Hello, Fodder

I used to love writing letters. But that was before writing became my job. Nowadays, I can't jot down so much as a "Dear Edna" without feeling like I should be getting a paycheck for it. Even if I'm absolutely nuts about Edna.

And, of course, when you don't write letters, you don't get them . . . except from the occasional new, faraway acquaintance, who will send you one letter, wait in vain for your reply, and eventually discover what all your ex-buddies already know: that you're an enormous jerk who thinks he has more important things to do than to maintain friendships by simply answering his mail.

It's not like I flatly refuse to play pen pal. I just never seem to get around to it. Whenever I receive a letter, it is my pattern to spend the next five or six months thinking, "Geez, I've got to answer Edna's letter before she realizes that I'm an enormous jerk." And then, somewhere between the seventh and eighth month, I figure I've put it off for so long that Edna doesn't give a damn anymore. What's the point of going to all the time, trouble and increasing expense of writing to someone who thinks that you're an enormous jerk?

What keeps me from feeling too horrible about this teensy little microscopic flaw in my otherwise unblemished personality is the knowledge that I'm not alone. Lots of folks suffer from postalphobia--including my own dear mother, whose letter-writing efforts are exclusively limited to the signing of greeting cards.

Sometimes I'm cheered by the possibility that my problem is hereditary. But then I wonder: If I were ever separated from my son for any real length of time, would I write to him?

Last week, if you had caught me in an honest mood, I might have hung my head in shame and answered in the negative. But today I can say, "You betchum!" And all because of Phoenix reader Melanie Rahn--even though she was hardly thinking about me when she developed the Write Connection Program.

No, Rahn was thinking of the current estimates that more than a third of all children born in the Eighties will experience a parental divorce before the age of eighteen . . . and that more than 90 percent of noncustodial parents are fathers--men who often have trouble communicating with their children.

She was also recalling studies that have found many children believing they were somehow responsible for their parents' divorce, and that the departed mom or dad will stop loving them because of it. Obviously, this combined sense of guilt and abandonment can be rough stuff for a kid to handle.

Now, there are plenty of slick scam artists out there coming up with ideas that capitalize on such human disasters and the pain they cause. But Rahn has brainstormed something that can actually solve a problem. Incredible, eh?

The Write Connection is a letter-writing system designed to make it easy for divorced parents to keep in constant touch with their children. But it can be used by all adults who are separated from their tyke of choice: the military parent, the frequent traveler, grandparents, political prisoners, hostages, you name it.

Rahn's snazzy little kit could turn the most reluctant correspondent into a mail carrier's worst enemy. Crammed (neatly) into a single binder are colorful stationery and envelopes; cartoon stickers; return mailers for the child to send back; single-page activity projects to paste-up, cut-out and/or color; an instruction booklet with letter-writing ideas; a calendar chart to help keep track of what you've sent and when you sent it . . . in short, everything the lonely, writer's-blocked parent needs but the postage stamps, the pen and the kid.

When used with one child, the program covers a six-month period and requires only five to ten minutes of the adult's time each week. Six-month refills are available, but Rahn doesn't think most parents will need them. It is her hope that, after making it through the first batch, they'll find that keeping in touch with their child in fun, imaginative ways has become a habit.

To check out the program, write to Positive Parenting, Inc., 2633 East Indian School, #400, Phoenix, AZ 85016. No, wait a minute. Considering the problem we're dealing with here, forget about writing and call 956-0070, or 1-800-334-3143 toll-free.

In the meantime, Melanie, could you put together a program that'll motivate me to answer this stack of letters from former friends? I just hate it when people I like think that I'm an enormous jerk.

"Geez, I've got to answer Edna's letter before she realizes that I'm an enormous jerk."