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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I am deeply concerned about my 9-year-old son's self-esteem. My wife is constantly yelling and calling him names over trivial things. She is a perfectionist, so anything not perfect is cause for a verbal assault.

A recent example is a misplaced 39-cent notepad. My son was called an idiot, stupid and an ass in her tirade. I feel this cannot be good for his emotional well-being, but I am unable to stop her. She becomes irate when I even suggest that she is less than a good mother. She does not do this in public, but I still think it is hurtful to my son's self-esteem. She does the same sort of thing with me, but I've had counseling to deal with it. What can I do for my son? -- CONCERNED DAD IN BATAVIA, ILL.

DEAR CONCERNED: Your concern is valid. Your wife's inability to control her temper can have lasting effects on your son's self-esteem. Children form their sense of worth from messages (verbal and nonverbal) their parents give them. When a parent tells a child he's an idiot, stupid or an ass, that is how he will perceive himself. On some level he will blame himself for the abuse. Unless something is done now to break this cycle, as your son grows up he may be unable to shrug off the guilt and sense of inadequacy his mother is placing on his shoulders.

The label for what your wife is doing is "verbal abuse." It may take psychological counseling for her to learn to cope with her temper in a more appropriate manner. I urge her to seek it.

You didn't say how long the verbal battery has been going on, but if the pattern is well-established, counseling is also in order for your son. Our society has come a long way in recognizing the need to protect children from sexual and physical abuse. It's unfortunate that so little can be done for the child who is verbally abused, because as it stands -- unless a concerned adult steps in to defend him -- he is all alone.

DEAR ABBY: I offer this true story for your collection of acts of kindness.

Toward the end of World War II, my grandfather, Eugen Irtenkauf, then 10 years old, lived in Salach, a small village near Goppingen in southwest Germany.

Every day, seven American P-51 Mustang fighters flew over the area shooting at German soldiers. Because they came so often and seemed to be the same group flying over a war zone, the German civilians called them "the Lucky Seven."

One afternoon, my grandfather was flying his kite in a field when the Lucky Seven appeared in the sky. His father yelled for his son to let go of the kite and run. The son refused to do so. One of the Lucky Seven left the group and headed for my grandfather and the kite. My great-grandfather was sure that the pilot would kill his son. Instead, the pilot dipped his wings and flew on.

My grandfather has told me this story many times. It has been his lifelong wish to meet this pilot.

My grandfather's address is: Herr Eugen Irtenkauf, Austrasse 5, Salach, Germany, 73084. -- ERIKA AND HAMISH HALL, TUCSON, ARIZ.

DEAR ERIKA AND HAMISH: Thank you for a poignant addition to this column. I hope your grandfather's wish comes true.

DEAR ABBY: I was amused by your column that dealt with the infantry in World War II using condoms to keep their socks dry. I have a story that was told to me by my first husband, who served in the 82nd Airborne during the war.

He told me that they were each issued a gross of condoms periodically that they tied together in a rubber-band type apparatus, and that is how they kept their trousers so neatly in their boots.

How the other services managed, I don't know, but the paratroopers kept that great look in this manner. Yankee ingenuity strikes again! -- EX-WIFE OF "GERONIMO" W., TORRINGTON, CONN.

DEAR EX-WIFE: This is news to me. I once heard an anthropologist say that two things distinguish men from apes: our opposable thumbs and the ability to invent tools.

For Abby's favorite family recipes, send a long, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, Cookbooklet No. 1, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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