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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I have a beautiful 6-year-old daughter I'll call "Maya" who adores her father. "John" and I were together for more than eight years and have been apart for about a year. During our last year together, he was caught selling drugs and was convicted of possession and distribution, as well as possession of an illegal weapon. I knew nothing of this until he was arrested. (I worked while he was a stay-at-home dad.)

John is now serving a four-year sentence in federal prison. However, he tells Maya that he is in "Daddy School," and when he gets home she will live with him.

Abby, I have struggled long and hard to get back on my feet after paying all of John's legal bills and finding a place for Maya and me to live. Should I tell her where her father really is, and that she won't be living with him but can visit him? (He will be living with his mother again when they let him out.)

He keeps telling Maya how much fun they'll have together. I want her to love John and have a good relationship with him, but I don't want to lose her. What's the answer? -- WORRIED MOTHER IN TEXAS

DEAR MOTHER: Your daughter deserves to know the truth about her father -- that he did something that was against the law, and he is now paying for it. If you go along with his lie, Maya will have good reason to believe that everything John is telling her is the truth -- including the part about where she is going to live.

Your next step should be to discuss child custody with an attorney. Since it appears that you and John are not married, and he is not contributing financially to Maya's welfare, I fail to see how he can claim the right to have her live with him. A lawyer can help you make sure it doesn't happen, so please waste no time in contacting one. It will ease your mind, and that's what is important right now.

DEAR ABBY: My husband, "Jeff," is 35 and I'm 41. We've been married 10 years.

Jeff is an excellent provider. He spends quality time with the children and will do anything I ask.

I have only one problem. Every gift occasion -- anniversary, Christmas, Valentine's Day or birthday -- Jeff buys me an outfit I consider trashy. His most recent gift was a black leather miniskirt and bustier, black mesh stockings and thigh-high boots. When I asked Jeff where he expected me to wear that stuff, he said, "On a date with me -- or in our bedroom."

Is it healthy for Jeff to have those fantasies? -- NOT A SLUT IN MISSISSIPPI

DEAR NOT: Oui, oui, Madame -- as long as the fantasies include you!

WORTH REMEMBERING: "To speak ill of others is a dishonest way of praising ourselves." -- Will and Ariel Durant

To receive a collection of Abby's most memorable -- and most frequently requested -- poems and essays, send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $5 (U.S. funds) to: Dear Abby -- Keepers Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included in the price.)

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