Join the debate. Vote Now on the Dear Abby Poll of the week.

by Abigail Van Buren

Accidental Father Discovers Joy in Becoming Involved

DEAR ABBY: I recently read the letter you received from "Joe -- Not My Real Name," the 23-year-old who doesn't want the responsibility of fatherhood after a "few fun flings" with an older woman who got pregnant.

I found myself in the same situation: Someone else made a decision that would affect me for many years. I, however, made the decision to get involved. I could have just stayed away and grudgingly written child support checks. Instead, I decided to develop a relationship with my child.

The last four years have not been easy, but the difficulties have been worth it. I have my daughter about half the time. She is the most precious thing that has ever come into my life. As far as the child support goes, it's expensive, but the relationship means everything to me, and the rest just doesn't matter now.

I'd like to tell "Joe": You got into the game. You chose to play, and these are the cards you've been dealt. If you fold, you lose. If you play fair, you can win big.

Remember, your baby had no choice in this situation. It is not the baby's fault, so don't punish your child for your decision to have unprotected sex and the decision of the woman to keep the baby. You are a dad now, so do your best to be a good one. The rewards are far greater than the sacrifices. -- A HAPPY DAD IN OREGON

DEAR HAPPY DAD: Your letter was a dandy day-brightener. I hope "Joe" sees it and realizes that his story could also have a happy ending if he looks at his situation from a different perspective and decides to be the father his child deserves.

DEAR ABBY: Applause! Thank you for pointing out to "Knows What I'm Doing" that she is, at 21, too old to be seriously involved with a 16-year-old boy. It is the responsibility of adults to control their own behavior so that they don't put children and adolescents in harmful situations.

Too often people dismiss adult women courting teen-aged boys as something to wink at and joke about, when in fact, in some states it would be considered sexual abuse. Regardless of the laws of the state in which they live, "Ben" is still growing, developing and learning the ins and outs of being an adult. The attention of this 21-year-old woman can distort or interrupt his normal path to adulthood.

If the relationship is based on mutual interests and friendships, then she should be adult enough to allow the young man to reach full maturity before putting him in a sexual situation -- such as being alone with her without supervision.

I would ask "Knows What I'm Doing" to think about herself at the age of 16 and reflect on how much she has grown since then. She should also think about the fact that 16-year-old boys (and some girls that age) still need the protection and guidance parents provide. It was immature and irresponsible for the young woman to put "Ben" in the position of challenging or breaking his parents' rules. -- MARGARET CRITES, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, RAPE CRISIS CENTER OF ROBESON COUNTY, LUMBERTON, N.C.

DEAR ABBY: My husband and I are in a heated debate. He believes a candidate always votes for himself (or herself), and would be foolish not to.

I believe that candidates do not vote for themselves out of humility and old-fashioned manners.

Of course, since voting is private, there is no way we could ever find out. We are curious to know how you feel about this issue. -- KERRY REARDON, RIDGEWOOD, N.J.

DEAR KERRY: I cannot imagine anyone who is running for public office voting for the opposition. I would be interested in hearing from those who have run for public office how they cast their ballots.

To receive a collection of Abby's most memorable -- and most frequently requested -- poems and essays, send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby's "Keepers," P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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