All through our lives we’re told that honesty is the best policy. Your parents are the first to tell you this, followed by any number of well-meaning adults. Teachers, religious leaders, youth workers, police officers, neighbours, aunts, uncles, and pretty much any adult you encounter will tell you the same; it’s best to tell the truth.
However, when you grow up the boundaries start to shift. Take the process of applying for jobs for instance. You might find that honesty actually makes you the dullest possible candidate. So you add the odd interest or experience to your CV or your answers in an interview so that you shine that little bit brighter. In short, you lie. You know the type of thing. You might pick an obscure martial art and claim to practice it, adding that perhaps it might come in handy in your job. Tai Chi or something like that.
In trying to become closer to the girl or boy of your dreams you might find, again, that honesty might not make you that attractive. He or she might not see your full potential as a lover or life partner if you tell them that, actually, the furthest you’ve travelled is Cleethorpes, you haven’t really given any thought to ambitions or that you don’t really have any interests. So you might combine these type of things and spout forth at great length about your dream of taking a gap year and travelling the world. Because, of course being confined to the toilet in your Far East hostel as you gradually make the air funkier and funkier is a truly endearing image and undoubtedly the stuff that dreams, and partners, are made of. If only you had someone to share this passion with…
“Lying to your kids is pretty much what the first chapter of the Dad Manual is devoted to.”
As a dad I’ve found that telling lies is more or less essential. Two words: Santa Claus. A few more: The Tooth Fairy. You see what I mean? Lying to your kids is pretty much what the first chapter of the Dad Manual is devoted to. Then you get to the interesting stuff like Dad Jokes and Dad Magic. I mean, who knew you could produce a coin out of a kid’s ear just by becoming a dad? And did you even realise just how funny you were until you had kids?
Over the years I’ve told many, many lies to my kids. All harmless stuff, but lies all the same. I’ve dated supermodels (believable, I know), I can speak Spanish (hola), I’m a trained street dancer (if you’ve seen me move the only surprise here is that I haven’t claimed to have been Patrick Swayze’s dance coach for Dirty Dancing, because I think it’s plain to see that his character may well have been modelled on me), I can make a block of sugar hover on the top of a cappuccino by using magic (my son was genuinely upset when he found out that this wasn’t magic, just the sugar floating for a while on the froth), I was in the SAS (I’m certainly one mean looking hombre, that’s for sure) and whenever we visited a particular theme park when my kids were younger I would delight in telling them that we were visiting the power station with the massive cooling towers that we had to pass on the way there. This was a lie which they fell for, literally every time.
“I became Gregg Wallace and my daughter faced up to her very own Masterchef final.”
So when my daughter decided that she was going to cook the family tea recently, it became a true test of whether or not honesty really is the best policy. My daughter is 12 and in Year 8 of High School. She’s learning to cook, amongst other things. And we we’re putting her cooking to the test because my wife, in her wisdom, had agreed that we’d eat my daughter’s spaghetti Bolognese for tea. My idea of freezing it and letting the kids have it for teas when we’re at work was rejected so that we could all put it to the taste test. So I became, Gregg Wallace and my daughter faced up to her very own Masterchef final.
Now there wasn’t a lot to this particular spaghetti Bolognese. A supermarket bought Bolognese sauce, some spaghetti, an onion, a handful of mushrooms and some lean beef mince. What could possibly go wrong? Well, as it turned out quite a lot.
“…I’m quite a picky eater…”
On the day in question I’d been thinking about this Bolognese, sporadically, all day. It was something that genuinely terrified me for several reasons. Firstly, I’m quite a picky eater – I don’t like onions and I’ve never liked beef. I genuinely don’t get the fuss about beef at all. To me, it’s just really bland. Bland and very forgettable. But I’ll tolerate sometimes it so that the beef lovers in the house get to chow down on cow. So the fact that this was a Bolognese made with beef mince immediately troubled me and deep down, I already knew that I wasn’t really going to enjoy this meal. Obviously this worried me, because I knew that my little girl would be desperate to impress. However, I also knew that she’d be bright enough to recognise that it was never going to be a favourite with dad.
I’m also not a fan of too much sauce on pasta (fussy and a little bit juvenile, I know, I probably need to grow up) and having looked at the pile of ingredients on the kitchen table I imagined that I was going to get a mansize dollop of the stuff all over my spaghetti. Protesting simply wouldn’t cut the mustard (applause for the cookery based pun, please) with my wife who thinks I’m just being fussy and juvenile and that I need to grow up.
“…a curry, a Mexican, something with a lot of garlic…”
On the night in question I wandered into the kitchen as my wife was dishing up our tea. Where usually the downstairs of the house will be filled with the wonderful aroma of whatever’s cooking, tonight there was just a strange nothingness. Usually the smell of what’s cooking will be mouth-watering, – a curry, some Mexican, something with a lot of garlic – but tonight no such aroma existed and as a consequence my mouth was unusually dry. This was not a good sign at all. My enthusiasm waned with each passing second and it looked like my dad lying skills would be put firmly to the test here. In fact, I was going to probably have to employ some advanced level Dad lies.
