There’s a wonderful irony in parenting, that we want to imbue our children with a strong moral code and yet we will tell them bald faced lies when it suits our purpose. We tell ourselves that the deceptions are for their own good, whether to entertain them or shield them, and that it is alright to hide the truth, despite the fact that one of the first morals that we try to teach toddlers is honesty.
I was reminded of this yesterday afternoon when I was out with Buster Boy. We were throwing a frisbee around near the athletics track when a gust of wind took hold of the flying disk and carried it beyond the barbed-wire topped fence. Buster Boy dissolved into a ball of tears, the type of anguish that truly only a five year old can know, and I was unable to comfort him. Offers of a replacement frisbee were dismissed out of hand as he didn’t want another frisbee, he wanted his frisbee.
There wasn’t anyone inside the fence to ask for help, so we walked to each of the gates on the off chance that one had been left open. Neither was open and so I took Buster Boy home, amid wails of protestation, telling him that I was sure we’d be able to recover the frisbee tomorrow if someone was using the ground. That was lie number one.
The frisbee didn’t have so much as our name written on it, I had no doubt that if someone was at the sports stadium the following day it would quickly be claimed. I had no intention of leaving the bright orange chunk of plastic for someone else to souvenir.
After getting home and finding a distraction for Buster Boy I set out for the athletics track again, this time paying particular attention to the state of the fence, looking for places where the gap between barbed wire and chain-link mesh was a little wider. About two thirds of the way along the fence I found exactly what I was looking for, a section of fence where the fence was drooping and where the sharpened wire twists at the top of the mesh had been bent over. Clearly I wasn’t the only person who’d found reason to break into the locked track, although I doubted that anyone else had done so with such high ideals, over something so trivial.
At this time I reflected on the changes in attitude we go through in life. At one point, the idea of breaking into a locked facility would have been unthinkable, then only a few short years later it would have taken only the flimsiest of excuses to do so. At some point a policy of utility was adopted, was it really worth sneaking through a barbed-wire fence for seven dollars worth of plastic? But now I found the idea of defying the barbed-wire to be a righteous quest in order to remove my son’s anguish.
I leapt onto the fence and steadied myself as it drooped further under my weight. I swung a leg between the top of the mesh and the bottom row of barbed-wire, only to find my jeans caught on one of the twists which hadn’t been folded down. My heart raced, the adrenalin pumping, but at the same time I couldn’t escape the obvious comedy of what I was doing. I unhooked my jeans and slid through, dropping to the ground beyond the fence line, and proceeded quickly to the area where the frisbee lay. The return journey once again saw me hook my jeans on a random strand of wire, but soon enough I was walking back to the Dave from Albury Compound, my prize carefully tucked under my arm.
Upon my return I spotted Buster Boy in our front yard, waiting for his turn at totem tennis, so I floated the frisbee over the fence and landed it close to where he was sitting. The joy at seeing his precious frisbee returned was an amazing counter-point to his anguish at its loss. After all of the hugs and high-fives had been done Buster Boy looked up and asked
“How did you get it back Dad?”
I considered whether or not to share my feat of athleticism, but quickly came up with an alternative story, or a lie if you prefer. I told Buster Boy that on my second trip to the ground I’d encountered someone with a key who’d let me in to retrieve his frisbee. He was happy to have his toy back and I was happy to have maintained his belief in my moral fortitude.
We all want to do what’s best for the kids, even though sometimes the things we do and say are wildly contradictory. I can think back to my own childhood and with the benefit of age and hindsight identify half truths and stories that my parents told me, but it certainly doesn’t undermine my trust in them.
I think that at some point we decide to build for our children, at least for a while, a world where the good guys always win, where things are fair and where they have nothing to fear. While this is nothing like the world that they will ultimately inhabit, I am yet to be convinced that it should be any other way. Perhaps it’s the kids who have these beautiful fantasies constructed for them who go on to be passionate about fairness, justice, equality and the need to be responsible to your community, not just yourself? That’s certainly what I want for my children.