hold on to "him" in as much as I have to accept him as part of the family. I've kind of promised myself that I would always be the cool/good Aunt and do things like always get them books instead of toys. I'll try to focus on being there for my sister and the baby and focus less on being negative about Pete. And yeah, my eyes are wide open.

(They are not married or engaged; however, they are living together. Just FYI.)
posted by your mom's a sock puppet at 7:42 PM on December 22, 2012

To me, calling someone 'my sister's baby daddy' implies such a level of contempt that I really can't imagine that he and your sister haven't noticed how you feel about him already. Above the fold, I assumed he had knocked her up and ditched her. From the full question, he sounds kind of like a racist dick, sure - one who has moved in with her, presumably works enough to support her and their kid and helps bringing up their child. You couldn't even bother mentioning anything about how he treats your sister or their kid, and you didn't even think of mentioning the actually weird sounding behaviour from their kid? Your priorities surprise me.

Because of the above, I can't imagine you being able to say anything to your sister about 'feeling trapped in a relationship' that won't come straight across as "you know if you left that piece of shit I hate, I'd totally be happy to help you out! You can totally leave him, you know! You do want to leave him, right?!" and the likely outcome would be her closing you out.

If you are confident that your sister actually has no idea that you think her partner is not a good choice, then you have a little more leeway. But be careful you're not overestimating your own subtlety.
posted by jacalata at 8:02 PM on December 22, 2012 [12 favorites]

My sister is married to a dude that I can only call a Pete; racist, super conservative, hate how he talks to his kids, etc. etc. I met his dad and you can see where he got it.

I don't like the guy, BUT, they appear to like each other,'s her life. You can't really butt in unless abuse or lawbreaking is taking place, and even then, it's hard.

When you were a kid, didn't you have relatives like Pete? Uncle So and So, Aunt Such n Such, who said offensive things or were fighty or drank too much, etc etc? This stuff happens in families. Sometimes these marriages break up, sometimes they don't. I personally am fucking amazed at the couples I know who scream and fight and appear to be miserable but stay married anyway. You can never know what really drives these things.

The only people who could really shake things up are your parents, if they force the family to move out. And even that, not so much.

Also, younger siblings very often resent older siblings bossing them around or telling them they are making mistakes (even if they are). It triggers the "fuck you, you're not the boss of me," attitude (I do this with my older brother). You do come off like you look down on your sister and think she's being dumb. And maybe she is. But that's not going to help her. She needs your respect as well as your support; she needs to know that you are proud of her and believe in her. If you can work on that part of your relationship with her, you might also come to understand a little more about why she's with Pete and why she stays with him. At the very least, she will know that you're not judging her.
posted by emjaybee at 8:06 PM on December 22, 2012

Agreed that "baby daddy" is a term of disrespect toward all involved: the child, the mother, and Pete. I'm assuming you don't use that term to describe Pete to *anyone* in real life. (Right?)
posted by nacho fries at 8:09 PM on December 22, 2012 [5 favorites]

Some of these are pretty petty. If a piece of evidence for the position of "he's a bad person for my sister and their child" is "just look what he wrote on Facebook!", congratulations! You have scraped the bottom of the grievances barrel.

Pete sounds like a boor and not a person I would care to see socially, but he is a boor that your sister was incredible smart enough to make a baby with. Most families have at least one boorish, wacky, or off-kilter members. I never know what my mother's brother is going to say - not too long ago, he gave a talk about how slavery was good for slaves because the slaves were employed. (he says these things cluelessly without the slightest malice) But, we all know he has had mental illness since puberty so we exchange glances across the table and try not to crack up when Uncle blurts out his latest corker. And, we all know that he is a salt-of-the-earth type, an ethical vegan and having been late or missed more than one holiday gathering because he was helping a stranded motorist or some other stranger in the distress.

And that is I think the real issue. Is the boor good to your sister and niece? Does he support them? Is he abusive in any way? I find it telling that your examples totally lack any mention of mistreatment of your sister or niece. How he treats them is how you decide if he is "bad for them" not "hey he told a weird story about being pulled over".
posted by Tanizaki at 8:29 PM on December 22, 2012 [4 favorites]

Some toddlers hit. Your sister tries to correct it. I don't really see this as frightening behavior at all.

