The Gift of Gab (2002)

My eight-year old son, John, has the Gift of Gab. He comes by it honestly. Sometime before the great potato famine, one of my wife's ancestors kissed the Blarney Stone. The Gift has been passed down through the generations. blarneystoneWhen I asked for Eileen's hand, her father told me, in all seriousness, that she was one of the quiet ones. This was to distinguish her from several of her seven sisters who have the Gift in spades. Family reunions are remarkable exhibitions of the family's talent. With my taciturn Down East heritage, I marvel.

My son's blossoming verbal abilities surprised me. The Gift must have the ability to skip generations. Ask John about the video he watched last week and you get a happy half-hour monologue complete with sub-plots. Ask him about a recent family trip; he gives you a minute-by-minute account. I have to cut short our mandatory collect telephone calls from prison to avoid breaking the family budget.

John strikes up conversations with complete strangers. At the prison Christmas party, I escorted him to the bench full of visitors waiting to use the restroom. A dozen people sat in silence. What do you say? "So, what's your son/father/husband in for?" John was unfazed. Within thirty seconds, he was conversing with the elderly woman sitting beside him. He happily chatted away the ten-minute wait. She nodded and smiled. From my vantage point, it looked as if he was describing a kata he learned in karate class.

Prison is a challenge for even the most gifted families. My sister recently told me about an incident when she saw the Gift fail my boy. When my wife and I realized that I was coming to prison, we sold our home. We needed cheaper housing for the family and a change of location seemed in order. Former friends don't know what to say to the wife of someone in prison for a sexual offense. We moved the family across the state to be near my sister and brother-in-law and their kids. It's been a good thing. My brother-in-law does the handyman projects that I can no longer do. My wife can talk about me to my sister, Deborah, without feeling shamed.

Our families attend the same church. Deborah sometimes teaches John's Sunday school class. She ends the class by asking if any of the children have prayer requests. John usually asks for prayer for his Dad.

"John, where is your Daddy?" an inquisitive seven-year-old girl asked one day. There was a long silence. John looked panicky. Tears welled-up in his eyes. My sister came to his rescue.

"John, your Dad lives in Concord. Doesn't he?" 

John nodded. 

"Doesn't he ever come home?" the little questioner continued.

John remained speechless.

"John visits his Dad often," Deborah replied. "Alright, does anyone else have any prayer requests?"

I guess she could have told them that John's Dad is in prison. But, then the inevitable "What for?" follows. How do you explain sexual assault to a grade-schooler in three minutes or less? And what are they going to tell their family when they get home?

"Honey, what did you learn about in your Sunday school class today?"

John doesn't fully understand why I'm in prison. I know I will have to tell him the unpleasant details someday. Short of taking my picture off the refrigerator and never mentioning me in public, my family will continue to get asked hard questions. It's something they will have to live with as long as I'm in here. I doubt the answers will get any easier, even for someone with the Gift.