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

by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: My father left my mother for a woman I'll call "Sheila" he met at work. I was only 7. My brother was 9 at the time; he committed suicide at the age of 20.

My father and Sheila eventually married and had four children who are now grown. Their oldest was born while my parents were still legally married.

My mother never wanted a divorce. She gave him one reluctantly when she knew all was lost, but she never got over it. Although Mom never said an unkind word about my father, she was never the same woman. Basically, she devoted her life to my brother and me, her home and her full-time job. She died last year after a brief illness, and my father didn't even attend the funeral.

Two weeks ago, I received a long letter from one of Dad and Sheila's kids. In it she told me that she had nothing to do with what happened, so couldn't we get to know one another? She extended an open invitation to lunch or dinner.

The thought of getting close to the offspring of the woman who broke up my parents' marriage and caused my mother so much pain is surreal. Abby, what do you think I should do? -- DISCONCERTED IN NEW YORK

DEAR DISCONCERTED: Thank you for asking. I think you should take your half-sister up on her offer and meet her. She's right -- she had nothing to do with the unhappy ending to your parents' marriage.

While I can understand your anger and bitterness, please try to keep an open mind and go with no expectations. This woman may -- or may not -- be the most sensitive of the bunch, and it will be interesting to find out why she reached out to you. As I see it, you have nothing to lose, and she may be able to give you a new perspective.

DEAR ABBY: My boyfriend, "George," and I have been living together about five years. We both have children from previous relationships. My daughter is 11; George's daughter, "Sophie," is 8. She doesn't live with us, but George has her every other weekend.

I'm sad to say that after all these years, I hardly know Sophie. Most of George's weekends with her are spent at his mother's lakefront cottage. This hurts my feelings.

I have told George numerous times that I would like to be more involved in his daughter's life. We plan on being married someday, which would make me Sophie's stepmother. George tells me that because he doesn't see Sophie that often, he would like it to be quality time. I involve him in everything in my life, and I would like him to do the same. What should I do? -- UNWANTED IN GRAND RAPIDS

DEAR UNWANTED: I suspect that your gentleman friend's reluctance to involve you in his daughter's life goes beyond the idea that it might negatively affect his "quality time" with her.

After all this time, he should have begun integrating you into Sophie's life, if he planned on marrying you any time in the foreseeable future. It is possible that his reluctance may have something to do with the wishes of her mother, who may have insisted when visitation began that the child be separated from you. Not knowing George or his ex it's difficult to project what might be going on. But you should definitely find out -- the sooner the better -- because you deserve some straight answers.

To receive a collection of Abby's most memorable -- and most frequently requested -- poems and essays, send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $6 (U.S. funds) to: Dear Abby -- Keepers Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included in the price.)

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