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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I have been divorced for eight years, and have recently become good friends again with my ex-husband. He has always been an attentive father to our 11-year-old son.

Last year, after a second divorce, my ex hooked up with a woman half his age. She's a 21-year-old ex-stripper who hasn't worked a day since she met him. I'm not one to pass judgment, but this gal is a clingy, lazy gold-digger who spends my ex's money like it grows on trees. She's also moody, demanding, and a "party animal," according to our son and my ex's other son.

The problem lies with our boy. He detests this female. She tags along for every father/son event and refuses to stay at home even when my ex drives our boy back and forth for visitation.

Our son's birthday is coming up, and I am throwing him a party. He really wants his dad there -- but NOT his dad's girlfriend. His dad doesn't want to hurt her feelings, and I don't want to cause any scenes. How can I resolve this? -- FAITHFUL FLORIDA READER

DEAR READER: OK, your ex's girlfriend is flawed, insecure and ever-present. If you bring up her shortcomings again, he will only become defensive.

Encourage your son to explain to his father how important it is to him to spend some time alone with him. Most boys need one-on-one with a role model -- a time for "man to man" conversation and bonding. The presence of a third party, regardless how ravishing she may be, prevents this. And while he's on the subject, he should tell Dad the nicest gift he could have for his birthday would be the woman's absence at his party. It may not work -- but I guarantee it will open up some interesting dialogue.

DEAR ABBY: I have read letters in your column from former students about teachers who inspired them and made a positive difference in their lives. However, my story is the opposite.

In my sophomore year of high school, my algebra teacher warped my thinking regarding mathematics. On more than one occasion, she informed me that I was a "stupid sophomore," and would "never amount to anything more than a patty flipper."

This woman had taught for many years, but no one in my class ever asked questions for fear of being ridiculed in front of everyone. Students who were in her classes long before me said she had always been like that.

I am now 25, a college graduate, and have a good job in the medical field. If there are any teachers reading this, PLEASE remember that what you say can stay with your students the rest of their lives. More emphasis should be put on the importance of good teachers and how much they are needed by new generations.

That teacher made a difference in my life, and it was anything but positive. I often wonder if I would have been better in math had my experience been different.

Thanks for letting me vent, Abby. Sign me ... DISGRUNTLED STUDENT WHO HASN'T FORGOTTEN

DEAR DISGRUNTLED: You have written an important letter. Young people often judge themselves by reactions they receive from others.

I saw a similar incident when I was an eighth-grader. In front of the class, my teacher predicted that an awkward young man "would never amount to anything." Of course, the students laughed at him -- and I learned later how devastating it was for him because his mother and mine were close friends.

The story has a happy ending, however. The boy grew up and became a successful lawyer. The only "failure" was the teacher, who didn't recognize potential when he saw it.

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