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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: Although this is years late, I am writing to thank you. For years I saw the addresses you printed for Operation Dear Abby. I always thought it would be nice to write to someone, but I put it off. In September 1990, when our troops were sent to the Gulf, I decided to do it.

Within three weeks I had a response. My pen pal was a young Marine with a family. I was a working woman caring for my elderly father. Our letters continued for the entire time he was in the Gulf. You cannot imagine my surprise when, shortly after his return to the United States, I received a phone call. He and his family were coming to New York City for a vacation and wanted to meet me.

Ten days later they came to dinner, and our correspondence became a deep friendship. Our two families became one. Over the next few years we spent vacations and holidays together, and we shared each other's joys and sorrows. The phone bills boosted the stock in several phone companies.

My father passed away in late 1995, but I know that our friendship with them added joy to his last years. Losing Dad was very difficult for me, and without the support and caring of my pen pal and his family, it would have been even more so. In my wildest dreams I never expected one letter to have such life-altering results. My pen pal is my best friend.

I wanted you and your readers to know that sometimes the smallest acts can produce the greatest results, and I hope this letter makes you smile. -- NEW JERSEY PEN PAL

DEAR PEN PAL: It has, and thank you for it. Your letter proves that doing a selfless good deed not only helps others, but sometimes rewards the giver tenfold.

DEAR ABBY: This is in response to "Confused in Arizona," a man who has the courage to admit that he is a victim of domestic violence. This is more pervasive than people think.

My personal saga began several years ago, when I went from one violent marriage into another. In my case, I filed charges and restraining orders against both violent individuals. At each point in the process, I have been subjected to ridicule and scorn. After all, only women are abused in this society, aren't they?

At one point, when I was in court on a domestic violence oomplaint against my wife, the judge, the defense attorney and the prosecutor all actually laughed out loud in open court at the idea that a man would file a domestic violence complaint. My wife got off, as you might expect.

Yes, I did end both relationships, but the damage has been severe. Counseling for men is woefully unavailable. There is a cultural bias that only women are abused in this society. All of the literature available for domestic violence victims refers to "he," "him," etc. as the perpetrator of the crime. It's no wonder we're embarrassed to report it.

Hang in there, "Confused." Get out and find a safe place -- but realize that you won't be believed, you will be laughed at, and there will be roadblocks at every crossroad in your recovery process. Thanks for allowing me to vent, Abby. We need outlets for our frustrations. -- NO LONGER TERRIFIED IN TACOMA

DEAR NO LONGER TERRIFIED: It is deplorable that you were treated with such insensitivity by officers of the court. Regardless of who commits it, violence is never a laughing matter.

Everybody has a problem. What's yours? Get it off your chest by writing to Dear Abby, P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, Calif. 90069. For a personal reply, please enclose a stamped, self-addressed envelope.

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