The other day, Melanie got out our Christmas decorations. One of them is a tin, such as you might fill with candy. On the lid of the tin is an image of St. Nick himself. While Eddie was looking at the tin, I thought I would give my first attempt at explaining who the jolly fellow in red is. Thus far, Edison has no concept of Santa Claus (or scarcely of Christmas, for that matter). I didn’t think he’d get much out of my explanation of Santa Claus, but I thought it would at least familiarize him to the idea.
As I began to tell Eddie about Santa Claus, I felt this pang of sadness in realizing that I was lying to my son. I was incredibly surprised by this. I have always intended to raise my children with the myth of Santa Claus. No part of me has ever seriously questioned that I would do so. I never worried about it. And it is not as though, once I started explaining Santa Claus to my son, I thought about the fact that I was lying, and then felt sort of bad about it. I felt sad the second I started saying it. The sadness was immediate. Here is my boy, looking up at me, believing whatever I have to say, and for the first time I am blatantly saying things to him that are not true. I, on whom he has relied for his understanding of the world, am now deceiving him. For the first time, I am purposely causing him to believe something that is false. It honestly felt really sad.
I am betting that most of you who read this will think I am insane. Or you will think my reaction is some weird consequence of being a philosopher. Something like that. I disagree entirely. The reaction was so immediate and natural that I really believe it was rooted in nothing more than the fact that I was deceiving my sweet, loving, trusting child. The fact that this particular lie is customary and generally regarded to promote a sense of magic and fun does not change that. I admit that I still plan to carry on the Santa Claus tradition, but the fact is, because of Santa Claus, something that has never happened before has now happened—I have lied to my child. That is kind of sad, and those of you who want to sugar coat it fail to see that the innocence of my relationship with Edison has been lost. Yes, that’s a part of growing up, but until now, nothing was a lie. Does nobody sympathize?
(Note: this post from March 2005 may prove an interesting backdrop to today’s post.)