DEAR ABBY: Our son, “Michael,” is a freshman in college in New York. He is also on the football team. My wife and I traveled from Boston to see Michael’s first game of the season. When we arrived, we were joined by his girlfriend, “Liz,” a high school junior from our hometown, and her parents.

They stayed the entire weekend and acted like they were part of the family. Liz’s dad was giving Michael “fatherly advice” and telling him they were coming back to see more games this fall. They even discussed plans for Christmas vacation. My wife and I had only about one hour alone with our son the whole time we were there.

Liz’s parents were high school sweethearts and they seem to think the kids will be, too. We hinted to them that we think they are sexually active, but they insist that Liz is a virgin.

We would like Michael to enjoy his college experience with students his age on campus. We don’t appreciate Liz’s visits. We would like to say something about this to her parents, but we don’t want to alienate Michael. What can we do? – PARENTS WITH UNWANTED VISITORS

Forget about talking to the parents. Have a serious talk with your son. Make absolutely certain that he recognizes the importance of birth control, as well as the necessity of finishing his education before he assumes the responsibilities of marriage. Encourage him to get involved with campus activities and meet new people. Then tell him you think Liz is a “sweetheart,” but the romance is progressing at a faster pace than you’re comfortable with, and that you’d like to spend more time alone with him. Be careful not to say anything negative to your son about Liz or her parents, or you could cause a backlash.

DEAR ABBY: I am 11. My parents are divorced. When I visit my dad’s house, he always takes his telephone calls outside. I’m not allowed to answer the phone or be in the same room when he checks his e-mail. I love my father, but I’m scared to talk to him about this because he has a temper.

What do you think is going on? – CONFUSED IN MASSACHUSETTS

It’s sad that you are so intimidated by your father that you are afraid to talk to him. Since I don’t know him, I cannot say for sure what’s going on. However, let me say this: Sometimes when a person keeps something a “secret,” it can make it appear more mysterious than it actually is. The subject applies to a lot of parents, so clip this column and hand it to your father. He needs to see it. Perhaps it will help to bridge the communication gap.

DEAR ABBY: I am grieving. My beloved shih tzu, Pretzel, died unexpectedly last Thursday. She was with me for nine wonderful years. I am so grief-stricken I can barely function. I have no children, and Pretzel meant the world to me.

My problem is well-meaning family members and friends who are pressuring me to get another dog. My Pretzel has not been gone for a week, and these people keep asking me for details about her death and saying, “When will you get another one?”

How can I get them to let me grieve in peace? – HURTING IN L.A.

Tell your friends and family you know they mean well, but it’s too soon to discuss the details or consider getting another dog. They need to be reminded that dogs, like people, have special qualities and personalities that make them unique. They are not interchangeable, any more than people are.

Dear Abby is written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Write Dear Abby at or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069.

Abby shares more than 100 of her favorite recipes in two booklets: “Abby’s Favorite Recipes” and “More Favorite Recipes by Dear Abby.” Send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $10 (U.S. funds) to: Dear Abby – Cookbooklet Set, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447.

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