I am a male, retired from a major West Coast law enforcement agency. I generally agree with your advice, but I have a mega-problem with your answer to "Needs an Answer," the lady whose hubby, "Cliff," is incarcerated. She asked what to say when people she meets ask where her husband is.
You advised her to tell people they are having a "trial separation." Sorry, Abby, but a lie is a lie no matter how you package it. You should have told the lady to tell the truth.
Blown Away in Maui
The fact that a relative is in prison isn't something that some families want to publicize. While many are open about the fact that a family member is incarcerated -- and it is probably healthier to be up-front about it -- not all are willing to be. Read on:
"Needs to Know's" children must be able to talk about their father and be proud of him without worrying about what other people think. Their mother should set the tone for this. What is important is their relationship with their father, not what the neighbors think. Keeping secrets and behaving as though their dad is someone to be ashamed of will only hurt her boys in the long run.
That woman needs to forget what everyone else may think, and say and do whatever is the most healing for her children. A family therapist may be able to help the family navigate through their discomfort and allow the boys to feel good about him -- regardless of the reason he is in jail.
Dealt With It in Delaware
Your suggestion of a family therapist is a good one. Read on:
My son, "Rod," is also in prison, and I, too, often feel uncomfortable revealing his whereabouts. I usually say he's an optician living in Southern California. (He is, having received his certificate while in prison.)
When I confide in a close friend or colleague where he actually is, people are usually understanding (and curious). But I've never experienced any criticism or negativity. After almost 10 years, it still hurts to talk about it. But knowing my son has made progress in his rehabilitation helps to ease the pain.
Joan in Los Angeles
Your son was wise to make the most of the time he has spent in prison. Read on:
My husband is serving 15 years to life. Although shame and guilt are normal reactions, they can be harmful to the family of an inmate. The isolation that comes from living a lie only causes more harm in the long run. We tried it.
A better approach is to be honest, reach out to people and admit how painful it is. Once we did, we found that many other families in our area also have a loved one behind bars. The ridicule and scorn we expected never happened. Instead we were supported and encouraged.
Diane in Auburndale, Fla.
I agree that living a lie is unhealthy. Thank you for sharing your personal experience. There are ministries and programs whose mission is to help the families of prisoners. One which has been mentioned in this column before is the Osborne Association, which offers a list of resources online at www.osborneny.org. Also available from the National Institute of Corrections is a printable version of its "Directory of Programs Serving Families of Adult Offenders," at www.nicic.org/pubs/2002/017081.pdf.
Dear Abby is written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Write Dear Abby at www.DearAbby.com or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, Calif. 90069.
(c)2004, Universal Press Syndicate