Join the debate. Vote Now on the Dear Abby Poll of the week.

by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I am 33, married and the father of three children. I was adopted at three weeks of age and never felt the need to search for my "roots" or "identity" like many others do.

About five years ago, I received a letter from my birth mother, and we have met a few times. Although she and her family are nice people, and want to continue a relationship -- I do not. I have hinted about the way I feel, but they don't seem to understand. I want to tell them outright, but my wife says I will hurt their feelings, and I should leave "the door open" in case I change my mind. I am sure of my feelings and disagree with my wife.

I learned that my birth mother was going through a bitter divorce while she was pregnant with me. Money was scarce and she felt she could not afford a third child. She later remarried -- as did my birth father. I met him once, and he has been more considerate of my feelings. He respects my privacy.

My birth mother is kind and generous. She always remembers my children on birthdays and holidays. Abby, how can I cut off contact with her without being cruel? -- TIRED OF FAMILY TIES

DEAR TIRED: You have a right to your feelings. Do not feel guilty. Tell your birth mother how much you appreciate her kindness, but you are not ready to have a relationship with her now.

P.S. Ask her for your biological family's medical history.

DEAR ABBY: This is for "Missing Dad in South Carolina," the lady who lost her dad 10 years ago and is still grieving.

My beloved sister died suddenly two years ago. She was 91 and still enjoyed baking bread and cookies. Sis took great delight in sharing her goodies with friends and shut-ins. She also enjoyed delivering flowers from her garden to people in hospitals and nursing homes.

Instead of grieving for her -- and I miss her terribly -- I try to follow her example by doing the things she did. Not only do people love to receive, it gives me great joy, as well. Sign me ... BUSY BAKING, WEST ST. PAUL, MINN.

DEAR BUSY BAKING: You have discovered a healthy, constructive way to manage your grief. Thank you for sharing it with my readers. Just as sadness feeds upon itself, so does joy.

DEAR ABBY: The following should be added to the Code of Conduct for children's sporting events you printed recently:

(15) Win with modesty -- and lose with dignity.

It's a pity some of our professional athletes don't follow that rule. They embarrass me. -- LEONARD IN WHITING, N.J.

DEAR LEONARD: You're not alone. They embarrass themselves, too. Even more important, they are terrible role models for children who are looking for heroes.

Dear Abby is written by Pauline Phillips and daughter Jeanne Phillips.

To order "How to Write Letters for All Occasions," send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, Letter Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600