Published on August 10th, 2017 | by Richard Black


Lies My Parents Told Me

You’ll be fine.

Santa Claus is coming tonight.

You can do anything you set your mind to.

My old man was particularly fond of the last one. I’d been trying to figure out what eight minus five was for two or three days when I heard him say the phrase for the first time. Addition was a subject I could understand. If I had three apples and Sally gave me five I knew that I’d end up with eight apples. I was a great guy after all and, even though I didn’t really like apples, I was just happy to be on the receiving end of a nice gesture.

Subtraction was a different animal entirely and my grades in mathematics took their first of many, many dives. The concept boggled my mind. If I had eight apples and Sally took five then I was left with a bunch of hurt feelings. Why was Sally being such a bitch all of the sudden? Even more importantly what in the hell was she going to do with them? Probably ferment them and make hard cider. I’d always heard her old man had a drinking problem.

And so my old man, sensing my frustration or perhaps just hearing my muffled curses, gave me a pat on the head and told me that if I set my mind to it I could accomplish anything. My mother, being the more pragmatic of the two, sighed and then quizzed me with math fact cards for an hour or two every day until I learned how to subtract by rote memory. I still had no idea how to subtract or where those damn apples really went but newer and more frightening truths were about to make themselves known.

Despite my father’s confidence I was pretty sure that I couldn’t accomplish “anything” I set my mind to. A few months earlier I spent a good two hours jumping off the bed in Superman Underoos hoping to take flight and that clearly didn’t happen. What did happen resulted in a mild concussion and the inkling that there were certain limits to my mental capabilities.

It was the beginning of the end. Instead of the result of one particular incident my loss of innocence took place over a longer and more agonizing period of time.

I had a buddy who wanted to be a cheetah and, while I was only eight or nine and pretty unfamiliar with medical progress at the time, I was pretty certain that Tommy wasn’t, in fact, going to ever be a cheetah. The portly dude who was filling up the stockings on Christmas was not Santa Claus. A magical fairy didn’t visit me at night, whisk away my tooth and leave a few quarters in its place and no matter how hard I tried I’d never, ever, rally figure out how to divide decimals.

Later on in high school I came to understand that I’d never be a neurologist or probably any kind of “gist” despite my halfhearted efforts in science and mathematics. Even worse it dawned on me that Sarah McCullough was probably never going to rip off my clothes in the art closet and hump me until I was purple no matter how hard I stared at her in study hall. It was a disappointing time for me all around.

The loss of innocence is really a sad and necessary sort of thing but I’m not sure why. I like to think that we live in a society that values hard truths but in many ways we don’t. If I were a deeper thinker I’d note that the only thing more painful than the loss of one’s innocence is witnessing the same loss in one’s child. Fortunately I’m not and, as a parent, I’m happy to be part of the problem and ply my daughter with easy lies.

Santa Claus is coming on Christmas Eve. The fairy behind the door is real and writes you notes every week. Adolescence is the hardest part of your life but it only gets easier from here. You can accomplish anything you put your mind to.

That last one though isn’t really a lie. Not exactly. From a parent’s standpoint it’s more of a hope and one I wished I’d understood more thoroughly when I was younger. With the proper will I’m certain that Darcy can accomplish anything she sets her mind to. She is still young and bright and while the odds of her becoming a cheetah, or a mermaid are even with those of me becoming a neurologist or even a proctologist the life she has before her is one of massive potential.


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