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Let Sleeping Dads Lie

Posted by Elisa Taub
Let Sleeping Dads Lie

by J.J. Jamieson

This is a true story. One particular morning, my wife lets me sleep an extra 20 minutes, God bless her, which means I don't have to get up until 6:15 AM. Fantastic. So I'm blissfully slumbering away, until my 4 year old Thomas comes running into the bedroom, half-crying, half-whining, yelling, "Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!!" His sister Mary runs five paces behind him, already blathering her defense, which means she's clearly the cause of his despondency. With half-closed eyes, I croak for them to shush, one at a time please, and then I let the prosecution go first. Tommy? Your case?

With a tear still on his face, and his voice strained with emotion, Tommy laments, "Mary stole my invisible balloon."

Oooooo-kay. I rubbed my eyes and put the defense on the stand. Mary? "Tommy said he would share it and he's supposed to share it but he wouldn't."

I cross-examined both witnesses, but that's about the long and the short of it. Stolen invisible balloon.

Though the fog of sleep still wafted around me, the urge rose within me to explain that in truth, in reality, there was no balloon - invisible or not. But I repressed it. The presence, albeit invisible, of said inflated rubberized spherical floating object, was a non-truth that I needed to accept - because the emotions and sense of injustice were certainly real enough. so I knew I had to say something to solve the Case of the Stolen Invisible Balloon.

Now, before I tell you what I said so you can accuse me of insensitivity and stupidity, ask yourself what would you say if your son said your daughter stole his invisible balloon?

What we say matters. Of course. And we all aspire to honesty. It is a virtue, after which we preach to our kids and, we hope, model for them. I try to raise my children according to the Three Golden Truths: The Truth shall set you free. To thy own self be True. And, Liar, liar pants on fire.

I remember first explaining the concept of lying to my kids, while reading The Tale of the Three Little Pigs. In the longer version, after the Big Bad Wolf's huffing and puffing fails to level the Third Pig's brick house, the carnivorous canine tries to coax the swine out, inviting Pig No. 3 to join him in an apple-picking venture at the orchard. "Does the Wolf really want to pick apples with the pig?" I ask my toddlers. They weren't sure. "No, see, the Wolf is lying in order to trick the pig into leaving his nice, safe brick house, so the Wolf can gobble the pig up," I said. "See? He's lying, which is really not very nice." There. I'd explained it, while cleverly equating dishonesty with violence and gobbling. Yea me.

But the truth is, virtually every parent lies. Lies, be they big and bad or little and white, are realistically part of life, and part of parenthood. So, when is it best to let sleeping dads lie?

Some lies are handily defendable. Yes, there's a Santa Claus, a Tooth Fairy, an Easter Bunny. When I was about six years old and figured out the "truth," I didn't feel as much disappointment as personal satisfaction in confirming a growing suspicion of an altered, more sophisticated understanding of the world. Assuming my kids evolve similarly, I don't think they'll hate me forever for this gentle deception.

Then there's Drugs. Pot won't lead to communism or serial killing, but I'd prefer my kids not to smoke it. I myself am not a drug user... but if I ever run for President, it won't take more than about three news cycles to uncover a few high school and college chums who will testify to witnessing me smoking a little weed way back when. And inhaling. Not tons, and not since the late 1980's, but yes, okay, I admit, I smoked a little marijuana in my misspent youth.

One reason I stopped was because I knew some day I'd face the dreaded question from my teenagers: "Dad, did you ever smoke pot?" A general believer in honesty, I'd want to say "Yes." Then they'd say, "Well, when did you stop?" and I wouldn't want to glance at my watch and say, "Well, let me think...eight minus, yesterday." That wouldn't be a very exemplary example.

So I plan on saying, "When I was in college, I tried it a few times. I didn't really like it, and I knew it wasn't any good for me, plus I didn't want to break the law, so I stopped doing it." Those sentences contain two lies: I did like it, and I tried it a few more than a few times. so I'm hardly a model of virtue. But at the least it may lesson and/or delay their own experimentation. I feel that's a moral-slash-parental tightrope I can adequately dance over. I hope. I don't really know, since my kids aren't into kindergarten yet. If they ask me probing questions about drugs in the next six months, I'm switching pre-schools.

My wife, however, takes a totally different approach. She chooses parental piety over honesty, even half-honesty. She says the Right Thing To Do is lie. lie, lie. "I never did it, I never wanted to it, so you don't do it," she plans to state firmly - and she directs me to do likewise. Maybe that is the best scheme. Maybe when they're in their late 20's and they say, "Mom, Dad, seriously, you never smoked pot?" - maybe then we 'fess up.

The moral equation at play here is: which does more? The virtues of open honest communication, which might paint Dad as an occasional recreational pot-smoker for a short while in the distant past, thereby inadvertently authorizing experimental drug use? Or a bleached version of reality which might paint Dad and/or Mom as chaste and law-abiding, and worthy of emulation? Hmm. To be continued, it seems.

I find myself lying about Death. Or, more accurately, lying around Death. Our kids already know that their grandfathers died and went to Heaven, a cool place where we'll all be some day. That's not lying, I believe. Rather, I lie - or avert the truth - when I'm reading my kids a book like James and the Giant Peach. In an early chapter James' parents are killed by a rampaging rhino whom has escaped from the zoo, which forces him to live with his selfish and spiteful relatives, Aunt Spiker and Aunt Sponge. When I came to that particular passage, I just kind of skipped over it. Why put that thought in their heads, that parents might be mauled to death by a marauding pachyderm?

Apologies to Roald Dahl, but I remember when at age seven, I suddenly comprehended my own paternal grandfather's death, three years earlier. I felt so bad for my own father, whom I realized didn't have his own father anymore, that I cried for two weeks. No need to rush such a realization, right?

But that's about the extent of my major deception - at least so far. So I draw the following conclusions about lying to my kids:

1. Honesty is a virtue, but not the only virtue.
2. Children's development is fluid, and my acquiescence to the principle of honesty sometimes may reflect that fluidity.
3. Every kid is different, every parent is different, and every case is different.

So what was the most honest way to respond toMy sister stole my invisible balloon?

I said - and I preface this by acknowledging that this might not have been my finest moment of fatherhood - I said, "Well, steal it back."

So he did. That was easy, I thought.

Then his sister stole it from him again, and popped it. Which sent him into paroxysms of her hands. Then I huffed and puffed and I blew up my son's invisible balloon. And at least for the next 15 minutes, he lived happily ever after.

Case solved.

J.J. Jamieson is a writer and producer in Hollywood. He lives with his wife and three children in Santa Monica, California, and is a regular contributor to momready.