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by Abigail Van Buren

Divorced Dads Need to Stay in Contact With Their Kids

DEAR ABBY: This letter is prompted by the letter in your column from the 9-year-old girl who signed her letter "Missing My Dad in Michigan." She hadn't heard from her father in more than four years.

I experienced the same thing when my parents divorced in 1978. In the beginning, I received a few letters, phone calls and visits from Daddy, but they dwindled to nothing after a couple of years.

Ten years after the divorce, I began an effort to find my father. I located his mother, which resulted in her contacting my father. Ten minutes after I spoke with my grandmother, my phone rang and my father was on the other end. It was, needless to say, a very emotional phone call. I realized that after many years with no communication, I had built up tremendous reserves of anger, resentment and bitterness. I had hated my father for not loving me.

It turned out that he had loved me very much. He had been afraid to contact me for fear that my mother would have him arrested (for non-payment of alimony/child support) if he appeared in Virginia or if she discovered where he lived. A year after our first conversation, I flew out to see him. It was a trying yet rewarding time, as we began to get to know each other all over again.

We are learning even more as the years pass. By 1994, we had repaired our relationship so well that he was able to give me away at my wedding. He's now eagerly awaiting the day we can tell him he's a grandfather.

To the parents of the young lady who wrote to you: You may be very angry at each other and hurting each other in an effort to get even, but please remember that the one you are hurting the most is your daughter. Dad, she needs you. There's no way to recapture the years lost when you weren't in your daughter's life. Mom, no amount of money you may or may not receive is worth the emotional pain and loss being inflicted on your daughter.

To the young lady who signed her letter "Missing My Dad in Michigan": I was your age when I went through the same experience. Divorce is extremely painful for all involved, but particularly for you because you are innocent. I hope and pray that you will learn to understand, forgive and love both your parents -- because I am sure they both love you. -- KNOWS HOW YOU FEEL

DEAR KNOWS: Your letter is further testimony to the importance of both parents staying involved and in frequent, continuing contact regardless of the status of the marriage. Parents should be partners in raising their children, even when they do not live in the same household, because it benefits the emotional well-being of the children.

The Children's Rights Council has published a book containing valuable information for parents and professionals on how to handle divorce so that it's less traumatic for children. It's titled "The Best Parent Is Both Parents." It can be ordered from: The Children's Rights Council, 220 Eye St. N.E., Suite 140, Washington, D.C. 20002-4362. The cost: $10 plus $2 shipping and handling. Please allow four to six weeks for delivery.