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

by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: About two years ago, a close female friend, "Carla," had her first child. The biological father is from another country. When she told him she was pregnant, he refused to have anything to do with the child, so I decided to take over the role as a father.

I have been with Carla and my son since she found out about the pregnancy. When she was in her last trimester, we decided to give a shot to the relationship and become a couple. Everything was great. She had our child. When he was born, I really became a father. But after two years, everything didn't go as we planned and we broke up.

Now Carla says I'm not the father, and she won't give my son my last name. I don't know what to do. I really want him to be known as my son, but without my last name, everyone sees me only as the guy who is raising another guy's son.

The breakup took a huge toll on me. During our last fight, she said I should forget about being the father and accept that I'm only the godfather. Please tell me what I can do. -- SAD DAD IN EL SALVADOR

DEAR SAD DAD: There's a saying, "No good deed goes unpunished," and I think it applies to you. You appear to be a wonderful, loving person, and I can see how emotionally wrenching this has been for you.

However, the legal father of that little boy is the person whose name is on the birth certificate. While you have loved Carla's child and have assumed the role of father, legally you may not be. A lawyer can explain this to you, and tell you if you have any options other than being a positive, stable, masculine presence in the child's life. But I suspect the mother's wishes will prevail.

Read more in: Family & Parenting

Pot Calls The Kettle Black In Table Manners Dispute

DEAR ABBY: Recently a friend of mine went to a ritzy gala. When dinner was served, she closed her eyes and said a brief and quiet prayer. When she opened them, the people at her table were appalled. One guest admonished her, telling her she shouldn't pray out of respect for others.

Was she wrong? What's the proper etiquette? Should she stop saying her grace? -- GRACE BEFORE DINNER

DEAR GRACE: As long as your friend said her prayer quietly and didn't impose it upon the other attendees, she did nothing wrong. Actually, the rule of etiquette is to refrain from criticizing the table manners of other guests -- and the person who admonished your friend was rude.

Read more in: Etiquette & Ethics

Natural Hairstyle Fails To Win Man Over

DEAR ABBY: I met this beautiful woman online. We have been dating for a few months, and I really don't care for her natural hairstyle and the scarves/headgear she wears when we're together. I have tiptoed around the issue. What should I do? -- BACHELOR IN GEORGIA

DEAR BACHELOR: Hair can be a sensitive issue with women. A natural hairdo is a lot healthier than coloring, perming or straightening, all of which involve products that can damage hair. Hats and scarves are a quick solution when a woman feels she's having a bad hair day. My advice to you is to accept her just the way she is -- unless you want to risk losing her.

Read more in: Love & Dating

What teens need to know about sex, drugs, AIDS and getting along with peers and parents is in "What Every Teen Should Know." Send your name and mailing address, plus check or money order for $7 (U.S. funds) to: Dear Abby, Teen Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Shipping and handling are included in the price.)