DEAR ABBY: I have had sole custody of my three children from a previous marriage for the past 10 years. Their mother, "Nadine," has mental health issues that prevent her from being a competent parent. She has let them down countless times and has caused emotional scars. As a result, the children have limited contact with Nadine, even though she lives nearby.
Our oldest daughter, "Holly," who is now 22, has chosen not to speak to her mom for more than a year. I believe part of Nadine's mental troubles stem from a secret she has been keeping. I have suspected for years that Holly is not my biological daughter. And if she's not, I know the identity of her biological father.
Do I tell Holly? Do I get a paternity test to find out for sure? My concern is for Holly. Does she have the right to know -- especially for understanding her genetic and medical history? I am not worried about our relationship. I love her, and we have a strong father/daughter bond that will not be affected by DNA. -- HOLLY'S DAD, IRMO, S.C.
DEAR DAD: For the reason you have stated, the test should be done. For one thing, Holly may turn out to be your daughter after all, and your suspicions would be put to rest. For another, if there are medical issues that run in her biological father's family, she should absolutely know what they are.
DEAR ABBY: I'm being married in October to "Olivia," the woman I am meant to be with. After the wedding, we both want to start a family. I love Olivia and am thrilled with the idea of having children. I worry a lot, though, about what kind of world we will be bringing a child into. I worry about terrorism and global warming. I don't want my child to be scared for his/her safety and uncertain about the future. Can you advise me, Abby? -- REALIST IN BROWNS MILLS, N.J.
DEAR REALIST: There are few thinking people these days who don't share the same concerns that you do. The truth is, having children is an act of faith -- an optimistic "investment" in the future. No one has any guarantees that he or she can bring a child into a world free of problems. However, if we live prudently and put forth our best efforts to resolve the problems we face today, the chances are better that the next generation will have fewer of them to cope with.
DEAR ABBY: Could you please share suggestions on how to offer support to someone who is grieving?
Well-meaning friends have used my loss as an opportunity to relive their past losses with grisly and sad details. One friend described in detail her husband's final days. I was so emotionally fragile, I could not argue or defend myself.
Perhaps these people are trying to relate, but it's torture. It's thoughtless and selfish. I have a feeling I'm not the only person who has suffered through this ignorance. -- GRIEVING ALONE IN FLORIDA
DEAR GRIEVING ALONE: Please accept my deepest sympathy for the loss of your loved one.
Readers, the above letter conveys an important message. What the writer's "well-meaning friends" did happens all too often. It is enough to simply convey one's condolences when someone you know has experienced a death in the family. If the person wants to talk, he or she will let you know by starting a conversation. If not, to begin discussing the details of your own loss is, to say the least, insensitive, intrusive and not helpful.
What teens need to know about sex, drugs, AIDS and getting along with peers and parents is in "What Every Teen Should Know." To order, send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $6 (U.S. funds) to: Dear Abby -- Teen 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