Can I trust my boy with him?

This guy really wants to spend time with my son. I'm suspicious and it creeps me out

Published June 22, 2012 12:00AM (EDT)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       (Zach Trenholm/Salon)
(Zach Trenholm/Salon)

Dear Cary,

My wife and I have a terrific little boy. He's extremely bright, imaginative and silly and is loved by all who know him. My wife's sister, who is very close to my wife, has been a crucial figure in raising our son, and loves him nearly as much as we do. We do have serious concerns about her fiancé, however. This man has always been overly fond of our son, but lately his affection has been troubling. He repeatedly offers to baby-sit our son, and nearly insists that the two of them watch him overnight, which we've prevented thus far with polite white lies. We don't have any solid evidence that his intentions are harmful, but our gut feeling is that we should prevent unsupervised contact with this man.

How do we go about dealing with this issue? My wife's sister remains unsettlingly oblivious to her fiancé's behavior. Any attempt to discuss this matter with either of the two of them is going to place an enormous strain on the entire family, and likely will create an irreparable rift between my wife and her sister, in addition to the loss of an important figure in our son's life. Any suggestions?

Concerned Dad

Dear Concerned Dad,

In this transcript of a November 2011 NPR show occasioned by the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse case, a caller makes a useful point. "Joe" was molested at age 12 by a man who had carefully groomed his mother to accept him and trust him. Now, many years later, as a father of a 12-year-old boy, he says, "I've had people ask to take my son to overnight baseball games out of town, people that I would cut my arm off before I thought they'd hurt him, and I said no, not because I'm judging them but because it just shouldn't be done."

His solution has been to assume that one cannot know who a child predator might be, and therefore to adopt a program that does not allow for the possibility of it to occur.

"The important thing -- that I've learned from this as a parent," he says, "is don't make judgments about who you should trust with your child because that would be to blame these people that sent [their kids to] Mr. Sandusky ... It's not that they misjudged him. It's that in today's day and age, especially maybe always, you can't send your child alone or in a situation where he could be alone with another adult even that you trust."

It's a sad testimony to the state of our culture but one backed up by shocking statistics about the prevalence of child sexual abuse.

Logically, I see it like this: Even if this man is completely harmless and your fears are groundless, it will do no harm to keep him away from your son if that is part of a program, rather than an accusation.

However, if this man does have evil intentions, he may manipulate his fiancée into deceiving you. So it makes sense to try and determine if he is truthful. That is not to say you can determine if he is a pedophile. Just try to determine if he is truthful in other areas.

Spend some time alone with this man. Ask him about his childhood, his family, his likes and dislikes. Do his answers seem too pat? Do you feel like you're being conned? Does his story sound too good? Does it seem to contain an element of seduction or sale?

If so, then it might not be completely out of line to consult with a detective. If it's nothing then it's nothing. But if it's something, then you have averted a crime. If he has a record or is operating under an assumed name, a detective would be able to find that out without there ever being any kind of rift with your wife's sister.

If he turns out to be not who he says he is, or if he has a criminal past, then you would be doing her a favor. Otherwise, nothing need be said.

Sounds kind of extreme, but what is the actual harm? If you compare the negligible harm of doing a discreet investigation to the immense harm of exposing your son to possible sexual abuse, it makes sense.

So: To recap, I suggest a two-part program. 1) An iron-clad policy that keeps your son under your control. 2) Find out more about this man.

All this can be done without risking family discord -- unless and until something untoward is discovered.

By Cary Tennis

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