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by Abigail Van Buren

Baby Given Up in High School Still Haunts Middle Aged Dad

DEAR ABBY: I am 50 years old, married for 28 years, and have two adult children -- the eldest 25. In 1967, my steady high school girlfriend, "Maggie," became pregnant with our baby. We were both in our junior year.

We planned a small church wedding when Maggie was three months pregnant. Our families were supportive, despite their disappointment. They offered emotional and financial assistance.

A few days before the wedding, I got cold feet. I knew I was not ready for marriage, and I told our minister, who told Maggie's parents. The wedding was canceled. Maggie was sent to a maternity home two states away. She gave birth to a son who was placed for adoption.

Maggie's father vowed I would never see his daughter again and would not allow her to return home. She was sent to live with relatives. Maggie and I did stay in contact through a friend during the year after the baby was born. The experience was never again mentioned in my family.

Abby, I am still haunted by my cowardice. My wife knows about my first child, but I have never told my children. Now that they are grown, I wonder if I should. My wife said she will support me, whatever my decision. Do you think telling them would place an unfair burden on them? -- REMORSEFUL BIRTH FATHER

DEAR REMORSEFUL: Telling your children about your youthful mistake would not be unfairly burdensome. On the contrary, it will prepare them in case their half-sibling shows up in the future.

And now a short sermon from me: You did the right thing in leveling with your minister that you were not ready for the responsibility of marriage. It's time for you to let go of the burden of guilt that you have been carrying all these years and learn to forgive yourself.