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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: Having read the letter from "Hank in Tacoma" -- who was upset because his sister-in-law had urged his brother "Eric" into therapy and freed him from years of servitude to his family -- I must admit I was surprised that you didn't let Hank and the rest of the family have it!

Apparently Hank feels it is Eric's wife's fault that his brother has found his backbone. How dare Hank and the family make judgments about Eric's wife without even taking Eric up on his offer to join him in counseling sessions to learn more about the changes that are taking place.

Finally, how dare Eric put his children and wife first? Why, Abby, if more spouses put their significant other and children first, perhaps we would have fewer divorces and happier families in this world. -- SUZANNE IN SAN FRANCISCO

P.S. There was one thing I didn't understand in your answer. What did you mean, "Eric has slipped his chain"?

DEAR SUZANNE: Simply put, it means, "freed himself from his shackles." When I wrote the phrase, I was envisioning a dog escaping from his training collar, or choke chain.

That letter generated a ton of response. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: In today's paper I read the letter from "Hank in Tacoma," and I recognize his family!

Hank: Wake up! Your brother Eric is no longer the family doormat.

Hank wrote, "He used to always put his family first, but now he favors his wife and children." Guess what a wife and children are, Hank? That's right, a family -- Eric's family.

Eric is finally a person in his own right, thanks to his insightful wife, and he's probably happier than he has ever been. If he no longer squires your mother around town because Pop "doesn't like those events," perhaps YOU should jump in and volunteer to be the escort now and then. And you might find yourself the favored sibling, the one with all the footprints on his back from "your" family walking all over you! Good luck, Hank, and give my love and admiration to your brother, Eric. -- FORMER DOORMAT IN DELAWARE

DEAR ABBY: Was "Hank in Tacoma" for real? By favoring his wife and children, Eric IS putting his family first. Hooray for the new Eric. He sounds like a healthy adult and good husband and father to boot. -- JACQUELINE M. IN L.A.

DEAR ABBY: Please pass my message on to Eric in Tacoma. Good for you, Eric. You have obviously made some tough but important changes in your life, and you clearly have married well.

As to the family: Too bad Eric won't let you bully him anymore, but don't worry, you'll get over it. If you're lucky, you'll learn to appreciate him and his family. -- PETER R., SAN RAFAEL, CALIF.

DEAR ABBY: Regarding the letter from "Hank in Tacoma," whose brother Eric has become more assertive, I have two words for Eric: GO ERIC!!! -- SUSAN S., A FAN FROM TEXAS

CONFIDENTIAL TO STILL CRYING IN SAVANNAH, GA: It takes a friend and an enemy to really hurt you: the enemy to speak ill of you, and the friend to tell you about it.

What teens need to know about sex, drugs, AIDS, and getting along with peers and parents is in "What Every Teen Should Know." To order, send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, Teen Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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