I love Father Greg Boyle’s stories.
One of the reasons his anecdotes touch my heart is because his work with gang members parallels the work that we do with prisoners, in so many ways.
I know this: His love for gang members is comparable to my love for people behind bars.
Fr. Boyle tells of the day he was asked to give a keynote address to a large audience. He brought along two reformed “homies,” as he calls them, to briefly tell their stories before he gave his speech.
In the Q and A session following their presentation, a woman in the audience said she had a question for one of the boys. He nervously approached the microphone.
“You say you’re a father,” the woman began, “and your son and daughter are starting to reach their teenage years. What wisdom do you impart to them?” She recalibrates. “I mean, what advice do you give them?”
There stood the young former gang member and trouble-maker, trying to formulate an answer. With eyes closed, he clutched the microphone. Finally, sobbing, he blurted: “I just don’t want my kids to turn out like me!”
The audience was silent, and not one of us made a move to fill it. The woman stood up again. Now it was her turn to cry as she pointed at Mario, her voice steely and certain, even through her tears. “Why wouldn’t you want your kids to turn out to be like you?” she said. “You are gentle, you are kind, you are loving, you are wise.” She steadied herself, planted herself firmly. “I hope your kids turn out to be like you.” There was not much of a pause before all one thousand attendees stood and began to clap. The ovation seemed to have no end.
Now it’s my turn to convey a similar message to many fathers and grandfathers in prison.
I know that parents behind bars express similar sentiments: They pray that their kids won’t turn out like them. And that’s the wrong prayer.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: “Some of the nicest people I know are in prison; some of my best friends are in prison!”
I am daily impressed by their incredible stamina, amazing fortitude, honesty beyond bounds, undying loyalty, genuine spirituality, exemplary care and compassion for others, and a love for spouse and family that knows no bounds.
And so, my dad-friends behind bars, it’s OK to pray that your kids don’t stray.
But, I’d be honored to hope that my kids boast the attributes that I see in you!
"Becoming a dad is one thing - being a dad is many things."