Look, he sounds like a bit of a jerk and a fool, and also like he is very inarticulate, but I think much of this is just you being unhappy that your sister has a life that you think she's too good for. And she very may well be too good for it, but it's her life now and to some extent, she freely chose it. Accepting that fact instead of perceiving her as a victim will do wonders for your sanity.
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:29 PM on December 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

If this guy is teaching your niece to be homophobic and anti-Semitic, it's past time somebody spoke up and called him out for his behavior instead of making excuses for him.

Even if he didn't have a child to impress these views upon like they are funny, your family is just going to tolerate that in their home? Really?

Also what was he doing receiving a large amount of cash on a street corner while driving with no insurance and no license, exactly? What if he is at fault in an accident and becomes responsible for paying a lot of money in a settlement with the other party? I doubt that is the kind of thing your father would do.

If he's saying rather ignorant but vague comments about "those people," that's not cool either but it seems to me the direct, obvious slurs and driving around with no license/insurance (is that still happening??) are really issues your family should take seriously and I would encourage them to do that.
posted by citron at 8:41 PM on December 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Your sister made a bad decision, and she just has to live with it until she makes the decision to leave. That said, it's fully possible for you to hasten that decision.

I would not recommend saying anything to her right now, as my experience is that cognitive dissonance usually causes people in these situations to rationalize their actions, along the lines of: "Did he really say that? Did I drop out of college to marry a racist loser and possible white supremacist? No... I can't have done that. That would make me the stupidest person in the world - one of those idiot women you see on MTV who throws their life away. I can't be one of those people. I'm not one of those people. Therefore Pete is a good guy. Yes, he must be a good guy, because the alternative is too unthinkable to consider." This is not logical, but people are often irrational, and in situations of cognitive dissonance they will project their inner voice of self-doubt onto people who voice similar questions, thus externalizing their inner doubts in a subconscious attempt to make them easier to attack. The end result is that your sister will probably "circle the wagons" and react aggressively to you.

I think that a better approach would be to just check in with her regularly, ask how she's doing, and make her feel comfortable expressing her concerns and worries to you. At a certain point, her concerns about Pete will grow to the point where she expresses a lack of confidence in her relationship. At that point - once she brings up her concerns - you have the opportunity to break them up. Don't immediately go for the throat and tell her she should leave him - instead, delicately cultivate her doubts, like a gentle gardener. Be sympathetic and say you've had similar concerns about Pete, but that you respect her choices. Then, over time, mention some of the really nice things your husband does for you. When you hear indirectly through the grapevine of some dick move Pete made, make sure that the first thing she hears is something wonderful that your husband did, or that a mutual friend's boyfriend did for her. The idea is to hold up a standard of male behavior that Pete cannot live up to and normalize that standard in your sister's head, so that she gets more and more frustrated with him. Then, when she has a very emotional moment, let her know that if she wants to break up with him, you and your family will provide all the support she needs, such as a place to stay, help with the baby, financial assistance, etc.

... You will provide all of those things, right? When you say that you're willing to support your sister, we're not just talking "emotional support" here, right? Because if you're not ready to take on a very large burden, then I am going to change my answer and suggest you butt out.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 8:52 PM on December 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

First, I should mention that I am very strongly against that language/behaviour, so my answer is pretty biased.

Having said that, I'm firmly in the camp of "if someone says something that offends you, you have the right to call them on it, but don't expect them to agree or change because of it."

If you want to disagree with him, or say that you're offended, go for it. You have the right to politely* state your opinion, even in regard to your sister's partner. What you don't have the right to is "fixing" him. All you can do is voice your discontent.

*I am not suggesting that you start a huge dramatic argument. There is a difference between politely saying "I find your language/behaviour to be highly offensive/inappropriate" before leaving the room to go speak with someone else, and "SCREW YOU, YOU %&$#".

Someone has to break the silence and call people on their asshattery. Someone has to be the person who repeatedly reminds him that his language/behaviour isn't socially acceptable until he feels ostracised enough to, at the very least, stop doing it when family is around.

Now, if you openly stand up to him and your family doesn't back you up, or backs him up, or really can't see how he is behaving inappropriately, then that is a whole other post waiting to happen.
posted by Shouraku at 8:55 PM on December 22, 2012 [4 favorites]

I don't think it's outside the bounds to have a conversation with your sister about her boyfriend. I think you can do it in a kind and sincere way with an emphasis on listening to her thoughts. Your first questions ought to be: is he good to her? Is she happy with him? Do the two of them need any help? (Of any kind: babysitting, cooking, budgeting, etc..) You can tell her, "You know, sometimes Pete really rubs me the wrong way and I don't always deal with it well. I'm trying to be better about that." And, you know, try that for real.

