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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: My mother had me when she was only 16. By the time I was 3, I also had a 2-year-old brother. My mom and dad split up and Mom let Dad take us to raise. Dad was only 24 and trying to raise two children on his own. My mom was very promiscuous. She had a total of four children -- none with the same father. She dumped the others on the fathers or the fathers' families.

My dad couldn't handle raising my younger brother and me, so I was sent to live with my maternal grandparents. For some reason, my grandparents didn't want my brother and me, so a family that Dad knew adopted my brother. When I was 7, my mother's sister got married, and then I was sent to live with her and her husband. My mother knew where I lived, but I only saw her occasionally -- once every couple of years.

My father was always a part of my life, though. I spent almost every weekend with him. It wasn't until I turned 17 that I found out that my dad wasn't my biological father. He had met my mom while she was pregnant, and, because my biological father wanted nothing to do with my mom or me, my "dad" married her and gave me his last name and a lifetime of devotion.

I almost lost my dad last year because of a cerebral aneurism. I love him with all my heart. However, I am also curious to know who my biological father is.

Should I ask my dad if he knows who my biological father is? Or do you think it would hurt his feelings too much? If you think I should ask him, how should I go about it? Anyone can father a child, but it takes a very special person to be a daddy. In my heart, my dad will always be my daddy -- now and forever. -- CONFUSED IN EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP, N.J.

DEAR CONFUSED: Tell your dad exactly what you have told me. With a parent as understanding and as loving as he must be, I'm certain he will realize that your curiosity is natural. There are legitimate reasons for knowing about your biological father. It could be helpful to you and eventually your children to know his medical history and that of his family.

DEAR ABBY: In response to "Mom in Denver," whose mother did a poor job of raising her and who's afraid of making the same mistakes:

I am 22 years old and consider my mom to be one of my best friends. She, too, was raised poorly. She was abused physically and verbally. She moved out when she was 18, and at one point worked three jobs to support herself.

When she had children, she knew she didn't want to make the same mistakes her parents had made, and for her, that was enough. She is the best mom in the world.

She's supportive and understanding. I know that she is there for me no matter what. I go to her for advice, friendship and love -- and I'm there for her, too, if she needs anything. I'd be lost without her.

Please assure "Mom in Denver" that by learning from her parents' mistakes and by being there for her children, she'll be one of those great mothers, too. -- JULIE SAMMONS, MILWAUKEE

DEAR JULIE: Bless you for assuring "Mom in Denver" by your own experience that it's possible to break the destructive cycle of abuse. You are fortunate to have had a very special mother, and I'm certain she is proud to have a daughter who holds her in such high esteem.

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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