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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: My father is 35 years old. He has had two disks removed from his back. His doctor put him on a diet to lose 50 pounds, but Dad isn't very good at staying on a diet. He knows he should follow the doctor's orders and lose weight, but I see him already slipping back into his old eating habits.

Daddy is a professional bowler with many trophies to prove his skill. I've tried to talk to him, to make him understand that his spine can't handle all his weight plus the weight of the bowling ball. I'm afraid he's going to injure his back even more than he already has. I worry that he'll end up in a wheelchair for the rest of his life.

I'm 13 and I love my father very much. I don't want this to happen to him. What can I say or do? How can I help him understand that I want him to walk me down the aisle on my wedding day and to dance with me at my reception? How can I make him realize what he's doing to himself and to me? -- TROUBLED DAUGHTER

DEAR TROUBLED: I understand how much you want to help your father, but it is not your responsibility. It is HIS responsibility to help himself and to help you with your fears, not the other way around. I'm printing your letter so you can show it to him. Seeing your moving words in black-and-white should be all the motivation he needs. Bless you, dear.

P.S. Although the likelihood that your father will need a wheelchair in the future is not great, you should know that many fathers who are in wheelchairs have not only escorted their daughters down the aisle, but also danced with them at their reception.

DEAR ABBY: I have some advice for "Heartbroken in Vermont," the woman who fell in love with a man who had just gone through a tough divorce.

I am also involved with a man who went through a very painful divorce. Unfortunately, he's still going through difficult times. His ex gives him a hard time when he wants to see his son, and causes many other problems.

When we met, we were instantly attracted to each other. We started dating and things were great, but then he backed away. I took it personally until I realized all the problems he was having with his ex. I let him back off, but kept our conversations alive.

To make a long story short, we are still seeing each other, and he's one of the best fathers and companions I've ever known. If I don't hear from him for a week, I know he is trying to cope with his problems and I just let him be. We catch up with each other later.

So, "Heartbroken," keep the lines of communication open. Call just to say "Hi" and see how he is, and be unthreatening. Maybe, just maybe, he will feel more comfortable and come around. I can tell you that if he feels penned in, he will run and all will be lost. Men in this situation need a little more space. Try to be understanding and patient. Things will happen if they are meant to. -- HAPPILY PATIENT

DEAR HAPPILY PATIENT: I advised "Heartbroken" to keep looking. The man she loves had been deeply hurt in his divorce and made it clear that he wanted his space. A byproduct of her moving on may well be that her ex-boyfriend will take a second look at the potential of their relationship and realize that if he continues to shut her out, he'll lose her.

For an excellent guide to becoming a better conversationalist and a more attractive person, order "How to Be Popular." Send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby Popularity Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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