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

by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I would appreciate your advice on a problem that has been a nightmare for me. My husband is in prison. He will be serving time for the next 10 to 15 years for a crime he did not commit. My biggest problem has been how to deal with our two children, who are 6 and 8.

They have been very close to their father, and for the past year, they have sort of "accepted" his absence because I told them he's away on a business trip and will be home soon. They talk to him on the phone once a week. I am now considering going back to my country with the kids where I'll be closer to my family and friends.

Should I tell my kids that their dad can't come with us because he can't leave his business? Or should I tell them the truth?

I fear they will be unable to handle the truth at their ages. They think prison is a place for "bad" people, and I'm afraid it will kill them to find out that's where their dad is. Also, what will they say to their classmates if others ask them, "Where is your father?"

My instinct is to hold off until my kids are old enough to handle the situation. But if I wait, will they resent me for not telling them sooner? If I lie to our kids, I couldn't bring them with me to visit their father.

I love my husband very much and have to deal with this pain, too. But deceiving my children is the deepest hurt of all. Please don't print my real name if you put this in your column. -- A CANADIAN READER

DEAR CANADIAN READER: To quote Sir Walter Scott, "Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive!" I urge you to tell your children that their father has been sent to prison for a crime he did not commit.

DEAR ABBY: I am a 36-year-old married woman. I have a wonderful husband and two beautiful children. I have everything I want in life, except for the fact that we live far away from our families and friends, although we see them often.

When I get together with old friends, I become very nostalgic and have the urge to get in touch with one of my old boyfriends.

Abby, is there anything wrong with this? Is there anything wrong with wanting to know how he is and what he has done with his life? -- NOSTALGIC IN SPRINGFIELD, VA.

DEAR NOSTALGIC: It is only natural to let your mind wander back to the years when you were footloose and fancy-free -- and even romantically involved with someone else. Getting in touch with an old "flame" may seem innocent, but it could start a fire that is not easily extinguished.

Play it safe -- steer clear of old flames and you'll never get singed.

DEAR ABBY: My daughter is dating a 28-year-old man who was picked up for indecent exposure about two weeks ago. This is the second time, according to police. My daughter has two young children, and I'm afraid she may leave them alone with him.

Abby, is he a danger to the children? Please answer soon. He doesn't have a court date as yet. -- GRANDMOTHER IN UTICA, MICH.

DEAR GRANDMOTHER: Let me put it this way: If there is any question in your mind or your daughter's -- the children should NOT be left alone with this man.

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 $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, Wedding Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

4900 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64112; (816) 932-6600