DEAR ABBY: Our 36-year-old son, "Bill," has just informed us by letter that he is gay. At present, we live on opposite sides of the country, so we can't sit down and discuss this.
Bill never married, but he has dated women and even came close to marriage. He is so outgoing that strangers invite him for holiday dinners. He's a college graduate, but changes jobs frequently. Bill spent four years in the Air Force and is always working out for a healthy body. He is Catholic and respects his beliefs.
My husband thinks we got the wrong baby in the hospital where Bill was born.
How do we deal with this? Can you recommend some reading material that will help us cope? Should we go to counseling or should Bill? Are there support groups close to us? Are gay people able to abstain from having relationships without hurting their mental health or their family? Will Bill be accepted by Christ when he dies? I'm too ashamed to ask my own priest. -- NEEDS ADVICE FAST IN FLORIDA
DEAR NEEDS ADVICE FAST: Homosexuality is not a mental illness, and Bill does not need counseling. However, your husband may need it in order to accept his son's sexual orientation.
I urge you to put aside your feelings of shame and talk to your priest. The church teaches that all people are called to live chastely according to their state in life. For the married that means faithful monogamy. For the unmarried, it means sexual abstinence.
I recommend a document called "Always Our Children," which is a pastoral statement by the Commission on Marriage and Family Life of the U.S. Catholic Bishops, specially addressed to parents of gay and lesbian children. Parents do not have to choose between faith and their children. My sources within the church also tell me that Christ already accepts your son -- so put your fears to rest.
For more information and reading material, and to locate support groups in your area, write to Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), 1101 14th St. N.W., Suite 1030, Washington, D.C. 20005.
DEAR ABBY: I couldn't believe the letter from the mail carrier, and your response, about putting mothballs in the mailbox to deter insects. This is a very bad idea.
Though many people choose to use mothballs in their homes, they are not an innocuous product. The chemicals they are made from, either naphthalene or paradichlorobenzene, can irritate skin, throat and eyes, can lead to liver damage and have been linked with cancer.
Using mothballs in the mailbox would take this product public. Mailed items, which already pick up the smell of magazine scent strips, would absorb yet another toxic scent, especially difficult for those with allergies. And I'm sure there are plenty of mail carriers who would not appreciate getting a handful of mothballs along with their deliveries.
Please retract your endorsement of this ill-advised idea. -- CAROL DAVID, BERKELEY, CALIF.
DEAR CAROL: When I wrote my answer, I was unaware of the fact that mothballs could trigger a violent allergic reaction in anyone. Therefore, I retract my answer.
If letter carriers are concerned about being bitten by insects that dwell in rural mailboxes, a safer method of protecting themselves would be to wear gloves.
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.)
4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600