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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I am a divorced man with two terrific kids, ages 6 and 8. During the past year, my ex-wife married a man whose previous wife passed away from cancer. "Roger" has two young girls from his first marriage. I am pleased that my ex-wife has found someone with whom I feel comfortable, and who seems to care for my children as well as his own.

Because their mother is deceased, Roger's children refer to my ex-wife as their mother, not their stepmother. I understand that, but now my children have begun calling Roger "Dad." Before the marriage, they called him by his first name. They call me "Daddy," but I am never sure whether it is me or their stepfather they are referring to when they say "Dad."

I love my children with all my heart and am very involved in their lives. I never miss their plays, recitals, games, etc. I respect and acknowledge their stepfather's position, but I feel it is confusing and improper for my children to refer to him as "Dad." Please tell me what you think. I value your opinion. -- REAL DAD IN JEW JERSEY

DEAR REAL DAD: Your children have found a way to accommodate you and their new family. While the terms may seem uncomfortably similar to you, if you asked them, I'm sure they could reassure you that they have distinct definitions of "Dad" and "Daddy." As long as you remain actively involved in their lives, you will always be their No. 1 Daddy. Treasure that, and allow Roger to have his place.

DEAR ABBY: I object to your advice to the mother who regrets how she treated her 18-year-old daughter in the past, and said she was feeling suicidal. You advised her to "pick up the telephone and tell your doctor exactly how you are feeling."

I am a family physician who gets far too many of these phone calls now. If someone wants substantial attention from a physician, an appointment should be made. Most of us have no time to give to callers, and it's not fair to promote us as a mental health hot line, particularly for chronic problems. (This woman's main problem seems to be taking responsibility for her actions; she needs to do more than emote to someone on the phone about her misery.)

It's also interesting that you suggest "medical help" can quickly fix her problem. No antidepressant relieves one of stepping up to the plate and accepting the fallout for failures in the essential challenges of life. I know we're living in an age of medicalization of behavioral issues, but beware of deceiving your readers by suggesting an easy fix!

I cannot sign this because some of my patients might think I lack compassion for them in similar circumstances, which is wrong. -- A DOCTOR IN MICHIGAN

DEAR DOCTOR: I advised the suicidal woman to talk to her doctor because I assumed her doctor would be caring enough to take the call if she said the matter was urgent and personal, and because thoughts of suicide might be something she'd rather not discuss with a medical receptionist. Also, many people don't know which psychology professional to see, and they depend on their physicians to refer them. If that was a mistake, you are the only doctor who has written to tell me so.

I'm sorry you didn't sign your name. Had you done so, your schedule would probably open up sufficiently to allow you to accept phone calls from patients in emotional pain.

DEAR ABBY: We have a problem and need a tactful solution, and are hoping you can help us.

We recently installed an expensive parquet floor in our home, and we would like to keep spike heels off it. How can we tell our guests in a nice way? -- MRS. B. FROM N.C.

DEAR MRS. B.: Keep a collection of bedroom slippers in all sizes near the front door. It's subtle, non-offensive, and should solve your problem.

Good advice for everyone -- teens to seniors -- is in "The Anger in All of Us and How to Deal With It." To order, send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, Anger Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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