Learning the Lie of the Land

So, my kids are getting pretty old. They’ll soon be voting, buying dogs and racking up insane amounts of credit card debt—just like their dear papa.

But as a father, I’ve lately grown concerned that I’ve not taught them everything they need to know to succeed in life. And indeed, some of my lessons may have backfired.

For instance, I taught my children at a very early age to never, ever, ever lie. And I’d hope we can all agree that is a good lesson (making exceptions for the politicians in the audience, of course). But I failed to tell them that it might be necessary to—well, perhaps stretch the truth a bit. Particularly when you’re looking for a job.

My son, when he applied several years ago for one of his first employment opportunities, was asked on the application why he wanted to work at (fill in the big-box store here). “Money,” he wrote. That was it. (Being a former journalist, I told him that being succinct is also a good thing—a succinctness that did not always endear him to his high school English teachers who required minimum page limits).

When I (ever-so-gently) advised him that “money” might not be the first thing prospective employers want to hear in a job application, he said, “Well, I can’t lie, can I?”

Colin’s always been a sincere lad. But it did put me in an awkward position, given my lifelong insistence on honesty. I don’t want him to lie. But nor do I want him to be unemployed for the rest of his life. So I told him that, maybe, he could add some secondary reasons why he’d like to work there: New challenges, new opportunities, that sort of thing. After all, money brings all sorts of new challenges and opportunities, right?

When my daughter Emily applied for a job, was asked by her cheery interviewer why working at (fill in door-to-door sales opportunity here) was her “dream job.”

“This is not my dream job,” she said.

She was hired anyway, and she promptly quit the next day before beginning work—terminating what might’ve been a full-on disaster. I can see her demonstrating the (insert product to be sold here) to her customers: “Well, it’s OK. A little overpriced, maybe. Frankly, I get my (product) at Target.”

I think all parents try to instill good principles into their kids, and Christian parents are perhaps particularly cognizant of giving their children some bedrock, black-and-white truths that will serve them well throughout their lives. And that’s great. We should do just that. We should teach them to hold firm to their beliefs and ideals—even when the world makes it difficult for them to do so.

And yet, I think we all instinctively understand that, while we should hold to our principles with all our might, the world demands from us a little flexibility, too. A little give and take. A little grace, even. Sometimes idealism needs a dose of pragmatism.

I guess that’s why parenting, like life itself, is more of an art than a science. We set some rules and follow them as best we can. But in a way, we have to feel our way through, too—day by day, crisis by crisis. We don’t always get it right, but as time goes on, I’d like to think we’re always getting better.

And that’s no lie.