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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I am struggling with a family problem that could permanently break the bonds with my parents. I am a dentist, married with a family, who followed my father's footsteps into the profession. After five years working at my father's practice, I purchased the practice at full market value.

When this happened, our roles were instantly reversed. I was now running the show. Over the next six years, I took the practice in new directions. My relationship with my parents became more strained and distant as they saw me become more successful.

Father is now retired, and recently needed to have two crowns redone. Although my parents' dental care is free, there was an outside laboratory bill for the fabrication of the two new crowns that came to about $300. I asked my father to pay the lab bill.

I thought things were all right until my mother came in for a routine cleaning a few weeks ago and called me every name in the book. She couldn't believe I would charge my own father for his dental work after raising me as their son. What should I do? I told my mother I'd pay the lab bill myself. Am I wrong on this? My parents and I seem to have completely different views. -- D.D.S. IN DEEP DOO-DOO

DEAR D.D.S.: Geez Louise, it was your FATHER! Where would you be today if you hadn't followed his career path? Allow me to share a philosophy I learned from my own dear mother: "If you're going to do something, give it your best effort." In your case, since you were providing your father's dental care "gratis," that means you should have gone all the way -- and been happy to do it.

DEAR ABBY: My son was invited to a birthday party. When I called the mom to RSVP, I asked her what kind of toys her son was interested in. She replied that it was rude to ask what to buy him, and to just buy him "something suitable for a boy."

Abby, I wasn't trying to be rude. I just thought that if I was going to purchase a gift for the child, I ought to know what he was interested in so I wouldn't buy him something he wouldn't use.

Was I rude to ask the question? I shall think twice about asking again. -- ANONYMOUS IN CANADA

DEAR ANONYMOUS: The mother was wrong to chastise you. Not only do I not think you were rude to ask the question, but I think it was intelligent of you to ask.

DEAR ABBY: I have been married to my wife, "Selma," for two years. I'm sure we both do things that bother each other, but the one thing she does that gets on my nerves is to open my mail. If the mail is addressed to both of us, then I don't mind.

When I come home from work, I find my personal mail opened, read and scattered on the table. How do I tell her to stop reading my mail? -- NO PRIVACY IN BIRMINGHAM, ALA.

DEAR N.P.: Tell her in plain English that it is an invasion of privacy and you resent it, and that you expect to find the envelopes intact when you get home from work. If she doesn't comply, get a post office box in your name only and have your mail delivered there.

For everything you need to know about wedding planning, order "How to Have a Lovely Wedding." Send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $5 (U.S. funds only) to: Dear Abby, Wedding Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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