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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: When I was single and living alone, whenever I went out with friends or on a date, I'd leave a note on my refrigerator stating the date, time I left, with whom I was going, the person's phone number, address, work, where we met -– anything. I would also jot down when I expected to return.

My friends thought this practice was silly. But if Chandra Levy or other missing persons who lived alone had done this, at least there might have been a trail to follow. Call me paranoid, but to me it was always a basic safety issue.

Maybe this letter will help other singles out there –- both women and men. Thanks. -– SHELLEY IN SAINT CLOUD, MINN.

DEAR SHELLEY: Thank YOU. You displayed intelligence and maturity at a young age. I suspect many young people may be reluctant to leave that kind of information because they're afraid it might somehow curtail their independence. However, it's a potent form of insurance in the case of any kind of emergency.

DEAR ABBY: I was engaged in 2000. Sadly, my fiancee passed away from cancer. I was with her throughout her ordeal, at every doctor's appointment and all night with her in the hospital. I held her hand when she passed away.

She left a 7-year-old son, "Danny," who now lives with her parents. Before she died, I promised her I would stay in Danny's life. He calls me Dad, and I call him my son. He stays with me quite often, and in my eyes I am his dad.

This year, I plan to begin dating again. However, Danny comes first, and I will not jeopardize our relationship by bringing someone into his life I feel would not be good for him.

My question: When someone asks if I have children, do I have the right to say I am a dad? How do I explain the circumstances without feeling like I am trying to exploit the situation? –- BACHELOR FATHER IN TEXAS

DEAR BACHELOR FATHER: Just be honest and tell it like it is. A deathbed promise -– a lifetime commitment.

DEAR ABBY: I'm a worried 11-year-old girl. My dad went to a class reunion last summer without my mom because Grandma was in the hospital.

When he was at the reunion, he met up with an old band member who used to be his girlfriend. They've been e-mailing and calling each other ever since.

I wasn't worried until my whole family met her one night, and Dad kissed her on the cheek! Then a few days ago, she called and they met for lunch. He keeps saying they're just friends, but I'm not so sure.

My sister doesn't like this whole thing any more than I do, because this woman is divorced. Abby, do you think she's after our dad, or is it just a friendly thing? -– AN 11-YEAR-OLD IN VIRGINIA

DEAR 11-YEAR-OLD: Have a little more faith in your father. Since he has introduced her to "the whole family," it indicates how proud he is of all of you. From his point of view, I'm sure it's strictly friendship. If it isn't that way from her point of view, she'll have the other three women in his life to reckon with. I don't think she'd stand a chance!

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