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

by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: This is in response to "Wants Out in Westminster, Calif." She's the nurse with three children whose husband is self-centered and verbally abusive toward her and their children, and she is afraid that a messy divorce will scar her kids emotionally.

Abby, I, too, came from a house in which there was constant verbal abuse. Although my father physically abused my mother, his verbal abuse toward all of us did the most damage. I grew up in constant fear that I would be insulted, degraded or embarrassed. The unspoken family rule was: Don't get Dad mad -- which was virtually impossible because what would upset him changed on a daily basis.

Mom believed that a bad father was better than no father. She was wrong. I longed to be part of a "normal" loving family, and vividly remember fantasizing about what life would be like without Dad.

I grew up not trusting or liking myself, nor did I trust anyone else because those who were supposed to care for and love me let me down.

It took much time and effort in the Adult Children of Alcoholics 12-step recovery group for me to feel whole again. Abby, that program was a miracle for me.

My advice to "Wants Out" is to get out now! You are letting your children down by not providing them with a nurturing, peaceful happy home. By not leaving, you may be causing more emotional harm than you know. -- HAPPY NOW IN TAMPA, FLA.

DEAR HAPPY NOW: Excellent advice. This support group deserves high praise. If you don't find it in the Yellow Pages, write to: Adult Children of Alcoholics World Service Organization, P.O. Box 3216, Torrance, Calif. 90510. Please enclose a business-size, stamped, self-addressed envelope.

DEAR ABBY: Is it possible for a 61-year-old woman and a 39-year-old man to make a couple? We have a lot in common and can sit for three or four hours at a time just talking. We really have fun together.

We have known each other for a year and a half, and I feel as though I have known him all my life, but Abby, the future worries me. -- NEEDS TO KNOW

DEAR NEEDS: If you two have fun together just talking for three or four hours, you ARE a couple. Count your blessings, not your years, and enjoy your relationship. God bless and good luck.

DEAR ABBY: My sister, Laurie, and her husband, Ralph, have a little ritual they go through with their kids when one of their pet goldfish dies.

The whole family gathers in the bathroom and around the commode. Little Anthony, the 3-year-old, holds the "deceased" while my sister says a little prayer. Then Anthony drops the fish in the bowl and Lexy, the 5-year-old, flushes it to heaven.

One day, during one of these rituals, Lexy asked her dad if "Wito," her Grandpa who passed away a few years ago, was also in heaven. When Ralph said, 'Yes," the 3-year-old asked, "Who flushed him?"

No one could keep a straight face after that. -- KIM IN SATELLITE BEACH, FLA.

Good advice for everyone -- teens to seniors -- is in "The Anger in All of Us and How to Deal With It." To order, send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, Anger Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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