SHE HEARS FROM MORE troubled people in a month than a psychiatrist hears from in a lifetime. The young, the old, the cheated on, the lonely - all bring her their problems. She listens to the pain of a whole nation and finds a way to ease it.She's Pauline Esther Friedman Phillips - "Dear Abby."
Writing under the name "Abigail Van Buren," she turns out a daily advice column carried in the Deseret News and about 1,400 other newspapers here and abroad. As many as 20,000 people to write to her every week.
Abby will be in Salt Lake City on Saturday to speak at the Utah Conference for Strengthening Families at Cottonwood High School.
In a telephone interview she gave the Deseret News her thoughts on family life and other subjects.
"How does one go about strengthening the families?" she says. "This isn't a job just for mother or just for father. It's a group effort. I'm talking about both parents pulling in the same direction, being on the same team. Children learn early to divide and conquer."
As we pull together, where are we headed? Abby advocates getting back to the basics of family life. "There are just a certain number of things you can harp on," she says. Harp too much and children tune you out. So make every lecture count.
Abby advises skipping the "hang up your clothes don't eat with your fingers always wear clean underwear" dialogue. Spend your words wisely, on the important virtues. Abby says to teach children the time-honored principles: "Telling the truth is important. Let your word stand for something. Be loyal."
But don't waste your time, she says, preaching values you don't practice. "If you punish Junior for lying, then tell him to tell the lady at the box office he's 12 when he's really 13, you are teaching him to lie under certain circumstances.
"We can strengthen the family by avoiding temptations. The closer you get to temptation, the harder it is to resist. Don't try to test your mettle. We are all human."
She realizes those old virtues are harder than ever to instill. "Everybody's doing it doesn't make it right but makes it less conspicuous. In the old days there were stigmas. When I was 20 very few people were being divorced. The more people did it, over the years, the more we started to take marriage less seriously. In my day you went into marriage thinking, `This is forever.' "
THE MAN ABBY HAS BEEN married to forever - 50 years in July - is Morton Phillips. His family made it big in Presto Cookers. Her husband is the one she turns to when she wants advice, she says. "He is very sensitive and very moral."
The couple have two children, Jeanne (divorced and her mother's administrative assistant, one of a staff of six) and Edward (a father, an attorney and businessman).
As for the rest of her family, Abby has three sisters. They are close - keeping in touch by letter and by phone and getting together as often as possible at the Palm Springs home of elder sister, Dorothy.
Abby's twin, Esther, is a popular advice-giver - Ann Landers. Ann Landers began writing an advice column first and shuttled some letters to her twin for answering. Thus Abby got a sense of her own common sense. Abby began writing her own advice column for the San Mateo Times and got famous when she moved to the San Francisco Chronicle in 1956.
When asked what advice she is proudest of, Abby looks back over a quarter-century career and has to think for a second. "I feel good about enlightening a lot of young people to tell someone if they have been sexually abused. I've also told battered women there is help out there.
"I guess I feel best about the educating I've done. Just letting readers know there are people who care.
"I advise counseling a great deal," she says. "It's not a cop out. I don't do it because I don't have all the answers (which I don't). I recommend it because I know that people get better through counseling. And, you know they're all not $100-an-hour therapists. If you can't pay, mental health organizations will still help you."
That's what she feels best about, finally, giving people advice or sending them somewhere that will change their lives.
She gives advice, for a very simple reason: because she cares about people, and Dear Abby knows, "Living with problems is a brutal way to live."