While I do not think you should tolerate anti-Semitic remarks or homophobia or general nasty and boorish behavior, I think you need to come up with some strategies ahead of time to handle this stuff in a classy and non-escalating way. With the "jew, jew" crap I think you could have looked extremely puzzled, looked him in the eye and said, "I do not understand at all what that could mean." Then change the topic or suggest niece help you find a cookie in the kitchen.

Here's the thing: you can't get this guy out of your sister's life. She's a grown-up. They have a child together. You can limit your contact with him a bit, you can change the dynamic of the get-togethers (how about brunch?) and you can moderate your reaction to him. Don't give up on your principles but hold close to your heart that your sister is your sister forever. If you are committed to that relationship and the one where you are an awesome aunt to your niece, I think you'll find your answers.

Best of luck. I know this is hard.
posted by amanda at 8:57 PM on December 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

If it were me, I would tell my sister Pete was no longer welcome in my house. I do not let people who make racist or homophobic jokes in my house, family or not.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:13 PM on December 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

Apologies to those I offended with the term "baby daddy". I don't refer to him as this at all "IRL"; it was just a matter of trying to define the relationship, as in that they are not married/engaged but that they are a couple with a child.

My husband and I are totally respectful and mute as far as any and all of these complaints are concerned, except the one time I mentioned when he was in our home. I have definitely never talked about this with anyone but my mom, and that's just to say that some of his comments had bothered me. I didn't really make that clear, sorry. But I'm not afraid to say that I don't like him. I think I have a right feel that way, considering his behavior. As I said, we're not seething or out rightly rude to him. We interact with him, and we are mature adults who have enough life experience to be around people we don't like and be fine with that. And I think I've been very sensitive in regard to my feelings about the situation and realize that they could just be that... my feelings, and that there is likely nothing to be done but care for my sister as I would anyway. I asked for tough love, but not a lecture on how I'm a careless, know-it-all, busy bee out to ruin my sister's relationship. That the furthest from what I want. I have never expressed my displeasure to her about him. Not at all. I just don't know how he treats her other than what I've seen.

Amanda, wonderful advice! Thank you. I'm always trying to have brunch with her!
posted by your mom's a sock puppet at 9:20 PM on December 22, 2012

I just don't know how he treats her other than what I've seen.
posted by your mom's a sock puppet

THIS is the most important reason why you should mind your own business, instead of your sister's.
posted by blaneyphoto at 9:44 PM on December 22, 2012 [4 favorites]

your sister probably thinks he's funny. he didn't ruin her. he didn't make her drop out. he didn't make her keep the child. she chose all of those things and to invite him into her parents house. if you really search the reasons you're mad at him, you might find her choices are the things that really frustrate you, but you're trying to be supportive and cool. don't take away her agency in your mind just because he's a jerk.

and, yeah, with the rest of your disdain, calling him her baby daddy is pretty disrespectful. he's her partner and father of their child and they live together - that's how you classify the relationship. baby daddy can mean that he has no relationship with the mother (and sometimes that he has no real relationship with the kid) - something that doesn't seem to apply here. you seem really hung up on the fact that they aren't married, but that's not really your business.

keep calling out the dumb shit he says - don't bunker down into an argument - be a good role model for your niece, keep close with your sister, and don't set up a situation where it's you vs him because that will turn into you vs them.
posted by nadawi at 11:20 PM on December 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

It's only a matter of time until he leaves your sister's life. It might be a better idea to work on building up a trusting relationship with her so that it will make it easier to dump this guy.

It sounds like they still live at your parents' house, which is totally crazy. It's sort of the anti-Archie Bunker. If so, your parents are facilitating this guy's behavior.

Anyway, focus on your sister and helping her, not some guy who will be a memory in the near future (ie, within the next five years).
posted by KokuRyu at 11:31 PM on December 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Butt out.

Sorry, but there's no good outcome here. Trust her.
posted by Sebmojo at 12:53 AM on December 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

You don't have to put up silently with people using racist and homophobic slurs; you can say something when he does it. My preference is to let him know what you think out of hearing of the kids, and later tell your own kids that it's wrong to use such language. And don't get into public shaming and fights on Facebook. Unfollow and unfriend him and pretend he is not on Facebook at all, and your sister too, if necessary.

