Dear Annie: I am a 42-year-old man with two teenage sons. I have been married to my second wife for almost a year. She has an 11-year-old son, "Brice."

Brice never had a man in his life until I married his mom. He is respectful and a sweet kid, but for some reason, I hate him. I know that sounds harsh, and I am actually ashamed at how I feel, but I cannot seem to warm up to him.

My sons are 14 and 16. They are your typical rough-and-tumble boys. They are into sports, girls and cars. I suppose I am used to that behavior in boys.

Brice, on the other hand, is extremely effeminate and sensitive. He would rather be inside reading a book or helping his mom in the kitchen. I came home from work the other day, and he was in an apron helping her bake cookies. I could barely look at him.

I have tried numerous times to get him interested in the things most boys his age are doing, such as playing catch in the backyard. He cries and complains and says how much he hates sports.

My sons have also tried to get him to do things with them, but he will complain the entire time that he hates the outdoors. They pretty much have given up on him. They say he is a whiner and a crybaby.

If I am out somewhere with him and I run into a friend or co-worker, I am actually embarrassed to introduce him as my stepson because of how he acts.

I want to make this very clear: I keep my feelings to myself. I pretend to be a loving parent. But I don't feel any love for him at all. My wife has no clue I feel this way. She always tells me what a wonderful dad I have been to her son.

I know I need counseling or something, but I am too ashamed to talk to anyone and admit I feel what I feel. Is there anything you can suggest? -- Ashamed and Terrible Stepdad

Dear Ashamed and Terrible Stepdad: Many people believe that if you feel that you hate someone, you actually hate something about yourself that you recognize in the other person. That could be the case here. Perhaps when you were a child, an adult made you feel bad about some aspect of your personality that wasn't stereotypically masculine. Whatever the source of these feelings, a counselor could help you work through them and past them, confidentially and without judgment. That is a counselor's job. You don't need to tell anyone why you're going to counseling -- but you do need to go, for your sake and for Brice's. Children pick up on feelings.

Dear Annie: This is in response to "Desperate in Montana," who compulsively flirts with men. From the time I reached adulthood, I inexplicably found myself sexualizing interactions, totally outside my control. I was horrified, anxious and scared by this. Eventually, I did find its origin. I had been repressing a terrible episode of assault in my childhood. When I stopped fighting the sexualizing impulse and turned to face it -- opening myself to what it wanted me to know -- I eventually remembered.

I understand now that the reason my subconscious was so relentlessly "dinging" was that it was now safe and necessary for me to remember. "Desperate" has to have compassion for herself. She needs to begin a quest for a counselor who can work with her and her subconscious. I pray she finds peace. -- Louisiana Reader

Dear Louisiana Reader: I've passed your letter on to "Desperate," and I'm printing it here for anyone who has lived through such trauma. Thank you for opening up, and I'm so glad you've found healing.

Send your questions for Annie Lane to dearannie@creators.com. To find out more about Annie Lane and read features by other Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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