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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: In 1985, I met a woman I grew to care for very much. She and her 9-year-old son from a previous marriage moved into my home. Within weeks, without prior discussion with me, she became pregnant and quit her job. For the next four years I supported her, our child and her older son, even though she was collecting child support from her former husband.

After counseling and considerable agony, it became obvious that this woman was a user and incapable of a healthy relationship. She moved out in 1989, and we worked out a joint-custody arrangement for our 3-year-old son "Josh." I was required to pay her $600 a month in child support.

A year later she disclosed that she had been addicted to drugs the entire time we were together. While I supported her son, she had spent his support check on drugs.

During the last seven years, she started, but never completed, several drug rehabilitation programs, and she has frequently uprooted the children as she moved from relationship to relationship and place to place. All the while, I've been paying child support and giving her thousands of dollars besides.

One recent afternoon, she came by my office to pick up the child-support check and mentioned she'd moved in with another boyfriend and was living rent-free. She was proud that Josh finally had a room of his own, but mentioned that he was sleeping on the floor because he didn't have a bed. I said, "Wait a minute ... you've been collecting child support for seven years, living rent-free for the past several months, and Josh is sleeping on the FLOOR? You haven't bought him something as basic as a bed?"

She replied, "I needed that money to square myself away." Then she added, "And you know what? I can spend that money on anything I want and legally there's nothing you can do about it!"

Josh confirmed this on the way home from school later that day, but defended his mom and said, "It's OK, Dad. I have a (borrowed) sleeping bag." It broke my heart. (Josh now has a bed.)

Abby, while a lot of attention is focused on "deadbeat dads," let's be mindful of the fact that the male gender has no monopoly on "deadbeats." -- SINGLE DAD IN SAN DIEGO

DEAR SINGLE DAD: Your son may need more than money and the bed you have provided for him. His mother is hardly a model of responsible behavior. Rather than blaming your ex-girlfriend, you, as the more responsible parent, should be talking with your lawyer about increasing your visitation or obtaining full custody. The more opportunity your son has to live in a healthy environment, the better his chances are for a successful future.

DEAR ABBY: Last year, my daughter had a boyfriend living with her, using her car, etc. His favorite excuse was, "I have no money." He also was smart enough not to have any credit cards. My daughter paid for everything, or charged it on her credit cards. Dinners, clothes, concert tickets, his car repairs -- it went on eight months. Then he left town with a good job offer.

My daughter itemized all she had spent on him, which came to about $3,000. Then she sent him the list. He wrote back saying he hadn't asked her for a thing!

Did she learn her lesson? No, she's now in an identical relationship. She's one foolish person, thinking she has to buy men so they'll like her.

I have talked myself blue in the face telling her that she can't afford all this generosity. I know she's responsible for her own actions, but in my day, the man paid for everything. Any hope for her? -- FRUSTRATED MOM IN DENVER

DEAR FRUSTRATED MOM: Times have changed a bit since your day. Today, many couples share expenses instead of the man bearing the entire burden.

Your daughter, however, has some serious self-esteem issues. Playing the role of "sugar momma" may foster dependence, but it won't buy love. She's making an investment that has a notoriously low return. The money would be far better spent on counseling.

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