I think you should keep lines of communication open with your sister. My sister is married to a guy people have had a lot of problems with. One day she confessed to me that he doesn't treat her very well. I could see it cost her a lot to admit it, and that my obvious disapproval of him made her think I also disapproved of her. And it definitely caused the two of them to "circle the wagons" as someone put it in an earlier post. She got more and more cut off from the rest of us by feeling in a position of having to choose. She's still with the guy, for reasons I don't completely understand, but we are a lot closer now.

Another thing: kids are very very aware of these kinds of rifts in the older generation. They know who the black sheep is, who is considered the family failure and who has used or abused power. They are also not dumb about how childhood rivalries and pecking orders contribute to current behavior. Your sister's daughter may already feel like a second-class citizen at family gatherings, because of who her father is.
posted by BibiRose at 5:23 AM on December 23, 2012 [4 favorites]

I agree with the butt out crowd. Wall off the person's behavior and your sister's choices in your mind as not being your domain, concern or responsibility. Your sister is an adult with legal and moral responsibility for her own choices, not you.
Build your relationship with your sister as best you can. If she ever brings up the topic of her relationship or asks for your help, then feel free to do so. Otherwise, be there for her as a friend and emotional support. Otherwise, work on moving on from your perfect pictures of how your sister's life should proceed. Clearly that's not happening.
As for Pete, treat him with the same ethics you would treat any person in your home or life, no differently. Don't disparage him behind his back and stay open to the possibility of positive change.
posted by diode at 7:27 AM on December 23, 2012

Yeah, I echo the "butt in" advice given. My little sister dated a Pete (I set them up in high school, whoops!), married a Pete, and then procreated a Pete. My family, who is not the type to keep their mouths shut refused to keep our mouths shut. It's been said that he'll most likely be gone in a few years anyway but it was also said (upthread) that you can facilitate this happening sooner.

Look, we were constantly on my sister about her Pete. 7 years they were together and nearly every day of those years she was reminded by those that loved her that she deserved better than Pete and that Pete was a giant...uh, piece of work. It was hard, probably most for her, because she loved this guy and was convinced he could change and she felt like she had to choose between him or her family but in reality, we were all right. I get that this isn't about being right so much as helping your sister (who too deserves better, it seems, as does their child) but I don't see anything wrong with pointing out to her that Pete is a racist, homophobic jerk. Also, the being drunk before work? Yeah, that's uncool. I don't get overly sensitive about parents drinking in moderation with family or around their children but actually getting drunk in front of them and then going to work?! I mean, Jesus.

You're not overreacting here. She made a poor decision in choosing a partner and that happens. It doesn't mean she's a bad person or stupid (and THIS, you should frequently point out to her) but it does mean that something she feels about herself makes her think this man is suitable. My sister never asked for our opinion (because she likely knew it) but you bet your ass she got it because we loved her and saw her Pete for what he was. It took YEARS and there were bad times when I didn't see my nieces for a couple weeks because she was angry at me. We lived together twice and both times she broke our lease and left me hanging to go back to this ass. It was a mess and everyone was involved but...

In the end, she left her Pete. She hated us for a bit here and there but she'll happily tell you now that if not for her family's prodding, she'd have never left and she's so much better off without that dude in her life. Yeah, we all butted in to the max which no one of the green ever really seems to advocate but at least for our family, it started to stick eventually and we consistently get thanks from my sister for helping to save her from a life of shit with her Pete.

I am not you and I (obviously) don't know your family but I'm sorry, as her family sometimes it is okay to step in and say something. You'll never change Pete so I'd stop dealing with him altogether, as much as you can, but you can change your sister's mind out of love for her.
posted by youandiandaflame at 7:37 AM on December 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

One thing you can do for your sister is very strongly encourage her to get back in school. There was no reason she had to drop out because she was pregnant, but its not too late now, and the sooner she gets back into it, the better, and the more options she'll have when it's time to leave Pete. (My sister stayed in school and worked full time throughout her pregnancy, and is still in school and working now that my nephew is 18 months. It is doable.)
posted by catatethebird at 7:49 AM on December 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

Yes, totally, encourage her to go back to school. She'll find someone else easily enough.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:38 AM on December 23, 2012

7 years they were together and nearly every day of those years she was reminded by those that loved her that she deserved better than Pete

With family like this, who needs enemies? People divorce even when their family thinks someone is "perfect for you!" And when your family is that clearly set to undermine your relationship, which has the under-message of: your judgment is flawed and we know better than you how to run your life, your family is never REALLY there for you. You can't talk to them because it's like talking to a born-again Christian- every conversation is a potential opportunity to press a point. Pressuring someone to toe the family line is some conditional-as-shit love, right there.

