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The First Real Lie

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The First Real Lie

How much did you lie to your parents as a child?

I didn’t lie to mine particularly often. But when I did find honesty sufficiently inconvenient, and I was reasonably sure of success, I’d do so without even slight hesitation or remorse. In fact, I’m a little alarmed to consider how underdeveloped that part of my conscience was. Moreover, that dearth of regret made me pretty good at it.

(I’ll have one well-adjusted son with just a splash of sociopath, please.)

Do you have a Pinocchio?
Do you have a Pinocchio?

To be sure, part of what enabled the behavior was my parents’ divorce, which happened shortly before my 11th birthday. Suddenly I had two homes, and I could play one off the other concerning events and circumstances as needed. Plus, when it came time to lie, it was to a horribly distracted and hurting adult, so it was a low bar to clear.

How much do your children lie to you now?

Our boys have been mostly fine in this regard. Most of the time they either don’t, or it’s a caricature, with them trying so halfheartedly and exaggeratedly that there’s no genuine effort to deceive. It’s like it’s the ritual of them reaching acceptance of the situation. One indignant parental look, and they drop it.

Now once in a while they’ll “lie” in that they’ll exhibit the sort of puffery to which a lot of boys are prone. They just can’t resist making a good story a little bigger, faster, or whatever. Then they forget that they told me the story already, and I get it two days later in its newly puffed up form. “No, seriously, Dad: the race car was going THREE HUNDRED AND FORTY MILES AN HOUR.”

Sometimes I gently call them on this, but other times I just let it go. I remember doing the same thing at their ages. I’m not terribly concerned about it. I rather doubt it’s a reliable indicator for questionable character, and besides that, everyone gets over it in adulthood except for Gene Simmons.


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So the other day I noticed Nathan was using his tablet, but his timer wasn’t running. Now this is permissible, but only if he’s reading. Unfortunately for both of us, I’m certain I see video on the screen.

“Nate?”

“Yes?”

“What are you doing?”

“Reading.” (Casual, just-chillin’ tone. Perfunctory glance up, and then right back down. Smooth.)

“I thought I saw video.”

“No. See?” (He holds up the screen to show me that a book is open.)

See???
See???

Uh-huh.

To my knowledge, this is the first time he’s really gone all in and tried to effectively lie to me, and been old enough (and therefore sophisticated enough in his approach) to plausibly pull it off. His tactics were fine; he just didn’t realize how poor his pre-lie intelligence gathering had been.

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As you might imagine, from there our exchange steadily deteriorated as Nathan denied his crime two or three more times, even as I repeated what I’d seen. When he realized he wasn’t going to budge me because I believed my own eyes over his insistences, he abruptly relented and started trying to make things as favorable for himself as possible in the sentencing phase.

Just about gave me whiplash. Have I mentioned Nate wants to be an attorney?

When he realized he wasn’t going to budge me because I believed my own eyes over his insistences, he abruptly relented and started trying to make things as favorable for himself as possible in the sentencing phase.


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The normal penalty for not running the timer when he should be is losing two hours from his remaining game time for the week. With this offense’s attendant dishonesty, he got busted down to only two hours left for the week, and lost his tablet for the day.

Nathan was upset, but what little anger he had quickly turned to shame as he hugged me tightly and, through a few tears, told me how sorry he was. I hugged him back and told him I appreciated that. I reminded him that the two best things to do when you make a mistake are to apologize and to do better next time. He told me he would.

I am encouraged that my firstborn is knocking on 12 and still has a strong desire not to disappoint his parents. It gives me hope he’ll carry it through the fog that is being a teenager, in which it will certainly take its knocks from time to time. When he emerges on the other side, having shepherded it through, it will have begun to germinate into a strong desire not to disappoint himself.

My boy will be a man.

In the meantime, I am thankful for the harbinger this little episode has been. My child sincerely intended to deceive me. It’s mostly serendipity that he didn’t succeed. Think he’ll try again sometime? Think I need to be vigilant?

Call it a shot across the bow of parental apathy.


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