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Tuesday, May 17, 2011



Not telling the truth can come back to bite you as viciously as telling a lie. Especially when it concerns your children.

    I remember this like it was yesterday. My brother, mother, father and I were sitting around the kitchen table eating dinner. My brother must have been eighteen or nineteen and in college but home for the summer. 
      Some discussion had disintegrated into a disagreement, verging on an argument between my father and my brother. One didn't usually argue voluntarily with my father, who was a litigator, a trial lawyer, because he could beat everyone. Although he was only  five foot six, he was brilliant, a masterful and gifted debater, famous for out-thinking opponents of all sizes and intellects in the courtroom. 
      On his feet, no one could beat him. So I was surprised Jimmy persisted to fight with him, the timbor of the voices rising slightly with every point made on either side. I guess Dad's stubborn streak was handed down to us. I was in junior high school at the time, quietly trying to eat, my eyes getting bigger and bigger as each round continued...watching the verbal battle get nastier and nastier as it went along.

      The subject of the argument was my brother's friend. I'll call him Stan. Stan was an  unusual boy, bright but a little wild. He had serious problems at home with his family. Once I remember he came home after curfew and his father had locked him out of his house. He came over to our house and threw pebbles at the windows until Jimmy and I both woke up.

      Stan was rebellious and had a penchant for getting into trouble. But I found him to be a kind boy, always nice to me, often nicer than my brother was. Jimmy was not a rule breaker like Stan and I don't quite understand the basis of their friendship but it was a fast one until Stan's family moved away to Chicago just before senior year of high school.

       Anyway, the argument proceeded and I think my brother was actually winning. That was a dangerous thing to do. If you showed any signs of winning an argument with Dad, it forced him to pull out bigger guns because Dad never matter what the cost. Except for tonight, when Dad lost bigger than he ever lost before.
     I sat there watching them, silently, wishing it would stop, knowing it wouldn't until something terrible happened and that night it did. I don't remember exactly what Jimmy said, but my father blurted out,
     "Yeah? Well, if he was so smart why did he commit suicide?"

      There was silence in the room. Forks stopped in mid-air. I could hardly breathe, watching, seeing my father's face show unfamiliar signs of regret the minute the sentence was out of his mouth. Jimmy's face paled, my mother watched quietly like I did.
      Then my brother questioned my father who admitted they found out about Stan's suicide six months earlier and purposely didn't tell Jimmy. I don't remember the reason why they didn't tell him, maybe they thought they had a good reason at the time. Whatever. They didn't tell him and it was a huge mistake.
      My brother went ballistic. There was screaming and yelling. Tears gathered in Jimmy's eyes. My father backpedaled, but he was finally out of winning arguments, resorting to the old standby, "because we didn't." 

      Jim got up from the table, grabbed his car keys and disappeared. He was gone for hours. I was asleep when he got home.

         My father and brother didn't speak for a while. I know Jimmy never forgave him...and, what's worse, never trusted him or completely believed him again. After being a witness to one of the most incredible scenes of my young life, I never trusted or completely believed him again either.
      So when a dear friend of mine called me to tell me her son, a close friend of my younger son since kindergarten, was addicted to heroin and was in a psychiatric hospital, I debated calling him at college to tell him. We called and told him some of the truth and a week or two later, called and told him the complete truth. 
       Did I want to tell him? No, final exams were coming up. But I never want to see the look in my son's eyes I saw in Jimmy's eyes on the day Dad used all his ammo to win a battle and inadvertently lost the war.  


kayspringsteen said...

At some point we have to understand that our children need our honesty and then our compassion, and that to "protect" from the truth is to not trust our children to be the independent adults we raised them to be. You did the right thing.

Kim Bowman Author said...

Maybe I'm wrong, but I always tell my kids the truth. Probably because my parents did us and it kept us out of a lot of trouble. Even though Cage is only 2, if he ask me a question, I answer it honestly and make it age appropriate. As a matter of fact, we were at a well-known store yesterday and 2 cops came out leading crying girls in handcuffs. When Cage ask me why they were crying and were they hurt, I said, "No, honey, they're not hurt. They did something bad and now they're going to get in trouble so they're scared". He said, "They in trouble? Do something bad? Why?"
I said, "Yes, honey, they did something bad and I don't know why."

The girls were causing quite a scene and for a 2-yr-old seeing big men with guns dragging girls to cars with lights on was scary. I could have lied and said they were hurt, etc. But I felt it was more important to tell him the truth.

Great post, Jean.