I looked my mom in the eye and lied to her about watching a movie I wasn’t allowed to watch even though she totally knew I was lying.
Even when I was young and extra-stupid, I was still smart enough to know she knew.
Parents just know.
It was a conservative house. No R-rated or even PG-13 movies for me. Even actually turning 13 didn’t convince my mom that PG-13 material was age-appropriate for me.
When I was probably 9 or 10, we had just one PG-13 movie in the house. Hiding Out. A random late-1980s Jon Cryer movie I’ll be surprised if any of you have ever seen.
I totally watched it whenever I had a few hours to kill home alone because I was young and liked doing things I wasn’t supposed to.
There was a word used in the film that no one ever uses: execrable.
And I used it once in a sentence while talking to my mom.
Because she’s not a vegetable, a small-brained woodland creature or a moldy piece of ham, my mother knew instantly I had watched the one movie in the house I wasn’t allowed to watch.
When she asked me where I’d heard that word, I told a lie.
Because self-preservation is one of our greatest instincts.
Because no kid wants to get caught doing things they’re not supposed to, or more specifically, punished for the behavior.
Because we don’t appreciate the freedom of honesty when we’re too young and innocent to know how poisonous dishonesty really is.
My son got in trouble in gym class this week for sliding on the floor even after the teacher instructed him not to. He wasn’t allowed to participate in gym that day and it made him cry.
We got a note from the teacher telling us what happened.
Our six-year-old denied it. He suggested his first-grade teacher was lying to us.
He gets his facts wrong a lot because he’s 6. But this is the first time I know of where he was being intentionally dishonest out of self-preservation.
He didn’t want to lose rewards and privileges. And I’d like to believe he didn’t want to disappoint his parents.
I never want to lie to him about anything not related to Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy or the Easter Bunny.
So, we hugged.
“Daddy used to get in trouble at school too, bud. And when the teachers told my mom and dad about it? They were never lying,” I told him. “I know it’s hard to tell the truth sometimes. Sometimes people say things that aren’t true because they’re afraid to get in trouble. Everyone does, man.”
And then we hugged again.
So here we are. Just a little more innocence lost.
He can lie when he’s afraid just like the rest of us.
But maybe he’ll choose not to.
When I was five or six, I spent a summer staying with a family during the day while my dad was at work. They had a little boy named E.J. He was a year younger than me.
We would run around behind their house, playing in sandboxes and doing Big Wheel stunts and picking raspberries while trying to avoid bee stings.
On one random afternoon adventure, we discovered a bucket of discarded motor oil outside a neighbor’s house.
E.J. picked up a pinecone lying nearby, dipped it in the bucket of oil and started drawing oil marks on the wall of the house.
I don’t remember feeling like we were doing anything wrong.
The neighbor discovered the oil mess on his house later and contacted E.J.’s mom—the neighbor lady who babysat me.
She sat us down at the kitchen table to ask us what happened.
E.J. told her that I did it.
I denied it.
She believed her son.
And I was simply the lying vandal shitty kid that helped supplement the household income for however many more days or weeks I stayed with that family that summer.
That’s the first time I can remember someone accusing me of something that wasn’t true.
That’s the first time I can remember feeling a real sense of injustice and outrage.
I’m almost certainly the only human being in the world who remembers the story and knows (or cares) what really happened.
The truth matters.
I hope I’m always brave enough to be as honest as possible without hurting people.
I hope my son is always brave enough to be as honest as possible without hurting people.
I hope the power of truth prevails for people who deserve justice.
I hugged my son so tight. The missteps of growing up have begun.
Everything’s going to be okay.
“It’s always better to tell the truth,” I told him.
Something I’m sure to repeat over and over and over again for many years.
Something I need to always remind myself to be.
Because we must lead by example.
Because honesty takes courage.
Because that’s where peace lives.
Because the alternative is execrable.