My son has come to the conclusion that I know the answer to every question. I have mixed feelings about this development. It is much better than having him conclude that I am ignorant in all things and not worth the time of his curious mind. Yet, it is a tad disheartening to know that I am being thought a liar every time I answer a question with, “I don’t know.”
“I don’t know.” is not an acceptable answer. The boy knows that I do know. Of course I know. I know everything. If I say I don’t know, it’s because I’m too lazy to explain the complex workings of the world or I am part of some adult conspiracy to keep kids in the dark concerning the most important facts about life.
And the facts he yearns to know are vitally important to his life. One of the questions that nags at him most often is, “Who sings this song?” when we are listening to the radio. Sometimes, I can answer him; sometimes I can’t. Whenever I have to tell him that I don’t know who sings this song, his face becomes clouded with suspicion. His gut tells him there is some reason why I am holding this information from him, some special reason why grown-ups are so secretive about this particular song. “Won’t you please tell me?” he begs, hoping that by using a nice word and some emphasis he will find the key to unlock my stingy omnipotence.
Lately, he has fashioned a new phrase to combat my withholding of knowledge from him. “Won’t you tell me the whole truth?” he says whenever I answer a question with “I don’t know.” There’s a hint of accusation in this, which is, I suspect, a deliberate tactic by my little Perry Mason to let me know that he is on to my deceit and that I have only a short time to make my confession before he traps me within my own web of lies.
One day, we were riding in the car when we had to pull over to let an ambulance go by. “Follow the ambulance,” the boy commanded from his back-seat throne. “I want to see who’s dead.”
Of course, I couldn’t follow a speeding ambulance and it soon disappeared. Later, the ambulance passed us again, going in the opposite direction. “They must be taking somebody to the hospital,” I said.
“Who’s dead?” the boy asked.
“I don’t know.”
“Won’t you please tell me?”
“How could I possibly know? I’ve been here with you the whole time.”
“Daddy, won’t you tell me the whole truth?”
“Okay,” I relented cracking the code of silence mandated by the secret circle of adulthood. “Old Joe Tootinbutt is dead,” I ad-libbed. “They’re taking him to the cemetery right now.”
The boy seemed satisfied. The conspiracy continues. . .
A wise man, Mark Twain I believe, told the story of a son’s perception of his father’s intelligence. When you are small he knows all; in your teens and twenties he is the dumbest person on the face of the Earth; then, when you turn 30, you can not believe how much he has managed to learn in such a short period of time.
Heading toward my dumb phase right now, but I may be too old to ever emerge out the other end of it.
This one made me laugh a lot, especially when you finally told the truth about Tootinbutt. Now don’t you feel better.
Better for myself, but still truly sad about Old Mr. Tootinbutt.