On Fellowship Street, growing up in the sixties, we had a dinner bell, a steel triangle that is so often featured in old westerns, as you see the cook grab a metal bar and rapidly rotate it within the triangle, causing a continuous stream of loud reverberations. When Papa grabbed that bar and played a tune, it pealed out over the neighborhood, alerting us to the approach of dinner. It took a braver lad than I to face my father, and tell him I didn't hear the dinner bell.
Melanie refers to “our stern fathers” at one point, and that is an appropriate description. My father was not a warm and fuzzy man. Though I have not spent one moment reflecting on this fact, my father never said those words, “I love you,” to me. On the other hand, I never doubted for one second, that he did love me. He spent his life fulfilling the responsibilities of a man with nine children. If he did not pause to tell me that he loved me, it was because he had more pressing matters at hand.
One of those more pressing matters, was instilling a sense of right and wrong in us. We learned at an early age not to lie to Papa. He could abide just about anything that did not involve injury, but lying was a special pitfall to avoid. I remember one time when Papa was painting the dining room, including the door jamb.
Out of sheer boredom, I had come in from the heat (and maybe there was just a little touch of wanting to get a whiff of that fresh paint-I don't know), and ventured into the work area, where I promptly managed to place my hand on the freshly painted door jamb. Dismayed at the baby blue paint now prominently visible on my fingertips, I quickly noted that my father's back was to me, as he brushed paint on the opposite wall, so I swiveled around and exited the building, stage left.
Outside, I regrouped and examined my options. Had I just gone right back in, Papa would probably not have been thrilled, but the three seconds that it would have taken him to run the brush over that one spot would not have been worth the stress. Unfortunately, I didn't know that. I just knew that my prints would be on that door jamb, and my backside on the hot seat.
Eventually he noticed the indiscretion on the door jamb and took the step to correct it, but he was in no hurry to pursue the matter. That is, until later, when I went traipsing past, unaware of recent developments.
“Matt, Noel, Mark!” (It was hard to keep track of all of us.) “Where are you going in such a hurry?”
“Uh, nowhere, Papa.”
“You got that right. Come in here for a minute.”
Oh, no. Why were my hands clasped behind my back? And more importantly, why had he had to use an oil-based paint, that would not come off without paint thinner, unless you were willing to remove your skin also? “Yes, Papa?”
“What have you been doing?”
“Nothing? Do you need something to do? I have a whole list of things for a small boy to do.”
“I was playing, Papa.”
“Where were you playing?”
“Where exactly, outside?”
Why did he stress the word “outside?” “Out by the dirt piles, Papa.”
“You mean you haven't even come in the house once in the past hour?”
This was it: the moment of truth, or not, as the case turned out. Eyes wide, expression shocked, voice carefully modulated so as not to squeak. “No sir, Papa.”
He paused for a moment and then, as if just then noticing my hands clasped behind my back, he asked casually, “Why do you have your hands behind your back?”
Even I knew the gig was up. It was far better, at this point, to run up the white flag, and throw myself on the mercy of the court, than it was to keep on digging myself in deeper. Silently, I extended my hands, fingers splayed outwardly. The tell-tale blue on my fingers gave mute testimony to my feeble attempts to pull the wool over my father's eyes. “I'm sorry, Papa.”
“What are you sorry about?” he asked.
“I'm sorry I touched the paint.”
“Do you think I'm angry about that?”
I had to admit that he was pretty calm, so now I got confused. “Yes?” I offered hopefully.
Wrong again. I could tell that from his face.
“No?” I added, just to cover all of the bases.
He decided to put me out of my misery. “I don't don't give a hoot in Hades that you touched the paint.” He indicated the repair job with his brush, and realization dawned on me. Pick and choose your battles, I noted, once again, on the checklist of life. “I care about the fact that you lied to me. I can't abide lying.”
So I learned not to try to try to extricate myself from trouble by lying. It was a simple concept to understand, that of responsibility, and we learned and watched it in action from the time we could reason. Everyone makes mistakes, so own up to them when you get nailed and don't make it worse by lying. Try to get through without telling whoppers. Leave that to Burger King, and maybe you can get some cheese on that Whopper.