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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: After reading the letter from "Worried About Dad in New Mexico," I had to tell you about our year from hell.

My father, a severe stroke victim in his mid-80s, nearly lost everything. A woman half his age tricked him into a phony marriage, and into signing quitclaim deeds on his properties and automobile pink slips. She attempted to raid his checking account, savings account and Social Security.

Abby, your advice to "Worried" to take Dad to a doctor for an examination, and to a lawyer to protect his interests, was excellent, but I would add: Report suspected elder financial abuse to the county adult protective services.

While our experiences are more complex than most, there are common threads in both of them and a course of action families can take.

Many elders experience isolation, loneliness, fear of dependence, fear of financial problems, and the tendency to trust people they don't know.

It may be necessary to be confrontational (the downside risk is small in comparison to what might happen), and, if legal action becomes necessary, go for it with gusto. Be sure your attorney is a litigator; cheats and frauds are not frightened off by paper pushing.

Fortunately, we have been successful in court. I now have conservatorship and the marriage is almost nullified. Because there is still ongoing litigation, please sign me ... CLOSE CALL IN CALIFORNIA

DEAR CLOSE CALL: I'm pleased your father's close call has a happy ending. He is fortunate to have been blessed with such caring children.

I urge all friends, relatives and neighbors who suspect an older person is being taken advantage of financially to report it before a tragedy occurs.

DEAR ABBY: We have two adorable grandchildren, ages 8 and 10. They visit us once a week for three hours. We play games, they romp on the lawn, and I make hot chocolate.

For the last three weeks, our son has called at the last minute and informed us that the children have "misbehaved," and their punishment is not being allowed to visit us. When we suggested that he find another form of punishment, he said to leave it up to his judgment as to what will hurt the children most.

Is it fair to use "grandparent bonding" as a punishment tool? -- LONELY GRANDMA AND PA

DEAR GRANDMA AND PA: Not being able to see your grandchildren is punishing you as much as the children. Punishment is not supposed to "hurt" a child; it is supposed to reinforce a lesson. Ask your son to relax the punishment and tell him you will talk to your grandchildren about their "misbehavior" and try to discover the root of it.

DEAR ABBY: Would it be cheating on my girlfriend if I engaged the services of a prostitute? There is no emotional involvement. -- WONDERING IN WASHINGTON

DEAR WONDERING: Let me put it this way: Would your girlfriend be cheating if she engaged the services of a male hustler? There's no emotional involvement. Think about it.

Dear Abby is written by Pauline Phillips and daughter Jeanne Phillips.

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