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Dear Abby: I am concerned about my niece. She’s 18 and a senior in high school. Her father — my younger brother — is incarcerated and has been for 13 years.

Our families have been alienated, but I’m trying to reach out to my niece. Although she has been hesitant to get close, we’ve had a couple of face-to-face visits during the past year. She is needy for family, and I know her mother has been overwhelmed having had to raise her on her own.

Long story short, my niece has been dating — for the second time — a man her father’s age. She lives a few hours away, so most of what I see is on social media. I don’t understand how this man thinks it’s OK. My niece looks like she’s only 13. It makes me cringe, yet I feel this isn’t my business or within my power to change. You can tell me this is none of my business and I should just walk away, but my niece is vulnerable and I’m worried about her.

Worried Aunt in Texas

Dear Worried Aunt: Your niece may be vulnerable in your opinion, but she is also 18. She may have father issues that need to be ironed out, but considering the man has been absent since she was 5, that’s not surprising.

I agree that this isn’t within your power to change. My advice is to be there for her when she will allow it, be as supportive as you can, resist the urge to try to fill a parental role and do a lot of listening.

Dear Abby: I am 64. When I was an insecure 15-year-old, I liked showing off for my two best friends. We often made fun of other kids behind their backs. With them, my smart mouth got me the attention I craved.

One day I slipped up and whispered something too loudly. The girl heard what I said about her, and the stricken look on her face told me how much it hurt.

I looked for her at our 20th reunion wanting to apologize, but she was absent. I wish I could take back what I said, but I can’t. However, I have spent the last 49 years trying to be kind to others to make up for it.

If there are people who read your column who remember a stinging remark that was aimed at them, please let them know that some of us regret it very much. I hope they find forgiveness so they can be free of bitterness and hurt. I am truly sorry.

Miss Smart Mouth

in Oklahoma

Dear Miss Smart Mouth: I’m glad you wrote because I’m sure more than one reader has been the target of unkind remarks at one time or another, and even may have made a few themselves. An apology to your classmate was definitely in order, even if 20 years late. Too bad the woman wasn’t around to hear it.

I’ll share something with you a trial lawyer once told me. He said, “You can’t unring the bell.” What he meant by it was that a judge can instruct a jury to “disregard that statement,” but once something is out there, it’s very hard to erase from memory. The context may be different, but it applies to relationships, too.

Contact Dear Abby at DearAbby.com or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069.

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