I have dated a few Petes. Here are some things I liked about them:
-What they feel is what they say.
-They don't usually hold with "holier than thou."
-They show up when you need something
-They don't tell you why you shouldn't have been in that position in the first place, or if they do, it's in a silly way
-When you do something dumb they'll laugh at you and then tell you a story about how they did something dumber.
-They will give you their last dollar and a ride
-They will drive all night to pick up a friend stranded two states over.
-Basically they are a welcome relief after a family of high-expectations and judgment, and secrets, and trying to make everything LOOK a certain way, and they tended to roll with the punches instead of trying to organize the universe so that the punches never come (which they will anyway). I'm not explaining that well, but they feel very in-the-now.

Be careful that you aren't putting your sister in a position of feeling like she has to put up a perfect front because you're adding to your case against Pete. (I wonder if that's part of her nervous laughter about her baby hitting?) Pete did not make her get pregnant, did not make her drop out of school, did not make her leave dinner to pick him up, etc. Those are all on her, and if she's happy, she chose correctly.

As to the drinking on the job? I don't like it either, especially if it leads to him being less able to fulfill his responsibilities as a father. But if he's working Black Friday he's probably got a job where he's a cog in the machine and they don't treat him as valuable. Hell, he might as well get some joy out of Black Friday by having a few throughout the day with his coworkers. I can't get too high and mighty about someone not giving 100% to Target (or whatever evil retailer).

It sounds like there are come class-related culture clashes going on here, with your upwardly mobile family clashing with his unabashedly blue collar style.

Definitely call out the stuff you don't like (Jew? WTF? No bigotry in MY house, buddy!) but then let it go. (Til the next time, anyway.)

Also, some babies hit and bite. It doesn't mean they're being abused and parents get to their wits' end trying to figure out how to stop it (consult askme for examples).

And baby-daddy is a phrase that means they aren't a couple any more but still share a kid.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:42 AM on December 23, 2012 [17 favorites]

If I were youandiandaflame's sister, we would be estranged by now, which is a risk to consider.

I think the "straight" T-shirt is funny, and from your examples it sounds like his bigotry isn't deep-seated, it's just habit, which means it'll probably change over time if you stay firm about not putting up with it in your presence.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:48 AM on December 23, 2012

I'm scrolling past the comments because I can tell you that I totally, completely, utterly sympathize with your situation. I have a bright, ambitious little sister who was also derailed by an unsavory character. Keep her in your life. That's all the advice I have. If she loves him and you continue to criticize him, you WILL lose her.
posted by nubianinthedesert at 11:55 AM on December 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Be careful in what you say to your sister about him. Keep in mind that he MIGHT be around for the rest of your lives, and she will remember what you say if you say something negative about him, because it will be hurtful to her.

I've been there and I wish I hadn't tried to intervene on the relationship, because the person I love has never really forgiven me for it, even though she eventually did break up with him. I felt I had to say something in that situation because he ended up doing something that was extremely hurtful towards me personally, not just a general offense or behavior/words I didn't like. I refused to see him after that and thus I didn't get to see her for years afterwards because they were always together. Our relationship never recovered. I am very sorry to have lost her from my life.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 12:11 PM on December 23, 2012

I can understand why you don't like Pete but if you're disapproving and critical, I don't think it's going to make your sister want to break up with him. It's more likely to make her feel defensive and try to prove you wrong.
Try to be concerned about him because he's the father of your sister's child.Since what he does effects both your sister and child, try to encourage and appreciate when he does good things like helping support his kid and staying around. He sounds like a lot of young guys who like to be shock/give people smack downs.
If you can find reasons that this makes his life worse, you've got a way to encourage him to change. For all the slurs, one way it effects him is his child hears it and will repeat it. Tell him you're worried she'll say something she shouldn't in school, play dates or where ever and she'll get in trouble with teachers or have some other kid get angry and she could end up being an outcast. He probably doesn't care that much if you approve of his views but he probably cares how it affects his kid.
People respond better to positive reinforcement. Use this to your advantage. Encourage him to become the person you want, find the ways it benefits him and the ones he loves. He's always going to be your niece's dad. Try to help him help himself. It benefits all of you.
posted by stray thoughts at 12:47 PM on December 23, 2012

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