A look at what appeared on my plate only confirmed my fears. Dollop after dollop of a sauce that seemed to have had all the fun sucked out of it by the power of beef. And as I looked closer it just seemed to get worse. Onion. Great big chunks of onion. I knew that this was going to crunch in my mouth and I knew that eating this Bolognese was going to be a bit of a trial. For me, crunch is fine…in a packet of crisps. This is ironic as I imagine a packet of crisps is exactly what I’d go looking for later on, when the kids had gone to bed and I was hungry due to lack of tea! As I continued to stare I felt sure that all the red was draining away from the plate and I was left contemplating a distinctly grey Bolognese. I knew, however, that the more I stared, the more conscious my daughter could be of me not eating. There was nothing for it but to tuck right in!
“This was a forkful and then some.”
Now every fibre of my being, every sinew, wanted to sift out some of the stuff in the sauce. Let’s just nudge that onion to one side and smear some of that mince a little across the plate. I had to show enthusiasm though. I had to lie. So I gripped my fork, said a silent prayer and I dug in. Right in. Inner than in. As I lifted the fork towards my mouth I could immediately see that I’d overdone the enthusiasm. This was a forkful and then some. A forkful that could have probably become a mouthful for at least two of the people sat around the table. But I couldn’t go back. I couldn’t fake a wobbly hand and drop some. I knew that my daughter was watching and that she’d been waiting for this moment, not just all day, but for the last few days. She’d been genuinely excited by making a Bolognese and providing tea for the family, which was lovely. Meanwhile, I had been dreading it! I mean, who is actually the adult here?
As the first part of the food hit my tastebuds, I realised that the adult was definitely not me. That said, I faked a smile, let out a big beaming ‘Mmmmm’ of satisfaction and resolved to chew. Just chew. I’m her dad and if I can’t – in her eyes at least – enjoy her cookery skills, then who can. No really, who can?
After what seemed like an eternity I was still chewing. That enormous first mouthful just wouldn’t go away. My teeth seemed to be bouncing off the mince and the crunch of the onions was worse than I could have ever expected. I just kept ‘Mmmmming’. This seemed like a good course of action.
“How can you get a Spag Bol wrong?”
Finally that first mouthful was gone, but I couldn’t think of anything to say. Actually, I could, but it would have been in no way complimentary or encouraging. I realised that I should just Dad lie and move on, but I couldn’t. And this was not the time for blurting out something along the lines of ‘How can you get a Spag Bol wrong?’, ‘Does anyone fancy KFC?’ or anything worse. So in the spirit of keeping my mouth shut – which is a valuable lesson that, I must admit, mainly women have taught me over the years – I stuffed another forkful in and gave myself time to think. More chewing. More bouncing. More onions. Still no flavour though.
Suddenly, just as I was swallowing the latest tasteless morsel, I had a thought. A moment of blinding inspiration. I knew exactly what I was going to say and do. And so I said and did it.
*Turns to the right. Looks daughter in the eye. Taps daughter on the back of the head while she’s trying to eat*, “Not bad that, kid.”
It’s official. I am my dad. I’d just searched high and low through my mind for something inspirational to say to my 12 year-old after she’d made us tea and there it was. A bit of a slap to the back of the head and a “Not bad”. Dad of The Year stuff, I’m sure you’ll agree. Imagine how great she must have felt hearing this. Imagine the warm glow that would shoot through her. All the trouble she’d gone to must have seemed totally worth it now because Dad told her that her Bolognese was “not bad”. Not good. Not delicious. Not smashing or tasty or even plain old nice. Just “not bad”.
“I could have critiqued her, told her that the beef was greasy and chewy…”
However, as the title of the article might suggest, I surely hadn’t done the wrong thing here either. In a world where no child is allowed to lose anymore and every kid, ever, is praised for simply turning up, I’d not given my kid a negative. I’d toed the party line. And I hadn’t lied, much. I’d protected her, just as a dad should. I could have critiqued her, told her that the beef was greasy and chewy, the onions not to my liking and that I was waiting patiently, but without hope for the moment that I’d really be able to taste something. But I didn’t. In fact, rather than a pre-prepared lie and an easily uttered “delicious”, I’d given my response some thought. Two almighty forkfuls worth of thought, in fact. And I’d argue that my honest, if uninspired “not bad” was better than your ‘it doesn’t matter how bad it is I’m going to force it down and tell her it’s “delicious”‘. My daughter now has something to aim for, while you’re just getting more of the same ‘delicious’ food next week.
As it turns out, I didn’t finish my tea. My Spaghetti Bolognese – mainly great big crunchy chunks of onion – was later scraped off into the bin. No one really enjoyed it, not even my daughter, the chef. She ended up having a little cry, but she was supported, cuddled, loved and told that it was OK. I didn’t tell her that I was going to the chippy once she’d gone to bed either. If I’d told her the lie that it was amazing or delicious, I still wouldn’t have finished, prompting the bigger lie that it was simply because I was full up. There was no Masterchef style critique, no stinging remarks about flavour combinations or presentation. Just advice. Keep trying, don’t worry, that kind of thing. She didn’t even have to do the washing up!
The week after she made chicken kebabs. They really were “not bad”. Certainly better than the Bolognese. I held back on the happy slapping though; there’s only so much enthusiasm a bloke can muster after a day at work. There were no tears and less lies though. Our plates were cleaner too, which in itself was a glowing tribute, and an avoidance of the lie that our tea was ‘delicious’. So we all learnt something. My daughter learnt that value of being honest. and me? Well, I learnt that honesty really isn’t always the best policy when you’re a parent.