Dear Amy: My estranged father, who lives hundreds of miles away, has been in and out of my life.

My mother detests him, for very good reason. They have a terrible past.

He has made some effort — not great, but some — to be more involved in my life since I was 19 years old.

I am now 37, married, and with three kiddos of my own.

I talk to my father two or three times a year on the phone. Really, it is just small talk, but the hard part is that now he wants to meet my kids.

I am not trying to hurt him and certainly never want to hurt my mother, who raised me.

I feel I am supposed to hate him for how crappy he was to me and my mother, but it is just not in me to be that way.

My mother and stepfather, who raised me, would be so hurt if I allowed him to meet my family.

The reality is that my children do not even know who he is. They don't know that he exists.

I am also not even sold on the idea that he should meet my kids. Is it worth the risk of hurting my wonderful mom and stepdad, or should I just tell him it isn't in the cards.

If so, how do I say something like this?

Amy says: Anyone can ask you for anything. But your father's request does not necessitate that you grant his wish.

You could say to him, "Umm, Dad, honestly, I'm not ready to open up my family to you. I'll let you know if I change my mind, but for now — no."

Do your mother and stepfather know that you are in touch with him? Being transparent about this might help you all to get on the same page. Tell them, "You two raised me. You are my kids' grandparents. You are my family. But Dad calls me two or three times a year, and I want you to know that he has been in touch. I worry that you will think I'm being disloyal by being in touch, but that is not my intention."

You are not "supposed" to hate your father — or anyone. If your mother and stepfather imply this, then they are not parenting you well.

You are supposed to be loyal and protective toward your mother and stepfather, and your children. Having a troublesome, crappy or toxic father dancing on the wing means that you will occasionally have to make some tough choices. When your kids are older, you should tell your own childhood story. They will learn that most families are complicated, and that you will always lean toward the people who love you the best.

A pet population fix

Dear Amy: Late winter ushers in the major cat breeding season, which will cause shelters and rescue groups to be slammed with an avalanche of unwanted kittens. The dog overpopulation in Southern states is still out of control.

Shelters and rescues in the South work hard to promote pet adoption transports (primarily for dogs) to states with a better handle on dog overpopulation, and these groups fund an increasing number of low-cost spay/neuter clinics. Millions of dollars are being spent on these efforts, along with a massive amount of time donated by volunteers.

But pet overpopulation continues because irresponsible pet owners allow their pets to breed unwanted litters, helping create the resultant tragedy of too many pets, and too few homes.

I hope you will use your platform to remind animal lovers to spay/neuter their four-legged family members.

Amy says: I'm happy to help spread the word about the importance of spay/neutering the animals in our households.

Send questions to Amy Dickinson at askamy@