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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I was criticized recently for placing my right hand over my heart while the U.S. flag was flown and "The Star-Spangled Banner" was being sung. I was told that the hand over the heart is for the Pledge of Allegiance only, when the flag is present. Is that true, and what is the proper procedure? -- ST. LOUIS PATRIOT

DEAR PATRIOT: No, it is not true. Whoever criticized you was ignorant of the Flag Code, as amended by the 94th Congress and approved July 7, 1976.

According to the code, "During the rendition of the national anthem when the flag is displayed, all present ... shall stand at attention facing the flag with the right hand over the heart. ... When the flag is not displayed, those present should face toward the music and act in the manner they would if the flag were displayed there."

And by the way, happy Flag Day to all my readers out there.

DEAR ABBY: I'm a 25-year-old male who, for the most part, has figured out what I want to do with my life. I'm currently working, and I am also considering entering the military to boost my character and resume. I want to eventually become a lawyer so I can help people.

Something that irritates my family is my refusal to date. I suffer from anxiety attacks just at the thought of talking to a woman or asking for a date. My older sister asks me when I will marry, and my dad claims I'd be a great father. How can I get my family to understand that I'm not interested in marriage and children? -- LOVELESS IN THE SOUTHWEST

DEAR LOVELESS: I respect your desire to enter the military, boost your character and resume and earn a law degree. But please don't use the military as a way to escape dealing with your inability to be comfortable with half the human race. If and when you enlist, you will be in a work environment where there are females and situations in which you may be required to work as a team. That's why I strongly suggest that you talk to a mental health professional about your anxiety about women before enlisting.

Marriage and children are not for everyone -- and you may be one of those men who should be a confirmed bachelor. But not because you're afraid of women.

DEAR ABBY: My father has been dead for more than 15 years. Any time my mother sees people she hasn't seen since Dad's death, she makes a point of telling them how happy she is now that he's dead! She doesn't care how loudly she declares it or how she says it.

At my son's recent wedding reception, I overheard her having this conversation with my brother-in-law. He made eye contact with me to see if I could hear what she was saying, then shook his head like he couldn't believe what she was saying.

Abby, it's embarrassing that she does this all the time. If I say anything, I know she'll get mad at me. Any suggestions? -- CAN'T TAKE HER ANYWHERE

DEAR CAN'T TAKE HER ANYWHERE: Yes. Ignore her. Obviously your parents' marriage wasn't made in heaven -- but her widowhood is.

For everything you need to know about wedding planning, order "How to Have a Lovely Wedding." Send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $6 (U.S. funds only) to: Dear Abby -- Wedding Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included in the price.)