Edward, at 5, was a battlefield. His tiny body was scarred by burns from his father's cigarette. During a Christmas party at a holding facility for abused, neglected or abandoned children in Los Angeles, he sat in a corner, hitting himself and repeating, over and over, "I'm bad."

While others asked for Christmas toys, he asked for an answer: "When is my father going to come and get me? I want to go home."Henry Winkler talked to him for 20 minutes before preparing to visit other children. As he was leaving, he asked for a hug.

And a little boy named Bobby, his jaw sewn up from a beating, said, "If he doesn't hug you, I will."

That visit got Winkler's wife involved in a birthday project. She and other concerned people would provide a cake for each child on his birthday; something to say the child was unique and very special. And from that project evolved 50 others, from counseling and a scholarship fund to a reading program and construction of a swimming pool.

"When you see the need, you do something," Winkler told thousands of Utahns gathered at Symphony Hall Saturday for the third annual Governor's Conference on Families. "You can't always leave it to someone else. I'm overwhelmed a lot in my life - there are too many things to do. Make a list, do it beat by beat, day by day, and that wall of enormity is scalable. You can do something."

Winkler believes that Americans "are cutting our own throats in this country." Parents and teachers are not revered. Children have no sense of consequences. Solutions, however, "are not mysterious. It is not necessarily money. We have to want to change the fate of our children."

Winkler is known for his role as "The Fonz" on "Happy Days." He's a producer and director. He's also the father of three and believes "parenting is hard; probably the most difficult job on the face of the earth. But the job is magnificent. It keeps you young. And frustrated and exasperated and fascinated. You laugh a lot. . . . It is important."

Unfortunately, he said, children - and families - no longer know how to communicate. That, more than anything else, is crippling our future.

"Children begin to define themselves as what they own, rather than who they are," he lamented. "Children do not have a sense of their own self-worth. My self-esteem was down around my ankles. I have recently been able to pull it up to my chest."

Winkler believes that explains why the children "in one of the greatest countries in the world are so willing to be self-destructive." And communication and self-respect are the only way we will "get a handle" on the drug problem.

"The center of the body, before the heart and mind, is the ear. To be able to solve problems with words in this country is becoming a lost art."

"The worst thing that ever happened to my country is the quarterly report," Winkler said. "What we have exchanged in order to show the head of the company a profit line is disgusting.

"I don't believe in altruism; that's a pure state, and we don't live in pure states," he said. "We do things because they are important and because doing them makes us feel good about ourselves."

The pay-off, he said, can be simple and very precious. Recently, his 19-year-old stepson, Jed, who's in his second year at Georgetown University, gave him a gift.

"Thanks for the manners," he said. "They work."

That's something Winkler carries with him.