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by Abigail Van Buren

Woman Fears for Sister Living With Unstable Dad

DEAR ABBY: My father is a successful attorney. He appears to be the ideal father because he's charming, has a sense of humor and is intelligent.

He's a different person in private. Since I was 12, he has verbally and emotionally abused me, sometimes hitting me, throwing me down, threatening to evict or kill me. Abby, I was not a bad child. I never experimented with drugs or alcohol and spent little time with friends. I'm currently in college and maintain a 4.0 GPA.

My family and I think my father is mentally ill. He's extremely unstable and has a family history of these issues, including suicide. He has started stockpiling his deceased father's belongings, speaks to the dog as if it were a human being, and obsessively checks things in the house like locks, etc. He has extreme anger issues and other bizarre behaviors.

It's clear Dad has a problem, but because it has not affected him at work he sees no reason to get help. The one time I brought it up it only enraged him. He believes he is the ruler of the house, in control of everything, but it's obvious he's losing control.

We know we can't force him to get help, but what can I do to get Dad to see a psychiatrist or to improve the situation? Mom has given up, and I'm afraid for my little sister. She's in high school and still lives at home. -- BIG SIS IN NEW MEXICO

DEAR BIG SIS: Your mother should have insisted your father get help when he started abusing you. Because she didn't, you should have told a teacher or counselor at school because they are mandated to report it. If your father abuses your sister, that's what she must do.

While many people mistakenly think that domestic abuse happens only in low-income families, family violence occurs among people on all social and economic levels. Because you fear for your sister's safety, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at (800) 799-7233. The people there can suggest help for your mother and sister, but your father cannot be "helped" unless he's willing to finally admit he needs it.