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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: You made some good points in your reply to "Used in North Carolina," who married his pregnant girlfriend and nine years later learned that his son was "not his own." This father resented that he was expected to take care of a child "who isn't even mine." However, you missed an important point. Because your column is so widely read, it's important to call attention to what it is that really makes a child "one's own."

I am a pediatrician. I interact with children from all sorts of families day in and day out. From a child's perspective, what makes a child "belong" to a parent is the emotional-psychological bond between parent and child. What makes a child emotionally healthy is the stability of that social bond. This emotional bond is essential for the child, regardless of biological relatedness. For the sake of our children, this cannot be left unsaid.

This man is the only father that child has ever known. It breaks my heart that he said, "I love this boy, but I don't feel he is my responsibility anymore ... I would like to live my life for myself and do what I want when I want, like his mother does." What does this "love" he professes mean if it doesn't mean taking responsibility? That boy needs his father. If his mother failed to love him, that's all the more reason why his father should not even consider letting him down.

It is, indeed, extremely difficult to be a single parent, especially if money is scarce. You're right to recognize his need for support and to connect him to Parents Without Partners. But you missed an important opportunity in advocacy for our children when you failed to directly call into question his assumption that only biological relatedness can make a child "one's own." Love is what makes us belong to each other. And love is about responsibility. -- CHILD ADVOCATE IN NORTH CAROLINA

DEAR CHILD ADVOCATE: You're right. Mea culpa. Please read on:

DEAR ABBY: I hope that young father decides to keep the boy and give him the love and care he needs. He should follow your advice and get family and friends to help so he can have time for himself. That's important. He should also, short of adoption, bind the child to himself in a legal way -- such as a conservatorship -- so the mother, who appears to be both mean and irresponsible, cannot later reclaim her son, creating a tragedy for both. I say "short of adoption" because, as a child whose birth father is deceased, according to the mother, he may be entitled to Social Security benefits that may go a long way in helping the young man raise the boy. Adoption might eliminate that eligibility.

I hope this is helpful. He seems like a person who knows the right thing to do. He just needs to figure out how to go about it. Someone did that for me when I was ... ORPHANED AT AGE 6, LAGUNA WOODS, CALIF.

DEAR LAGUNA: Thank you for the excellent input. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: You've probably received a mountain of mail about this, but please inform that young father that God gives us opportunities to do good. What he's doing for his son may be the most important thing he does in his entire life.

He should ignore the DNA. It doesn't matter. Every smile that lights his son's face is part of his reward. There's a special place in heaven for a man who is the father he didn't have to be. My admiration and good wishes go out to him. -- ELLEN M., SAN DIMAS, CALIF.

DEAR ELLEN: And so do ours.

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-size, 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, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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